Wednesday, July 7, 2010
San Diego reality
I'm Ron Burgundy?
Everyone knows San Diego is the easiest city in which to be a weather man. It isn't hard to predict 74 degrees and sunny. What was hard to predict is the first half of the season the San Diego Padres are having.
Every major league team has played at least half their schedule. The all-star break is fast approaching and teams are taking stock in where they are and what moves need to be made. Everyone assumed, three weeks before the trade deadline, the Padres would be looking to deal Adrian Gonzalez and Heath Bell. After all, these are two of the very few players on the Padres with any value, and why hold on to players when your team is absolute crap? You deal these guys for prospects and have the team develop as a whole.
In actuality, for still some unexplained reason, the Padres have the best record in the national league and are anything but sellers at the deadline. San Diego is not only home to the team with their league's best record, but also the team with the best ERA and WHIP in all of baseball. Pitching in spacious Petco Park doesn't hurt, but it doesn't help them score more runs than their opponents either. The Padres are tied for the most shutouts in baseball, have struck out the second most batters, and have one filthy bullpen.
Led by all-star Heath Bell, the Padres pen sports four pitchers who average over 10 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. Put in some perspective, current NL strikeout leader Adam Wainwright only K's around 8 per nine innings pitched. All four of those gentlemen also have ERA's under 2.50 and all but Heath Bell have a WHIP under 1.00. That means, on average, when one of the Padres relievers comes in to pitch an inning, they strike out at least one batter and don't allow anyone to reach base. This is also referred to, in technical terms, as a 'manager's best friend.'
Also in love with the bullpen's success is the starting rotation. Led by all-star snub Mat Latos, (let's hope he at least gets the call as an injury replacement) San Diego's starting five is really a patchwork group of overachievers and no-names. Latos, a second-year player, has only started 26 career games. If he continues to progress, there is no reason he can't be the ace of an NL West champion team. Well, let me rephrase that. If he continues to progress, it will be no fault of Mat Latos when the Padres fail to win the NL West.
When the discussion of the Padres comes up on highlight shows, the analysts all say the same thing. 'No one saw this team coming, but watch out, they are for real!' And my question is what are they basing that opinion on? This team is not a talented team. They aren't full of winners. They don't have any type of indiscernible quality to them. In fact, I would be very surprised if this San Diego Padres team doesn't go from having the best record at the half way point to finishing third in their own division. They will not make the playoffs and, frankly, they will be only slightly better than what we thought they'd be.
The reasons seem pretty obvious. Their offense is anemic. They rank in the bottom third of baseball in all the major offensive categories. There are only three teams with a worse team OPS than these Padres. They don't have a single regular who is batting over .300. Other than Adrian Gonzalez, not one player on their roster has double digit home runs. To be honest, other than Gonzalez, not a single hitter on the Padres would scare an opponent coming up to bat in a big spot. On his way to back to back 100 walk seasons, there is really no reason to pitch to Adrian in any situation. He leads the team in batting average, home runs, RBI's, hits, OBP, and pretty much any other stat other than steals. A lineup of just one man cannot be expected to have much success. And really, they haven't even been very successful to this point. San Diego has gotten where they are on pitching alone.
And this brings me to the main reason they won't win the NL West. Have you seen this pitching staff? Mat Latos might become a star. It's possible. He is too young to know. Wade LeBlanc and Clayton Richard have been pretty good as well, yet they are just a combined 10-10 on the year and have barely more major league experience than Latos. Kevin Correia started the year 4-1 but has gone 1-5 since and has only completed 7 innings in one start this season. Meanwhile the veteran pitcher on this staff, Jon Garland, has already walked over 40 batters and has never been more than simply a serviceable starter at any prior point of his career. Garland is by no means someone to lead a young, young staff to the playoffs.
After sifting through all the numbers, the bullpen is really the only thing that can be considered a strength of this team. Since middle relievers are so up and down year to year anyways, there is no reason to doubt their 2010 success continuing, yet can a bullpen carry a team? I can't think of any case where a team won its division on the strength of its pen. Sure, a bullpen can push a team over the top to post-season stardom, but without an offense and with no reliable starting pitchers that I would trust to beat the Rockies in mid-September, it is just not enough.
In the end, this is nothing more than a nice story. Every year in the NFL there is one team that surprises everyone. Teams can go from last to first rather easily in football. Just look at the Saints. However, this is not as common an occurrence in baseball. The season is just too damn long to have teams sneak up on their opponents. The Rays in 2008 could be thrown into this group of success stories. However, with blinding speed all over their lineup, one top prospect after another hitting the big leagues, a defense that was historically good, and a pitching staff that was made up of innings eaters, I would not put this Padres team on the same level. Sure, everyone thought the Rays would fall off at some point in 2008 and they were wrong. Perhaps San Diego's story will follow a similar script. I just wouldn't count on it.
(Image taken from people.ucsc.edu)