Archive for the ‘Padres’ Category

All Those "Surprise" Teams…and the Jays

May 13, 2009

In the first week or so of this blog, away back 3-4 weeks ago now, I profiled the Orioles, Mariners, Marlins, and Padres, four teams that had started the season off much better than anyone anticipated. How about a month later (actually, just 22 days after the fourth post)?

  • Taking their records as of the day I wrote about them, the four teams were a combined 32-9 (.780).
  • Since? 28-66 (.298). .298!!!! These guys as a whole have been playing at a 114-loss pace since then, and I guess the Mariners have been playing a little better than the other three, but it’s not like any one team is dragging the pack down.
  • Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA-Adjusted Playoff Odds Report now has the O’s with a 1.39% chance of making the playoffs (down from 8% when I reported on April 15); the M’s retaining a 23.34% chance (down from 28% on April 16, and from a high of 42% on April 25); the Fish with a 4.51% chance (down from 6.59% on April 18); and the Padres at 1.18% (down from 7.46% on April 21). Realistically, then, we’re 4 1/2 months from the end of the ball, and three of the four Cinderellas have already headed home.

A team I chose not to write about, though, is the Toronto Blue Jays. It was almost as much of a surprise that they were 10-4 on April 20th as it was that the Padres were 9-4, but what with sharing their division with the Orioles, I didn’t think anybody had really figured the Jays for last place at the start of the season.

So I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that, if one of the surprises from the year’s first week or two were going to keep it going, it would be the team that was the best to begin with. The Jays are 12-8 (.600) since that 10-4 start and sit at 23-12, first place in the East, jostling with the Dodgers for the best record in baseball. And to the extent that run differentials mean anything at this point in the season (they don’t), they’re just about exactly at the record their run differential would predict.

So why does Baseball Prospectus still hate them? Through Tuesday, the same report has them ending the year at 82-80 and in fourth place, seven games behind the third-place Rays and fifteen behind the first-place Red Sox. It gives them just a 4.58% chance to win the division and 13.83% to make the playoffs at all.

Well, there’s Aaron Hill, who, much as I like him, won’t finish the year hitting .350 with a .550 SLG. And Marco Scutaro, a 33 year old who averages ten homers per 162 games (he’s already hit 5) and has a career .330 OBP (currently sitting at .406). And there’s the fact that they’ve already had nine different pitchers who have started at least two games for them, and aside from the awesomeness that is Roy Halladay and possible late bloomer Scott Richmond, none of them figure to be very good (assuming they can even stay healthy).

Mostly, though, it’s that they play in the same division as the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays. The Jays might be good enough to win the Central or West, but I’m pretty well convinced that those three other teams in the East, flawed as they’ve all looked at one point or another in the early going, are still the best three teams in baseball.

I’ll be pulling for the Blue Jays, though. If it’s a four-team race into August or September, that could be some of the most interesting baseball we’ve seen in decades. And if it’s a three-team race sans Yankees or Sox, well, that’s okay, too.

Crushing DreaExpectation Management, Part IV: The San Diego Padres

April 21, 2009

With a rainout on Monday night, your 2009 San Diego Padres, expected by many to be the worst team in baseball, continue to sit at 9-4, the third-best record in the league, just a game behind the Dodgers for the division lead.

What they’re saying: Nothing terribly interesting; everybody’s waiting for the carriage to turn back into a pumpkin. Newsday’s Ken Davidoff basically says that that was fun while it lasted, but we can expect it to pretty much be over now. The Sicilian guy from Princess Bride is apparently writing for CBS Sports now, and he basically cobbles a bunch of Padres’ players’ quotes together and concludes: “who knows?”

I’ll stop the linking there, because there’s really nothing here. Everybody knows, or thinks they know, that this team isn’t going far.

Reasons for hope: More than I would’ve guessed.

  • They’ve got some nice young players in Kevin Kouzmanoff and Chase Headley, though they’re both really third basemen, so that’s not great. And neither has started hitting yet, which is a good sign, since they will eventually.
  • Jody Gerut has established that he really can still play, and he’s one of those too-rare great comeback stories that is also a very good player.
  • Brian Giles won’t finish the year hitting .151.
  • Jake Peavy and the pitching Chris Young will probably end up much better than they’ve started (though the interesting question in what team Peavy will be ending up with).
  • Paul DePodesta is a very smart guy. He and the Padres’ front office have been excellent at putting together strong bullpens from other teams’ garbage, and they may well have done the same again.

Why it won’t happen:

  • Kevin Towers may also be a very smart guy, but he’s not a very smart baseball guy, and he’s ahead of DePo on the front office depth chart. I haven’t watched nearly enough Padres games to get a feel for Bud Black as manager, but I only seem to hear bad things.
  • Giles’, Kouzmanoff’s and Headley’s rebounds won’t come even close to balancing the significant dropoffs from catcher Nick Hundley, 1B Adrian Gonzalez (who is awfully good, but not 186 OPS+ good — that’s Pujols territory), 2B David Eckstein, and SS Luis Rodriguez, who have likely all already seen their best days of 2009. Even Gerut is likely to fall off some from his torrid start. Throw in that they’re getting some unrealistically strong performance from bench guys Scott Hairston and Henry Blanco, and this is a team that’s scoring runs well beyond its means.
  • The pitching staff as a whole has a 3.83 ERA (10th in the majors) and 4.42 FIP (12th). So they’re getting pretty lucky to have an ERA so much lower than their FIP (which essentially says that the team ERA “should” be 4.42). They’re in the best pitchers’ park in baseball, and they’ve played 7 of their 13 games at home; in any year in which the Padres have a good pitching staff backed up by a good defense, they’ll end up with the fourth or fifth best raw ERA in the league. It’s far too early to evaluate their performance so far (three of their six road games were played in Philly, one of the best hitters’ parks around, so the overall adjusted ERA+ still puts them at 6% above league average), but the fact is that with Peavy + Young + three guys you’ve never heard of, this just isn’t a great, or even a good, pitching staff, and with shaky defensive players at most every position, they won’t be getting a lot of help. Guys like Kevin Correia and Walter Silva, if they stay healthy and in the rotation all year, are going to wind up with some lopsided W/L records in the wrong direction.

What PECOTA is saying: Color PECOTA unimpressed. It likes the Padres to go about 75-87, which is pretty close to where it had them pegged when the season started. That would put them in a tie for third, with a 7.46% chance of making the postseason.

My take: That’s about right. This isn’t a 100-loss team, the way the 2008 squad very nearly was, but it’s not a first or second-place team either. There are a lot of other deeply flawed teams in this division, though — basically everyone but the Dodgers (PECOTA still likes the D-Backs to win 87 and challenge for the wildcard, but we’re starting to see that there are some real concerns with that team). Based on that, I’ll bump the Padres up a couple wins to 77-85. This team is improving, but it’s still a couple years, a MannyBManny defection or retirement, and a DePo miracle or two from becoming a factor in the West.