by: Ryan Waldis
Over the next 30 days (March 1st through March 30th), I’ll be previewing each of the 30 MLB teams in reverse order of the 2017 league standings. The series will conclude on March 31st, when I’ll be releasing my predictions for the 2018 season. With that said, let’s jump into the 7th team preview of the series, featuring the San Diego Padres.
It’s not a secret that the Padres are in a rebuild, but the 59-103 Pythagorean win-loss record they had in 2017 was really eye-opening. The Padres have struggled on the offensive end for years, at times posting historically bad numbers. Still, scoring just barely over 600 runs? Finishing with the worst OPS in the league (.692)? The organization has some interesting bats in their minor league system led by Fernando Tatis, Jr, but it’ll be another year or so before a lot of them see major league time. Their pitching staff wasn’t awful, but when the offense only averages 3.7 runs per contest, to take a line from South Park, “you’re gonna have a bad time.”
The Padres had exactly one winning month in 2017, finishing out July with a 14-11 record despite getting outscored 128-109. There were two months when they scored less than 100 runs in a month (88 in May, 91 in September), and two months where they barely eclipsed the 100 run mark (102 in April, 101 in June). San Diego played well at Petco Park but struggled away from home, posting home and road records of 43-38 and 28-53, respectively. They experienced several losing five game losing streaks throughout the season, and playing in a highly competitive division that features the Dodgers, Rockies, and Diamondbacks, the Padres were never held a lead in the division.
Austin Hedges is one of the better young backstops in all of baseball. While the slash-line is far from appealing—.214/.262/.398—Hedges at least displayed some power, clubbing 18 home runs in 417 plate appearances. If the Padres catcher ever improves his approach at the plate—the 29.3% K% was remarkably high—he could turn into a slightly below average to average option at the dish. Regardless, Austin’s value comes on defense: his framing runs mark of 25.9 was second to only Tyler Flowers, and his adjusted FRAA of 24.1 was tied for first.
Former Ray Wil Myers had another solid season at the plate, finishing with a 109 wRC+ and posting his highest wOBA (.335) since his debut season in 2013. After blasting 28 homers in 2016, Myers followed that up by hitting 30 last season, setting a new career-high. At a time when less and less batters are stealing bases, Myers swiped 20 a year after stealing 28. His strikeout rate (27.7%) rose four percent from 2016 and he was rough in the field (-7.7 UZR), but the Padres are paying Myers to be a lethal power-speed threat in their lineup, which he definitely is.
In an earlier time, Carlos Asuaje was a prospect rising through the ranks of the Red Sox farm system. In 2017, he started 78 games at second base for the Padres and slashed .270.334/.362. After a cup-of-coffee stint the year before, Asuaje proved that he could hold his own both in the field and at the plate as a major league regular. The 8.2% BB% was respectable as was the 22.2% K%, and he graded out positively in the 680 innings he logged at the keystone (1.5 UZR).
For whatever reason, Erick Aybar was allowed to start 93 games for the Padres in 2017 and appear in over 100. He responded by providing the team another subpar offensive campaign, slashing just .234/.300/.348 and posting a wRC+ of 74. The wOBA was below .300 (.282) and Aybar, who was at one point a positive defensively, finished with a UZR of -6.5 in the 793 innings he played at shortstop last year. There was a time when Aybar was a solid big league player. As he showed in 2017, that time has passed.
Cory Spangenberg managed to accumulate close to 500 plate appearances in 2017 and was able to bounce back from an injury-plagued 2016 that limited him to just 14 games at the big league level. The infielder hit to a triple-slash of .264/.322/.401 while contributing 13 home runs and 11 stolen bases. The strikeout rate of 26.3% was a bit high, and Spangenberg graded out negatively at each defensive position he played during the year (-0.3 UZR at second, -5.4 at third, and -1.0 in left field). Still, he proved that he can be a somewhat decent utility option if nothing else.
Yangervis Solarte toiled around in the minor leagues for almost nine years before receiving the call to The Show with the Yankees in 2014. Solarte made the most of the opportunity, starting out hot before eventually getting moved to the Padres after 75 games. Solarte has since carved out a solid role with San Diego, holding his own at the plate while also exhibiting his versatility in the field. In 2017, Solarte slashed .255/.314/.416 while hitting 18 home runs. His low strikeout rate (11.9%) was extremely appealing, and he logged at least 40 innings at each infield position:
First base: 41.1 innings, -0.3 UZR
Second base: 628.2 innings, -0.4 UZR
Shortstop: 199.0 innings, 1.3 UZR
Third base: 156.2 innings, -0.8 UZR
San Diego showcased a young outfield in 2017 and all three were impressive in one way or another. Jose Pierla seemingly came out of nowhere to post the best offensive numbers of his brief major league career, slashing .288/.347/.490 and hitting out a surprising 10 home runs in 344 plate appearances. Manuel Margot exhibited why he was such a highly touted prospect with the Red Sox, hitting to a .263/.313/.409 line and finishing with 13 home runs and 17 stolen bases. Part of this was due to an abnormally high HR/FB rate (9.4%), which was the highest mark he’d posted at any level of professional ball. The 5.2 UZR that Margot posted in center field didn’t hurt, either. Top prospect Hunter Renfroe’s calling card is power, and in 479 plate appearances the outfielder smacked 26 home runs and 25 doubles. His strikeout rate of 29.2% was unsightly, as was the triple-slash of .231/.284/.467, but the 30-plus home run potential Renfroe showed off was hard to ignore.
San Diego finished in the bottom third of the league in cumulative ERA with a mark of 4.67, which was tied for 22nd with Oakland. Six pitchers made at least 10 starts for the Padres in 2017, and Trevor Cahill was at the front of that group. The 29-year-old tossed 61 innings in 11 starts and pitched to a 3.69 ERA (3.40 FIP). In his first time starting games on a regular basis since 2014, the former Athletic and Diamondback impressed, striking out 10.62 batters per nine innings while keeping the ball in the yard (0.89 HR/9). Jhoulys Chacin was also reliable; the right-hander made 32 starts and ate 180 innings for the Padres, finishing with a 3.89 ERA and a passable 4.26 FIP. He stayed true to his career averages, striking out over seven batters per nine innings while issuing the free pass over three times.
Dinelson Lamet was perhaps the most intriguing arm in the San Diego rotation in 2017. He made 21 starts, and while the 4.57 ERA doesn’t look great, the 4.20 xFIP indicates that the 25-year-old has a lot of upside in his right arm. The 28.7% strikeout rate was phenomenal and Lamet showcased two-plus pitches in his fastball and slider over the course of the season. Luis Perdomo improved upon his rookie campaign, pitching to a 4.67 ERA and 4.24 xFIP. The 61.8% GB% was to be expected for a sinkerballer, although the lack of strikeouts and 3.57 BB/9 mark was a little concerning. The second-best southpaw starter in the NL West named Clayton, Clayton Richard started 32 games, his most since 2012. Richard pitched to a 4.79 ERA, but the 3.76 xFIP was interesting. Still, his 35% Hard% was the highest of his career, and Richard was far from a strikeout machine, posting a number (6.89 K/9) that was among the lowest in the league among qualified starters. Travis Wood started 11 games and pitched to an ERA of 6.71 with a 7.00 FIP. He wasn’t good.
San Diego’s bullpen didn’t light the world on fire in 2017, finishing 24th in the bigs with a 4.49 ERA. Brad Hand, the 2017 Padres WAR leader, was the best of the bunch. He pitched to an ERA just over two (2.16), striking out 104 while walking just 20. Once again, for whatever it’s worth, he also had 21 saves. Speaking of saves, Brandon Maurer had 20 of them and finished with a rough 5.72 ERA, although his 3.23 FIP was more indicative of his performance. Kirby Yates provided 55.2 solid innings out of the ‘pen, pitching to a 3.72 ERA (3.50 FIP) in 61 appearances. Craig Stammen finished with an ERA of 3.14 despite a FIP of 4.38, while Kyle McGrath made 17 solid appearances, pitching to a 2.84 ERA and a passable 3.79 FIP. Relievers like Jose Torres, Phil Maton, and Ryan Buchter had numbers that looked appealing on the surface, but their peripherals indicated a different story. Guys like Kevin Quackenbush and Miguel Diaz simply weren’t good.
The Padres made a big splash in the free agent market this offseason, signing one of the best names available. They managed to ink Eric Hosmer to a team record eight year, $144 million deal that will pay him an average of $20 million over the first five years of the contract and an average of $13 million over the final three years. The former Royal cashed in after the best season of his career, as he slashed .318/.385/.498 with 25 home runs and more-than-respectable walk and strikeout rates (9.8% and 15.5%), adding up to a 135 wRC+.
The biggest departure was definitely Solarte. He developed into a solid and reliable player with the Padres, and his positional versatility made him a valued member of the ball club during his four season stint.
Best Case: As the Padres inch closer to contention, they continue their trend of slow but steady improvement, winning around 76 games. Hosmer finally exhibits some consistency and has two solid years in a row, while Galvis and Headley provide a nice boost to the lineup. Renfroe and Margot continue to grow as Myers shifts back to the outfield, and Hedges becomes league-average with the bat. The pitching staff proves to be the downfall, though, as Lamet leads an inconsistent unit that is biding its time until names like Mackenzie Gore and Michel Baez make The Show.
Worst Case: The Hosmer contract looks like a massive overpay, Headley struggles and is eventually taken out of the starting lineup in favor of Spangenberg (which, admittedly, might happen anyway), and the offense as a whole struggles yet again. That includes the intriguing outfield, as Margot has issues with the bat, Renfroe has even more issues with strikeouts, and Myers has issues with his glove in the field. Lamet doesn’t take the step forward that many are expecting which makes the pitching staff look even worse. The Padres win less than 70 games as the fanbase looks towards 2020.
PECOTA Projected Record: 73-89, 681 RS, 754 RA