2011 Record: 71-91, 5th NL West
2011 Prediction: 74-88, 4th NL West
Impact Player: CF Cameron Maybin
Impact Pitcher: RHP Tim Stauffer
Best Reliever: RHP Huston Street
Top Prospect: OF Rhymer Liriano
The Padres shocked the baseball world in 2010 when they won 90 games and were eliminated from post season contention on the very last day of the year by the eventual World Series champion Giants. They were led by strong pitching from surprising names such as Tim Stauffer and Clayton Richard and a dominating bullpen and Adrian Gonzalez continued to prove that not everyone struggled to hit in cavernous PETCO Park. But the Padres came crashing back down to earth in 2011, finishing with just 71 wins, marking just the second time they’d lost 90 games since 2003. Yes, they’d traded away Gonzalez to the Red Sox, but there’s no way he was worth 19 additional wins all by himself; clearly there was a massive element of luck in the Padres 2010 campaign.
You may, however, be surprised to learn that the Padres were a very unlucky team in 2011. They finished with a Pythagorean record of 79-83 and according to my definitely flawed, but still semi-interesting Weighted Pythagorean winning percentage formula which takes into account division factors, the Padres were actually an 84-win team. Still, the talent on paper does not suggest that this team will win more games than they lose in 2012, but will they be as bad as they were last year?
According to Baseball Prospectus, PETCO Park has a park factor of 96 over the last three seasons, which makes it the most pitcher-friendly park in the National League, but it’s only 25th overall. Although it deserves some mention, I think most of us tend to overrate PETCO’s effect on pitchers just a tad.
With that in mind, the Padres finished fourth in the NL in runs allowed in 2011 and third in ERA. It may be difficult for them to replicate that as their best starter, Mat Latos, was dealt to the Reds this offseason and their two best relievers Heath Bell and Mike Adams have both left town over the last year.
Their best starter is probably Stauffer or Richard, who were both decent last year, a season after breaking out. Stauffer was excellent in the first half of the season before falling off significantly in the final few months and although he finished with a solid 3.71 xFIP, he also had just a 1.0 fWAR. Richard, meanwhile, outpitched his peripherals pitching to a 3.88 ERA despite a troublesome 4.49 xFIP and also only pitched in 99.2 innings due to injury. His strikeout- and walk-rates both went the wrong way from his 2010 season.
Lefthander Cory Luebke started in only 17 of his 46 appearances last year, but should make the tranisition to the rotation full time this year. He finished with a much higher fWAR than any current projected Padres starter and had an impressive 9.92 K/9 rate and a 3.02 xFIP. If he can replicate those numbers over a 30-start season, he’ll be by far the best pitcher on the team. At 27, the Padres are hoping they’ve found an unlikely late-bloomer.
Edinson Volquez was acquired in the Latos deal and is now three full seasons removed from his excellent 2008 season. He struggled immensely in 108.2 innings in Cincy last year, pitching to a 5.71 ERA. His walk-rate has now sat well over 5.00 BB/9 in each of the last three years and unless he can get that under control, he won’t see much success. Still, a move to PETCO should help him and if he can find his way back to his 2008 form, the Padres rotation may not actually look that bad.
The final rotation spot should go to Dustin Moseley who pitched competently in 120 innings last year but doesn’t strike out enough to be anything more than a semi-effective fifth starter. If he can’t hold down his job, Anthony Bass, veteran Jeff Suppan or prospects Casey Kelly and Joe Wieland could make a push.
Despite the loss of both Bell and Adams over the last year, the Padres bullpen still looks like a formidable group heading into 2012. They curiously acquired Huston Street from the Rockies in the offseason who is a very good reliever, but is also quite expensive. Unless San Diego truly view themselves as contenders, acquiring him makes little sense. He’s still, unbelievably, just 28 and should see a big boost in his numbers by moving to PETCO full time. It’s possible that the Padres could trade him at the deadline if he’s having a dominating year, the same way they did with Adams last year.
Luke Gregerson had another solid year in 2011, finishing with a 2.75 ERA, but that number comes with a huge caveat: his strikeout-rate went from 10.23 K/9 in 2010 to just 5.50 last season. That near-inexplicable drop in strikeout rate is troubling and could cause a major regression in 2012.
The Padres also shipped prospect first baseman Anthony Rizzo to the Cubs this winter for Andrew Cashner, who figures to be a big part of their 2012 bullpen picture. He pitched in just 10.2 innings last year due to rotator cuff issues and may never be more than a reliever despite the fact that he started last season in the Cubs rotation. It seems as though San Diego could have done a little better than just Cashner for a highly-touted first base prospect like Rizzo.
The Padres are also expected to go with lefthander Joe Thatcher to start the year in their ‘pen. He has a problem staying healthy, but when he is, he’s potentially dominant. He needs to cut down on the walks, however. The final three spots will likely go to swingmen Ernesto Frieri and Micah Owings who can double as a pinch hitter with his .286/.313/.507 career slash line at the plate and righty Brad Brach. Dale Thayer may also still find his way onto the club if one of those three can’t stick.
Only the Giants scored fewer runs than the Padres in 2011 and things don’t look much better for the 2012 version of the club. The Padres tried to acquire some power in the offseason to help things along by first grabbing first baseman Yonder Alonso in the Latos trade and then shipping some prospects to the White Sox for leftfielder Carlos Quentin. Alonso had an impressive .409 wOBA in a cameo with Cincinnati last year and has been a can’t-miss prospect for years, but it will be interesting to see how his skill-sets transfers to PETCO, which has been known to eat left-handed power for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Quentin meanwhile, will look comical in the spacious outfield, but should provide some power if healthy. That, however, is a pretty massive ‘if’ considering he’s already hurt and will miss the start of the season.
Joining Quentin in the outfield will be Cameron Maybin in center and Will Venable in right. Maybin finally had his long-awaited breakout season in 2011, finishing with a 112 wRC+ and putting up a team-best 4.7 fWAR. He signed a very team-friendly extension in the offseason and the Padres should be very happy with the fact that they only had to give up two inconsequential relievers to acquire him from the Marlins. Venable, meanwhile, continues to tease with his shed full of tools, but a combination of underperformance and PETCO have rendered him a merely average hitter to this point in his career. He’s now 29, so expecting him to get much better is probably foolish.
Third baseman Chase Headley quietly put up an excellent offensive season last year, finishing with a 125 wRC+ and a .374 on-base percentage. He saw a massive drop-off in his homerun production, but still had a .399 slugging percentage thanks to his 28 doubles in just 113 games. If he can stay healthy and find his power stroke again, he could be a top five third baseman in the NL.
The middle infield will consist of veterans Jason Bartlett and Orlando Hudson at short and second respectively. Hudson played in only 119 games last year but managed to hit seven home runs. Still, he’s not the player he once was offensively or defensively and with prospects Jed Gyorko and Cory Spangenberg jettisoning through the minors very quickly, his time with San Diego could be nearing its end. The same could be true of Bartlett who is entering the final guaranteed year of his contract and is coming off a very mediocre campaign. The surprising .490 slugging percentage he posted a few years ago with the Rays is a thing of the past and he’s ultimately on his way to a utility infielder role over the next few years.
The starting catcher will be Nick Hundley who is extremely underrated. Understanding this, the Padres locked him up last week and he’ll now be plying his wares in San Diego for at least three more years. Last year, he posted a team-best .354 wOBA and finished with a 3.5 fWAR.
John Baker was acquired from the Marlins to be the backup catcher and he’s a much better hitter than he showed last season. Joining him on the bench will likely be veteran outfielder Mark Kotsay who can also fill-in at first base and first baseman Jesus Guzman who can also fill-in in the outfield. The 28-year-old Guzman hit .312/.369/.478 in limited time last year and could end up providing a platoon partner for Alonso if he struggles against lefties. Infielder Andy Parrino and outfielder Chris Denorfia are expected to round out the bench while outfielder Jeremy Hermida and Everth Cabrera, who’s being trained in the art of utility, also have a shot.
The 2010 season was undoubtedly a fluke for San Diego, but it also appears as though they weren’t as bad as their 2011 total of 91 losses would suggest. They lack star power, but they have some intriguing pieces in their rotation with Luebke getting a full season and Volquez looking to bounce back. Their lineup may surprise some people this year with Maybin, Hundley, Alonso and Quentin all possessing above-average potential. Still, the overall talent isn’t there for 2012, but with the deepest farm system in all of baseball, things may get better in the years to come.
2012 Prediction: 76-86, 4th NL West