So when the Adrians were 38-62 at the season's 100-game mark, no one died of shock. But then a funny thing happened over the final 62 games of the season: the Adrians went 37-25 - good for a .597 winning percentage. It isn't at all clear from the team's roster how that transpired.
|2009 Standings - NL West|
Sure, we can cite a positive note here and there. The Adrians returned a couple of immediately useful pitchers for Jake Peavy in Clayton Richard and Adam Russell. A journeyman named Oscar Salazar came over from the Orioles for Cla Meredith and quietly put together a 122 OPS+ in 55 games. Pitchers Ryan Webb and Sean Gallagher were solid after coming over from Oakland for Scott Hairston. Kyle Blanks received more playing time in the second half, hitting .288 and slugging .635 in 104 at-bats. Gonzalez rebounded to a .324 BA with 15 HR, 44 RBI, and a 1.045 OPS over his final 62 games.
|1B||A Gonzalez||A Gonzalez|
|SS||E Cabrera||E Cabrera|
|IF||L Rodriguez||J Hairston|
|CF||Gwynn/S Hairston||Gwynn/S Hairston|
Still, none of this fully explains a .600 winning percentage, particularly with Jake Peavy and Scott Hairston (146 OPS+ with San Diego) out of the picture. Indeed, it was more about whom the Padres weren't playing rather than whom they were playing.
Brian Giles did not play after June 18. In the 61 games in which he did
play, Giles hit .191, slugged .271, and managed to cost the Adrians 15 runs with
his defensive theatrics. Josh Geer did not pitch after July 27.
The Adrians went 5-14 in the games he did pitch. Geer had a 5.96 ERA in
the best pitcher's park of our generation, even managing to finish with the
fifth most homers allowed in the National League despite barely breaking the
100-innings pitched mark.
Luis Rodriguez (.578 OPS in 251 PA), Edgar Gonzalez (.651 OPS in 169 PA), Jody Gerut (.628 OPS in 121 PA), Eliezer Alfonzo (.451 OPS in 117 PA), Chris Burke (.575 OPS+ in 89 PA), and Josh Wilson (.348 OPS in 43 PA) each saw their roles either reduced or eliminated in the season's final two months. Neither Walter Silva (8.76 ERA in 24.2 IP), Josh Banks 7.15 ERA in 22.2 IP), nor Mike Eckstrom (6.38 ERA in 18.1 IP) pitched after August 4.
With all of that nonsense eliminated, what do the Adrians have left? Basically two stars in Adrian Gonzalez and Heath Bell, two soon-to-be stars in Kyle Blanks and Mat Latos, two good-but-unheralded players in Mike Adams and Scott Hairston, and a roster full of league average players. Is this enough for the Padres to compete over a 162-game season? Well, it's a formula that has worked for the Minnesota Twins and the St. Louis Cardinals for roughly a decade, so don't write off the 2010 Padres just yet.
How do the Padres' handful of stars compare to the Twins' and Cardinals'? Adrian Gonzalez is probably the best hitter in the game not named Albert Pujols. Last year, Gonzalez had the second best road OPS in baseball (1.045), the second best PrOPS (1.045), and the third most adjusted batting runs (58). He turns 28 in May, and could have a legendary season if he can avoid a summer slump in 2010. Heath Bell has a 2.72 ERA over the past three seasons and hasn't allowed a single unearned run in that span. He's no Joe Nathan, and older than you think at 32, but there's no reason to think that he won't be rank among the top closers in baseball for the next two years before he becomes a free agent in 2012.
When a 22-year old posts a 140 OPS+ in 172 big league plate appearances, it's time to take notice, particularly when that player already has an .898 minor league OPS on his resume. Kyle Blanks has largely flown under the national radar, which I imagine is hard to do at nearly 300 pounds. The natural first baseman is a disaster waiting to happen in left field, but that is forgivable if he hits well enough to force pitchers to throw strikes to Gonzalez. Latos epitomized a good-start/bad-start pitcher last season, which is certainly forgivable for a 21-year old pitcher, particularly when he brings a 94 mph fastball, 2.49 minor league ERA, and 4.6 minor league K/BB ratio to the table. By 2011, people are going to be talking about Latos as one of the best young pitchers in the game.
Hairston's 146 OPS+ with the Padres last year wasn't indicative of his true hitting ability, but this is a guy with a .968 minor league OPS who appears to be immune to Petco Park's offense-diminishing effects (.881 OPS in 382 career PA there). Unfortunately, he doesn't have the arm for right field, the stick to beat out Blanks in left, or the range (slash bloodline) to start consistently over Tony Gwynn Jr. in center. Adams had a 0.73 ERA in 37 innings last year. That cannot be entirely explained by Petco, nor by the six unearned runs he surrendered, and surely his 119 strikeouts to 27 walks (4.4 K/BB) over the past two seasons legitimizes his performance stats.
|Adrians Team Capsule|
3/23/10: Why Not Enjoy It While You Can? - Cactus League pitchers spend all spring complaining about the difficult pitching conditions in Arizona and Padres hitters spend all summer complaining about the difficult hitting conditions at Petco Park. So while Padres hitters play in Arizona, you would expect them to take advantage of the unusually favorable conditions. Not so far. Through March 23rd, the Padres have hit only nine spring home runs, which is last among all 30 teams, not just those playing in Arizona. Will Venable is the only Padre with as many as two. --KG
As for the league-average remainder, that is something that is hard to recognize due to Petco's effects. Other Adrians hitters are either deficient in slugging (Everth Cabrera, Tony Gwynn, David Eckstein, Chase Headley) or on-base-percentage (Nick Hundley, Will Venable), but all had nearly league-average OPS-Pluses because of their home park factor. Newcomers Yorvit Torrealba, Chris Denorfia, Aaron Cunningham, figure to bring the same sort of solid-but unspectacular play t the lineup. If manager Bud Black can play matchups well and get high-OBP guys in front of Gonzalez and the high-SLG guys behind Blanks and Hairston, this has the makings of a respectable offense.
Pitching-wise, there isn't anyone with a whole lot of upside other than Latos and Aaron Poreda, who will begin the season in the minors. Chris Young, Kevin Correia, Jon Garland, Clayton Richard, and Tim Stauffer are all pitch-to-contact hurlers who thrive on the conditions that Petco provides. This rotation would be absolute garbage for any of the other 29 teams, but to succeed in Petco, all you have to do is not kill yourself with walks (hey there, Chad Gaudin) or home runs (here's looking at you, Geer) and you can post an era in the low-4s.
The bullpen is a slightly different story, as Luke Gregorson and Joe Thatcher joined Bell and Adams as Adrians relievers who averaged more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings. The Adrians seem to have enough solid-but-unspectacular types behind that quartet to avoid giving innings to any of the catastrophe pitchers they sent out in the late innings last year.
|RP||M Adams||M Adams|
While this team is better than most people realize, it doesn't quite stack up against the Twins and Cardinals mini-dynasties of the aughts. The Adrians are also hurt by the fact that they play in what was the National League's toughest division last season - a division which could see its last place team improve by 10-20 wins in 2010.
While these Adrians aren't good enough to seriously contend for a playoff spot yet, they should put together a good enough showing to retain the services of their underpaid eponymous star. At last count, 29 teams are involved in trade rumors for Adrian Gonzalez, and if the Padres were to begin 2010 the way they began 2009, they might be tempted to deal Gonzalez for a stack of top prospects and put Blanks at first base, where he belongs.
I don't think that's going to happen. I don't think the Padres are going to be far below .500 in July, and I don't think the fans will forgive the Adrians if they jettison their most spectacular player even if they aren't in contention. Adrian Gonzalez isn't just a good hitter; he's an outstanding hitter who can succeed in Petco because most of his homers travel over 400 feet and because he doesn't strike out much for someone with that kind of power. The Adrians owe Adrian just over $10 million over the next two seasons, making him one of the best bargains in baseball.
On the other hand, this organization has not blinked at dealing away popular players in the past, and I don't have a real good read on new GM Jed Hoyer yet. The Adrians may elect to begin yet another rebuilding phase under a different team name. The San Diego Latos has a certain ring to it, no?
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