Today is Opening Day for the San Diego Padres as they host their neighbors from up I-5, the Los Angeles Dodgers. First pitch is at 4:05 p.m. Fantastic, isn’t it?
Now let’s do a quick poll to see who actually cares. Anyone? Bueller?
I know this kind of attitude is especially prevalent in San Diego. The “win and we’re all in” but “lose and watch us snooze” mentality has plagued both the Padres and Chargers. It’s the reason the Chargers had three home games blacked out last season, due to a lack of tickets sold.
It’s the same reason that Petco Park, truly one of the most gorgeous venues for baseball in the entire country, can draw only a paltry 26,000 fans per game (and far fewer on weekdays).
The reasons are many, and it’s not worth going into now. A new owner who sells after just three seasons is one culprit. A young, eager GM who has a two-year layover in San Diego before heading to the greener, Ivy-er pastures of the Chicago Cubs is another.
A front office that has consistently rejected the idea of trying to make a splash in free agency, despite being located in one of the most beautiful, climate-friendly cities in the league is probably the biggest factor, however.
And it’s no different this year. The Padres have an overall payroll of $45,869,000—good for fourth-lowest in the league. The team jettisoned its best starting pitcher, Mat Latos, in a January trade with Cincinnati, and allowed its only All-Star, Heath Bell, to sign with Miami.
So what’s left?
A team of players who often get these kinds of monikers: scrappy, gritty, grinder, journeyman.
At the risk of sounding like a jerkoff, let me add a few more: no name, crappy, boring.
There. It’s out there for people to pick me apart. My point in writing this is not to be cruel. It’s just to posit this question to the sometimes (but infrequently) loyal fans of the San Diego Padres:
Do you want to spend your hard-earned money watching these guys play?
* Note: The Major League Baseball average for OPS (on-base percentage + slugging percentage) is .719. It’s regarded as the best statistic to determine a player’s productivity. The league average for batting average is .255. Keep that in mind.
C – Nick Hundley
Played only 85 and 82 games in 2010 and 2011. Last season, arguably his best, he hit .288, with 9 HR, 29 RBI and an OPS of .824. Hundley has proven himself to be solid yet unspectacular as the backstop for the Padres. But he has found playing a full schedule difficult, through injuries and time shares.
1B – Yonder Alonso
Last season, in 88 at-bats with Cincinnati, hit .330, 5 HR, 15 RBIs, OPS of .943. He’s one of the top prospects in baseball, and was the key piece coming back in the Latos trade. But the jury is still out on Alonso. In another ballpark, in another situation, he could be a star-in-the-making. In Petco? We’ll see. He definitely won’t have the same prowess at 1B as Adrian Gonzalez, that’s for sure. But he will have his number 23. That actually may be an interesting side bet. Will there be more 23 Gonzalez jerseys or more 23 Alonso jerseys at Petco this year? I know who I'd pick, and it ain't the new Cuban slugger.
2B – Orlando Hudson
Now in his 11th year in the majors, “The O-Dog” brings the most big league experience to the team. While that’s important, it’s safe to say that Hudson has always been only a good, if not merely above average player. He does have a fantastic nickname, however. His career batting average is .277, respectable, but not what you want from someone hitting near the top of any big league lineup. Hudson hit only .246 in 2011, and he’s hit better than .300 only once in his 10 years. On a positive note, Hudson did swipe 19 bases last year, the highest of his career by almost double. But stolen bases are hard to come by when you don’t get on base regularly (.329 on base percentage in 2011).
3B – Chase Headley
Five years ago, Headley was a highly rated prospect for the Padres, the one charged with becoming a team leader and carrying them into the next decade. What has followed has been four seasons that can only be described as disappointing. Headley’s career average is .269 in almost 1,900 career at-bats. What was enticing about Headley as a prospect was his combination of power and speed. But to that end, his career highs in HRs (12 in 2009) and SBs (17 in 2010) are nowhere near “superstar” level. Headley was on his way to his best season in 2011 (.289 average, .773 OPS) but injuries allowed him to play in only 113 games. The big question for Padres fans is: Will he ever advance and become more than a marginal MLB starting player?
SS – Jason Bartlett
Jason Bartlett’s 2009 All-Star season (.320, 14 HR, 90 runs, 30 SB, .879 OPS with Tampa Bay) seems like a distant memory now, doesn’t it? Last year, the veteran shortstop’s first in San Diego, Bartlett’s batting average plummeted to .245 with an OPS of .615. He also had a career high in strikeouts with 98 in 554 at bats. His 23 SBs shows that he still has a bit of speed, but like Hudson, you can’t steal if you’re not on base (career low .308 OBP in 2011). He was also caught stealing 10 times, also a career high.
LF – Kyle Blanks
In 2009, Blanks burst onto the scene in San Diego, blasting mammoth home runs at a blistering pace. He had 10 dingers in only 148 at-bats. But while that is good, it also came with the bad, in the form of 55 strikeouts. Injuries and a lack of opportunity limited Blanks in the last two years, and he hit a dreadful .157 (2010) and .229 (2011) in 33 and 55 games, respectively. As has been the case in his career, it will be more feast or famine with Blanks. Either he’s smacking a 400-foot moon shot, or striking out, which is natural for someone who is 6-6, has a giant strike zone, and tips the scales at 272 lbs. So unless his plate discipline has remarkably improved, expect more of the same.
CF – Cameron Maybin
Maybin defines the term “post-hype sleeper” almost to a tee. Regarded as one of the best prospects in all of baseball when drafted 10th overall in 2005, Maybin quickly became a light-hitting journeyman, bouncing around three teams before landing with San Diego last year. Aided by the confidence of a full-time starting job, Maybin quietly had a mini-breakout season, hitting a career high .264 (I know, know), scoring 82 runs and stealing 40 bases, tied for fourth-best in the league. He still strikes out a ton, and doesn’t have nearly the power scouts once thought he did, but if he continues to get better (he’s still only just 25), he seems to be one of the only bright spots on the roster.
RF – Will Venable
.256, .245., .246. Those are the batting averages for Will Venable in the last three seasons. Wait, a sub-.250 average for a starting player? Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Add to that: Venable also amassed more strikeouts than hits in each of those three seasons, and we have a classic case of a player picture-perfect for the Padres.
OK, so the Pads don’t exactly smack the ball around the yard. Their pitching has to at least be good then, right? Ummm, no.
Here’s more facts and figures for the starting rotation (career stats):
Staff “ace” Tim Stauffer: 23-31, with an earned run average (ERA) of 3.92
Clayton Richard: 30-28, 4.20 ERA
Dustin Moseley: 15-21, 4.61 ERA
Cory Luebke: 7-11, 3.38 ERA
Edinson Volquez: 33-29, 4.65 ERA
Yikes. Only two of their five starters have a winning record for their career, Richard (barely) and Volquez. It should also be noted that Volquez’s career stats are aided by a magical 2008 season with Cincinnati, when he was 17-6 with 208 strikeouts, and a 3.21 ERA. He pitched 196 innings that season, but has pitched no more than 108 in any season since then. His ERAs from 2009-2011 were 4.35, 4.31 and 5.71. And keep in mind, along with Alonso, he was the main piece returned in the Latos trade in the offseason.
Only Luebke truly shows the potential to be a pitcher in the Jake Peavy/Mat Latos mold for the Padres. His K/9 rate (strikeouts per 9 innings) is 9.92, a very high number. Similarly, he has a low WHIP (walks + hits / innings) at 1.07, which would have ranked him 10th in the league had he pitched enough innings to qualify. He has a bright future, but he’s still a young buck.
Closer – Huston Street
Street has always been a good closer, but is never mentioned among the game’s best. He is basically a somewhat cheaper, less dynamic version of Heath Bell. Street has a long injury history, which may worry some, but he also has played in the pitcher’s nightmare that is Coors Field for the last several years. Getting him into more friendly confines could serve him well. Still, when the closer is arguably the best player on your team, that’s a problem.
It’s no real secret that the Padres will struggle again this year. But I think this could be a historically bad season for the Friars. For a comparison, let’s look at the 2003 Detroit Tigers, who finished 43-119, the worst record in the major leagues since 1962.
That Tigers team scored 591 runs. The 2011 Padres scored 593.
The Tigers had a team batting average of .240 and a team OPS of .675. The 2011 Padres had a team batting average of .233 and an .OPS of .653.
While I understand that in no way do home runs equate to wins, fans of really, really bad teams need something to get them excited at games. And let’s face it, besides sausage races, the Kiss Cam and the T-shirt cannon, home runs are it.
The Tigers hit 153 home runs in 2003. The 2011 Padres? 91. Dead last in the league.
Granted, given the tough pitcher’s park that is Petco—and the relatively low team ERA that comes with pitching in said park—the Padres will more than likely win more than 43 games. In fact, it will even win 50. Possibly even 60. But expecting more than that is just foolish.
And apathetic or not, the fans of San Diego deserve to see something better than a 60-102 team on the field.
Buckle up, everyone! It’s going to be a painful, confounding and seemingly never-ending ride through the 2012 Padres season. I guess it’s a good thing we’ve got Angry Birds and Draw Something to keep us entertained during the old … ball … game.
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