2010 San Diego Padres:
Can This Team Succeed at Petco Park?

BaseballEvolution.com Spring Preview
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
March 22, 2010

The San Diego Padres enjoyed a mix of success and failure in the last decade, winning the NL West twice and finishing with a winning record four times while also finishing last in the division four times, including finishing with the worst record in the National League in 2003. Moving forward into this new decade, the Padres are at a crossroads; gone are the stars of yesterday, like Jake Peavy, Brian Giles, and Trevor Hoffman, but in their place there is plenty of young talent to make this team competitive. Adrian Gonzalez is now the face of the franchise, lest he be traded this season as so many rumors have indicated might happen.

Key Transactions
Acquired Pos.
John Garland SP
Scott Hairston INF
Jerry Hairston INF
Clayton Richard SP
Departed Pos.
Jake Peavy RP
Kevin Kouzmanoff 3B
Brian Giles OF
The issue that the San Diego Padres absolutely must deal with is their home stadium, Petco Park. Petco is one of the most extreme pitchers parks in baseball, and the Padres seem to somehow come out on the losing end of both sides of the pitcher-hitter equation. San Diego’s pitchers seem deceptively effective at home, and then when they head out on the road they always seem surprised to get tagged (3.44/5.39 home/road ERA split in 2009). Meanwhile, playing in such a hitter-unfriendly park seems to simply demoralize the Padres’ hitters; hitting on the road is hard enough, but Padres hitters never get a chance to relax because hitting in their own stadium is also such a chore.

The Padres will simply have to do one of two things: learn how to build a team around this stadium, or change the stadium’s dimensions. Building a team around a stadium is tough but not impossible, as the Colorado Rockies, Florida Marlins, and Detroit Tigers have demonstrated in the past. The Padres need guys who have doubles power, who make contact and don’t strike out a lot, and who can hit the ball to all fields. A Juan Pierre would succeed at Petco, as would guys like Dustin Pedroia, Marco Scutaro, Placido Polanco, Jose Lopez, and James Loney.

Meanwhile, the Padres cannot allow themselves to fall in love with pitchers whose home starts make them look like All-Stars (looking at you, Chris Young); the Padres must evaluate their pitching talent to make sure that Petco Park isn’t taking 5.00 ERA guys and making them look like 3.50 ERA guys. In this regard, Jon Garland will probably be a welcome addition in San Diego, as he serves up mediocre wherever he goes.

No one is saying this is an easy task, but it is a feasible task, and the San Diego Padres will have to pull it off if they intend to compete for the playoffs anytime in the near future.

What You Need to Know about the San Diego Padres

1. Starting Pitching – Deceptively Good. While it is true that San Diego makes bad pitchers look solid (Justin Germano), makes solid pitchers look good (Chris Young), and makes good pitchers look great (Jake Peavy), this year’s Padres team actually has several quality starting pitchers. Admittedly, Jon Garland will probably have a “career year,” and if healthy, Chris Young will be back to his 12-15 win form. The Padres also have cause to get excited about Wade LeBlanc and Mat Latos. Latos, a six-foot-six-inch right-hander is looking to make the starting rotation as a 22 year-old, and that isn’t a stretch. In three minor league seasons he has simply dominated all comers, most recently going 8-1 with a 1.37 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 72.1 innings at Single-A and Double-A in 2009. LeBlanc, at 25 years old, is more seasoned than Latos; a six-foot-three-inch lefty, LeBlanc doesn’t give up lots of hits, strikes out about a batter an inning, and doesn’t give up lots of walks.

Clayton Richard, acquired from the Chicago White Sox in the Jake Peavy trade, is probably this year’s Chris Young. Richard has had a successful minor league career, posting a 3.33 ERA in four seasons, but his peripherals have been terrible. His K/BB ratio is 2.37, where you’d like it to be up around 3.0; and his K/9IP is 5.8, where you’d like to be, at a minimum, around 7.0. Richard can probably succeed in San Diego, but watch for him to get torched on the road.

2. The Padres Offense Will Not Look Good

I loved Tony Gwynn, Sr., and I love that his son is a major leaguer. I do not love the fact, however, that TGJ will be apparently batting leadoff for the Padres in 2010. At the age of 27, Gwynn is coming off of his first pseudo full season (119 games), and his line was meager in 2009 - .270/.350/.344. He has no power, minimal speed for a leadoff guy, and may not be able to keep his OBP over .330. Batting second for the Padres will allegedly be 35 year old David Eckstein, and let me stop here: if the Padres intend to set the table with Tony Gwynn, Jr. and David Eckstein all season, it will be a long season.

3. Adrian Gonzalez

None of the above is to indicate that the Padres don’t have talent, because they do.

Better Than Pujols?
I am dead serious when I say that if Albert Pujols and Adrian Gonzalez suddenly switched teams, Gonzalez might put up better overall numbers than Pujols. Last year, playing in an offensive black-hole, Gonzalez hit 40 homeruns, walked a league leading 119 times, and finished with a .277/.407/.551/.958 and a 166 OPS+. But wait: of Gonzalez’s 40 homeruns, 28 were hit on the road. Of his 99 RBI, 63 came on the road. His road OPS was 1.045 compared to .859 at home. He had 189 total bases on the road compared to 115 at home. He hit .306 on the road compared to .244 at home.

Overly-simplistic view: this means that Adrian Gonzalez, in a neutral ballpark, hits .306 with a 1.045 OPS, 56 homeruns and 126 RBI. Yowza.

Ironically, though, Gonzalez is exactly the type of player the Padres want to have playing for them because, get this: Gonzalez actually walked more at home, 73 vs. 46, and his on-base percentage at home was actually higher, .413 vs. .402. Why? Because Gonzalez is obviously making the conscious decision to be more selective at home, knowing that he will have to find other ways to get on base beside hitting the ball hard! That is a special player.

4. The End of the Kevin Kouzmanoff Experiment

Kevin Kouzmanoff out, Chase Headley in. Could Kouz have succeeded in a different ballpark? Yes. But, fact is, at the end of the day you play in the park you play in, and Kouzmanoff was never ever willing to stop swinging the bat and try to take some pitches, as his 339 strikeouts and 82 walks in three seasons in San Diego illustrate. I suspect that Kouzmanoff can actually be a solid-to-good player, as his .284/.328/.477 road split over his career indicates.

For his part, Chase Headley is a minor league stud prospect who finished .001 OBP point from being a 3-4-5er in the minors. He has all the skills to be a great player, but he’ll need to take a tip or two from Gonzalez if he wants to succeed in San Diego.

5. Speaking of Stud Prospects: Kyle Blanks

I haven’t seen Kyle Blanks in person, but I imagine him to be a cross between Travis Hafner and Adam Dunn.

Kyle Blanks
A six-foot-six-inch, 285 pound behemoth, he has had no problem knocking the ball out of Petco Park in his short time there. The Padres are stationing him in left field for now, though he seems more suited to first base (cue the trade rumors). His minor league numbers have that beautiful look that numbers can have when a player mows through a team’s system: drafted in 2004, Rookie League in 2005, A ball in 2006, A+ ball in 2007, AA in 2008, then AAA in 2009 before a call-up. He strikes out plenty, but he also works around a .900 OPS and looks like he could just crush the ball.

The larger point about Blanks is that he has all the makings of a prototypical baseball superstar. He obviously has the talent for big numbers. Like Adam Dunn, Reggie Jackson, Johnny Bench, and Ryan Howard, he’s got one of those great baseball names: Kyle Blanks! He is huge like Mark McGwire and Frank Thomas and Frank Howard were huge; so big that he makes the bat look freakishly small in his hands. And he’s old-school, sporting a massive afro that makes him look like Oscar Gamble.

This guy is exciting. Maybe we should stop talking about him before we jinx him.

Everth Cabrera

I’m going to give you a fact, then a question:

Fact: After hitting 13 triples in 1041 minor league plate appearances, Everth Cabrera hit eight triples in just 438 major league plate appearances with the Padres in 2009.

Question: What was the cause of this jump in Triples production for the young switch-hitting shortstop?

If you’ve been paying attention so far, you didn’t even need to think for very long to reach the answer: Everth Cabrera saw a jump in his Triples production because of playing in Petco Park. In 204 home plate appearances, Everth hit four doubles and six triples last season; in 234 road plate appearances, he hit 14 doubles and two triples.

Cabrera is an interesting player: in the minors in 2008, he stole 73 bases in 121 games. With the Padres, that number fell to 25, but 20 of those came on the road. Why? Because he was on base more on the road, to the tune of .368 vs. .312. Cabrera should be exactly the type of player the Padres need in that he can get extra-base hits at home. But he is going to need to be a better hitter overall as well.

7. Family Fetish

I don’t know if the Padres think that it is neat that a team whose name means “fathers” has lots of players who are related to each other on the team or what, but they certainly have made a point of bringing in ballplayers with family connections. In fact, this isn’t even a recent phenomenon; in the late 1980s when, while Sandy Alomar, Sr., was a coach with the Padres his sons Sandy, Jr., and Roberto came up through the Padres system. More recently, the Padres have hosted Brian and Marcus Giles, former Padre Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn’s son Tony Gwynn, Jr., former major leaguer Max Venable’s son Will, and now the Hairston brothers, Scott and Jerry, Jr., the sons of Jerry Sr. and grandsons of Sam. After three years in Cleveland, Jesse Barfield’s son returns to the Padres to attempt to resurrect his career.

It is all good fun, of course, but at the end of the day, it may not put you in the playoffs.

Outlook on the Season

I think that the Padres have everything they need to succeed in 2011, but I think it might be early to expect a roster full of guys without full major league seasons under their belts to go out and contend this season. But if Blanks, Headley, Cabrera, and Gonzalez can all become one with Petco Park, and the Padres talented young pitchers can develop at the next level, this could be a very talented team in a couple of years.

And if not, it may be time to blow up Petco Park.

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