2014 Season Preview: San Diego Padres

It may still be cold outside and snowing in some portions of the country, but spring is nonetheless in the air. 

With the baseball season just around the corner, Greg Kaplan and Alex Herd preview each of the 30 MLB teams and how they will fare in 2014, division-by-division. 

National League West

Arizona Diamondbacks / Colorado Rockies / Los Angeles Dodgers / San Diego Padres (76-86 in 2013)

Starting Line-Up

C: Nick Hundley (30) – 114 games, .233/.290/.389, 13HR 44RBI, 35 runs, 19 doubles, 94 OPS+, 1.0 bWAR

1B: Yonder Alonso (26) – 97 games, .281/.341/.368, 6HR 45RBI, 34 runs, 11 doubles, 106 OPS+, 1.2 bWAR

2B: Jedd Gyorko (25) – 125 games, .249/.301/.444, 23HR 63RBI, 62 runs, 26 doubles, 113 OPS+, 2.2 bWAR - 6th in NL ROY voting

3B: Chase Headley (29) – 141 games, .250/.347/.400, 13HR 50RBI, 59 runs, 35 doubles, 116 OPS+, 3.4 bWAR

SS: Everth Cabrera (27) – 95 games, .283/.355/.381, 4HR 31RBI, 54 runs, 15 doubles, 37 stolen bases, 113 OPS+, 2.8 bWAR - 2013 All-Star

LF: Carlos Quentin (31) – 82 games, .275/.363/.493, 13HR 44RBI, 42 runs, 21 doubles, 145 OPS+, 2.0 bWAR

CF: Will Venable (31) – 151 games, .268/.312/.484, 22HR 53RBI, 64 runs, 22 doubles, 22 stolen bases, 126 OPS+, 3.2 bWAR

RF: Seth Smith (31) – 117 games, .253/.329/.391, 8HR 40RBI, 49 runs, 27 doubles, 103 OPS+, 0.5 bWAR (w/ Oakland A’s)

Good News:

Jedd GyorkoI have to admit before beginning to write this that the only thing I knew about the Padres lineup is that they have Jedd Gyorko and he’s supposed to be pretty good.  Now I’m setting the bar pretty low, but the Padres lineup exceeds my expectations in terms of the talent they bring to the table.  Let’s start with Gyorko.  During his rookie season, at the age of 24, Gyorko posted an OPS+ of 113 mostly thanks to his 23 HR in 125 games.  Pretty good right?  Well he did this while striking out in 23.4% and walking in 6.3% of ABs and hitting only .249.  These numbers were significantly worse than he posted in the minor leagues and his BABIP during his rookie year was .287.  If Gyorko gets more patient at the plate, like he was in the minors, while keeping up the high power, like he did in the minors, we could be looking at the best second baseman in the National League (the competition isn’t that tough).

Gyorko might not be the best player in the Padres infield.  Evereth Cabrera stole 37 bases last season in only 95 games which is almost as impressive as the 44 (which led the league) he stole in 2012 in only 115 games.  His BsR totaled 13.4 in this time period.  What I like most about Cabrera is how he cut his K% from 24.5 in 2012 to 15.9 in 2013.  It may be hoping too much for him to repeat his .283/.355/.381 line from last season but 50+ SB in a full season is very possible.

Chase Headley is the cherry on top of this surprisingly (at least to me) impressive infield (I didn’t forget about Yonder Alonso).  He plays pretty strong defense and is good at getting on base, walking over 10% of his AB the past 3 seasons.  A look to the outfield shows Carlos Quentin who has only played in 168 games in his 2 years with the Padres.  Combine those into one year and he’s hit in the high 20′s for HRs with 90 RBI and a fWAR of 3.9.  If he can actually do that in one seasons, instead of two, that will be nice to have.  Will Venable turned things on last season with 22 HR and 22 SB, he hadn’t even hit double digit HRs since 2010.

Bad News:

Every lineup is going to have some players that seem boring and Seth Smith, Yonder Alonso, and Nick Hundley fit that mold. Smith can get on base (he played for the A’s of course he can) but 15 HR for the Rockies can turn into single digits for the Padres awfully quickly.  Alonso is even better at getting on base though seems to have less power and Hundley, well, doesn’t do much of anything with the bat.  I’m minimizing them to a certain extent; all three play good defense, and getting on base is important to have but none are more than a game or two better than a replacement player and having three of your eight hitters in such a state could be the difference between playoff contender and playoff team.

It’s also worth mentioning that Venable’s 22 HR is probably not going to repeat since it’s almost double his previous high and his ISO was 50 points higher than the number the year before.  Finally, Quentin is not only a concern for staying healthy but he is a major liability defensively.  Of OF who played at least 500 innings, Quentin’s UZR/150 was 3rd worst in 2012, dead last in 2010 and 6th worst in 2009, so we’re talking about a major defensive hole.

Bench

Rene Rivera (30) – 23 games, .254/.268/.328, 0HR 7RBI, 4 runs, 3 doubles, 72 OPS+, 0.5 bWAR

1B Tommy Medica (25) – 19 games, .290/.380/.449, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 9 runs, 10 walks, 139 OPS+, 0.8 bWAR

1B/OF Kyle Blanks (27) – 88 games, .243/.305/.379, 8HR 35RBI, 31 runs, 14 doubles, 97 OPS+, 0.6 bWAR

UTIL Alexi Amarista (24) – 146 games, .236/.282/.337, 5HR 32RBI, 35 runs, 14 doubles, 79 OPS+, 0.0 bWAR

OF Chris Denorfia (33) – 144 games, .279/.337/.395, 10HR 47RBI, 67 runs, 21 doubles, 11 stolen bases, 111 OPS+, 4.3 bWAR

Skinny:

It’s not everyday you see a bench player who had a WAR over 4 in the prior season but that’s what the Padres have in Chris Denorfia.  Denorfia did a little bit of everything in 2013 but the biggest contribution came on defense where he played all 3 spots in the OF to a tune 20 runs saved and a UZR of 16.3 (top 10 in both).  But that wasn’t all, he stole 11 bases (3rd straight year with double digits), hit 10 HR, and put up his 3rd straight year with a wRC+ over 100.  He could start on many teams.

The rest of the bench is really just comprised of what you’d expect from a bench.  Some players that can play anywhere and can be counted on to handle some situational hitting.

Starting Rotation:

Ace: Andrew Cashner (27) – 26 starts, 10-9, 3.09 ERA, 175.0 IP, 6.6 K/9, 2.72 K/BB, 1.13 WHIP, 111 ERA+, 2.4 bWAR

#2: Ian Kennedy (29) – 31 starts, 7-10, 4.91 ERA, 181.1 IP, 8.1 K/9, 2.23 K/BB, 1.40 WHIP, 75 ERA+, 0.0 bWAR (w/ Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres)

#3: Tyson Ross (26) – 16 starts, 3-8, 3.17 ERA, 125.0 IP, 8.6 K/9, 2.70 K/BB, 1.15 WHIP, 108 ERA+, 1.3 bWAR

#4: Eric Stults (34) – 33 starts, 11-13, 3.93 ERA, 203.2 IP, 5.8 K/9, 3.28 K/BB, 1.27 WHIP, 87 ERA+, 0.8 bWAR

#5: Robbie Erlin (23) – 9 starts, 3-3, 4.12 ERA, 54.2 IP, 6.6 K/9, 2.67 K/BB, 1.24 WHIP, 83 ERA+, 0.3 bWAR

Good News:

Andrew Cashner The absence of Josh Johnson is noticeable as he impressed in the spring but is now expected to be out for around 5 weeks, and that’s the optimistic report.  Unfortunately, injuries are a part of Josh Johnson who has only managed to make 20 starts or more 4 times in his 9 year career.  If he comes back on time and pitches up to the abilities he has shown when healthy, his career ERA+ is 123, he will provide a nice boost to the Padres rotation come May.

As for the guys who will be starting, a lot of focus will be on Andrew Cashner who pitched well enough to earn the opening day spot over new addition Ian Kennedy.  In Cashner’s first season as a full time starter, he pitched well, to the tune of a 3.09 ERA.  While his FIP (3.35) and xFIP (3.62) indicate that those numbers, or ones like it, may be repeatable, but his big drop in K/9 (6.6) from the year before (10.1) is a bit of a concern.  He lowered his walk rate by over 1 per 9 and pitching in San Diego should keep the long ball from occurring which means Cashner could put up some pretty nice numbers by the end of the year.

Tyson Ross could really go either way after making some big improvements last season.  Between 2012 and 2013, Ross improved his K/9 by 3, BB/9 by 1.2, ERA+ by 48, and WHIP by 0.66.  So the real question for him is which year was truly indicative of his skill.  The projections on FanGraphs expect some regression but mostly a lot closer to last season.  If that’s the case, Ross will be a nice middle of the rotation pitcher.

Eric Stults is also a nice option in the #4 spot.  His 2.91 ERA in 2012 jumped up to 3.93 in 2013 but that came with an improved K/9, BB/9 and FIP.  Although he’s 34 years old, Stults only has those 2 seasons as a consistent starter and while expecting him to have a breakout year will lead to disappointment, he should be able to hold down his role on the team.

Bad News:

Kennedy could be a very nice pickup for the Padres if he turns things around, but he has been trending in the wrong direction.  Despite an almost identical K/9 over the time period, Kennedy has posted a worse BB/9, HR/9, ERA, FIP, xFIP, and WAR each year from 2011 through 2013 leading to an fWAR of only 0.6 last season.  The good news is that the move from Arizona to San Diego should help the HR totals and with his strikeouts holding steady, it’s just his control that will need to improve.  Even with a comeback year, Kennedy represents a pretty average #2 option in the rotation, barring a repeat of his 2011 season.

Robbie Erlin is expected to be the place holder for Josh Johnson to begin the year although prospect Matt Wisler could get some action should Johnson’s injury linger and Erlin struggle in the role.  Erlin only has 9 career starts so there’s still a lot to be seen but unless he really crushes it for the first month or so, it’s unlikely he’ll be the one in the rotation come summer.

Bullpen:

Closer: Huston Street (30) – 58 games, 2-5, 2.70 ERA, 56.2 IP, 33 saves, 7.3 K/9, 3.29 K/BB, 1.02 WHIP, 127 ERA+

Set-Up Man: Joaquin Benoit (36) – 66 games, 4-1, 2.01 ERA, 67 IP, 24 saves, 9.8 K/9, 3.3 K/BB, 1.03 WHIP, 209 ERA+ (w/ Tigers)

MR: Dale Thayer (33) – 69 games, 3-5, 3.32 ERA, 65 IP, 18 holds, 8.9 K/9, 2.9 K/BB, 1.25 WHIP, 103 ERA+

MR: Alex Torres (26) – 39 games, 4-2, 1.71 ERA, 58 IP, 5 holds, 9.6 K/9, 3.1 K/BB, 0.90 WHIP, 224 ERA+ (w/ Rays)

MR: Nick Vincent (27) – 45 games, 6-3, 2.14 ERA, 46.1 IP, 10 holds, 9.5 K/9, 4.45 K/BB, 0.95 WHIP, 161 ERA+

MR: Donn Roach (24) – Did not play in MLB in 2013

LR: Tim Stauffer (31) – 43 games, 3-1, 3.75 ERA, 69.2 IP, 8.3 K/9, 3.20 K/BB, 1.13 WHIP, 91 ERA+

Skinny:

Huston StreetThe Padres have a good bullpen, plain and simple.  Out goes Luke Gregorson, in comes Joaquin Benoit coming off an impressive year in Detroit where he posted a 2.01 ERA and 1.03 WHIP.  Even if he regresses back towards his career averages, the spacious confines of Petco Park should work well to help minimize the potential damage caused by his tendency to give up fly balls.  He’ll be the 8th inning man that leads to Huston Street who has 234 saves and 41 blown saves in his 9 year career (85%).  Street has saved at least 20 games each season since 2009 and in the past two years has 55 saves and only 3 blown saves (95%).

The other members of the bullpen provide a lot of strikeouts including Nick Vincent‘s 4.45 K/BB from last season.  The team should be able to handle most late game situations.

Top 10 Prospects (M)

1. C Austin Hedges

2. RHP Max Fried

3. RHP Matthew Wisler

4. RHP Casey Kelly

5. OF Hunter Renfroe

6. OF Rymer Liriano

7. SS Jace Peterson

8. RHP Burch Smith

9. RHP Joe Ross

10. RHP Joe Wieland

Skinny:

The Padres have some nice pitching prospects, though none of them project to be clear cut aces.  Wisler, Fried and Smith are the most interesting of them with Wisler and Smith likely to see time in the majors this season and Fried, maybe the best of them, still a few years away.

The Padres also have nice OF options in Liriano and Renfroe who may not have a spot in the lineup with the current OF being full, but should someone get injured they could get a chance to see what they can do.  Finally, Austin Hedges is the 2nd best catching prospect in baseball behind the Mets’ d’Arnaud and although he’s not expected to make an appearance in 2014, his impeccable defense behind the plate is expected to give him a long career.

Season Projection:

Offensively, the Padres have compiled a nice lineup with a good mix of guys who can get on base and power, even at a stadium where home runs come to die.  However, it seems like the team is lacking that one big name player who can take the lineup from very good to great.

The bullpen is one of the better pens in the NL, but the rotation leaves something to be desired.  Cashner could develop into a very good pitcher but I think it’s a bit too much to expect him to be a true ace.  If Cashner takes a step forward, Kennedy makes a comeback, Johnson gets healthy and pitches well, and Ross and Stults pitch as well as they did last season, the rotation can probably make up for lacking a true ace but that’s a lot that needs to go right.

Overall, the Padres are a few transactions away from being a playoff team but in a tough NL West, I think they’ll fall short this season.

Projected Record: 82-80, 4th in NL West