Inspired by comments of The Fathers and Richard B. Wade in Saturday night’s IGD, I thought I’d take a little closer look at Bruce Bochy’s reluctance to give Xavier Nady a more prominent role in the Padres offense this year. I complain about it constantly, but complaining gets old and it doesn’t solve anything. Maybe it’s time to dig deeper and see if there’s a reason for Bochy’s decision to sit Nady more often than not.
We can debate Nady’s various strengths (home run power) and weaknesses (relatively poor showing against RHP), but there’s a lot of speculation in that. I know because I’m usually right near the front in voicing what I think Nady is capable of doing if given the chance. And I stand by it. However, it might be more instructive to look at the situation from a different angle. Namely, how have inexperienced young hitters done on Bochy’s watch when he’s given them a fair chunk of playing time?
Basically I made a list of all hitters who
- were age 26 or younger coming into season X;
- had accumulated fewer than 500 career at-bats prior to season X; and
- accumulated at least 200 at-bats in season X.
The first is pretty straightforward; we’re just going for youth there. The second weeds out guys who had already established themselves to a certain degree at the big-league level (e.g., Mark Kotsay, Quilvio Veras). And the third ensures that we find only players who made a real contribution to the team in season X.
Bochy has been managing the Padres since 1995. In that time, there have been a total of 13 players who meet these criteria (two of them, Damian Jackson and Ramon Vazquez, managed to do it twice). Here’s the complete list, in descending order by OPS:
Note: Nady’s 2005 numbers are through Sunday, August 14.
Looking at this list, maybe it’s easier to understand why Bochy is a little gun shy with Nady. When Bochy has given young, inexperienced guys more significant roles, he hasn’t been rewarded very often. Sure, we can say that most of those kids weren’t as talented as Nady and hadn’t put up the kind of numbers he’s putting up this year for the Padres. But I think there’s a tendency for us, as fans, to focus on production at the exclusion of other factors.
You or I might say (and have said), “Gee, that Nady sure can crush the ball; we need to get him in the lineup more often.”
But a manager (and I’m not talking specifically of Bochy at this point – or even of baseball; I’m talking about any manager) could just as easily say something like, “Yeah, he’s strong (smart, clever, dextrous), but based on what I’ve seen him do in real-life situations to this point, I’m not sure I can count on him to do his job consistently well.”
And pulling it back to baseball, maybe we see a justification for not playing Nady more often. It’s not a real good justification, because it lumps Nady into a group full of guys like D’Angelo Jimenez, Ben Davis, Melvin Nieves, and (gulp) Ruben Rivera, who didn’t reward Bochy’s decision to let them play on a regular basis. But it at least makes a certain amount of sense.
Say you’re Bochy. You’ve been managing for 10 years. In that time, you’ve seen three guys (Brad Ausmus, Khalil Greene, and Sean Burroughs) hold their own given material playing time despite youth and inexperience. Two of them (Ausmus and Burroughs) regressed badly in season X+1. How eager are you to give another guy who fits that particular profile – regardless of any individual merits – a legitimate shot at a starting job?
Think about it. Would Jason Bay have blossomed had he remained in San Diego? Possibly. But it’s just as likely he would have been stuck on the bench or in Triple-A. Remember how horrified we all were when the Padres brought Rey Ordonez to camp last spring to “challenge” Greene at shortstop? A lot of us feared Ordonez would be the new Deivi Cruz and keep Greene from playing.
It’s a tremendous credit to Greene that he was able to win the job last year, because right now he is the only “young and inexperienced” position player in Bochy’s tenure with the Padres to establish himself as a big-league regular and retain his offensive skills for more than one season. Ten years, one guy. Could Nady be the second? Maybe. But it won’t surprise me one bit if he has to follow Bay’s path out of town to realize his potential.