Bochy and Young Hitters

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

  1. were age 26 or younger coming into season X;
  2. had accumulated fewer than 500 career at-bats prior to season X; and
  3. 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:

Young, Inexperienced Hitters under Bruce Bochy
Xavier Nady 2005 233 .270 .328 .485 .813 .215 .381 19.4
Khalil Greene 2004 484 .273 .349 .446 .795 .174 .379 32.3
Brad Ausmus 1995 328 .293 .353 .412 .765 .119 .260 65.6
Sean Burroughs 2003 517 .286 .352 .402 .755 .116 .270 73.9
Gene Kingsale 2002 216 .278 .346 .380 .725 .102 .250 108.0
Damian Jackson 2000 470 .255 .345 .377 .721 .121 .325 78.3
Mike Darr 2001 289 .277 .363 .349 .712 .073 .200 144.5
Xavier Nady 2003 371 .267 .321 .391 .712 .124 .273 41.2
Ramon Vazquez 2002 423 .274 .344 .362 .706 .087 .241 211.5
Ruben Rivera 1999 411 .195 .295 .406 .701 .212 .500 17.9
Melvin Nieves 1995 234 .205 .276 .419 .695 .214 .438 16.7
Ben Davis 2001 448 .239 .337 .357 .694 .118 .290 40.7
Ramon Vazquez 2003 422 .261 .342 .341 .684 .081 .218 140.7
Damian Jackson 1999 388 .224 .320 .356 .676 .131 .356 43.1
D’Angelo Jimenez 2002 321 .240 .311 .327 .638 .087 .234 107.0
average 15 370 .256 .334 .386 .719 .129 .301 45.2

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.

9 Responses »

  1. Hola Jeffe!

    Isn’t your list more of an indictment of the Padres ‘fruitful’ farm system and ‘productive’ player evaluation than it is of Bruce Bochy’s lack of faith in his young players? As you pointed out, the players on that list aren’t exactly Dave Winfields or (even Kevin McReynoldses). Who could blame Bochy for not wanting to give 400 ABs to Melvin Nieves?

    With the jury still out on Khalil Greene and Sean Burroughs, it’s not a stretch to say that the last homegrown long-term productive player for San Diego is Tony Gwynn. Like Jason Bay, the list of potentially good young Padre players who blossomed elsewhere is lengthy (Roberto Alomar is probably at the top of that list) but the number of guys who stuck around to contribute to the franchise is, well, non-existent. Kevin Towers has been around long enough to have rectified this situation, yet according to Baseball Prospectus, the Padres farm system remains one of the worst in the big leagues. For a team operating on a limited salary budget, it’s inexcusable.

  2. Yeah, Brian. There is certainly that aspect to it as well. I don’t think the farm system is in quite as bad shape as some suggest, but it could definitely be a lot better than it is. I’m not sure how much of the problem is identifying amateur talent and how much is developing players once they’re in the system. But you’re right, there’s more to this than “Bochy doesn’t have faith in his young hitters.”

  3. Good job, Geoff.
    I like the analysis.

    Of course, it’s doubly frustrating when the Padres haven’t produced that many hitters from the farm system. For all the good that came out of our system, it’s crazy to see the hitters got better at other organizations.

  4. Thanks, Didi. I’m hoping this is one area that will improve under Sandy Alderson, who has a solid track record of identifying and developing good, young (and cheap) talent.

  5. It’s more than a teeny bit galling to see the Braves, a team that has consistently picked 20 or more slots later than the Padres, able to maintain their run at the top by simply inserting four young rookies in their lineup while the Padres can’t even call up a halfway decent backup shortstop while Greene is out.

    It’s been 23 years since Tony Gwynn was called up. Is it unrealistic to expect the Padres to produce and keep a decent player more than once every quarter century?

  6. The farm system is not great. But what Geoff’s chart shows is that Bochy likes to solve his problems with veterans over young players. I mean, he is not choosing Hall of Famers over these young kids. He is choosing Sweeney over Nady, for example.

    Another example is Whitey Herzog. He ran All-Stars–Keith Hernandez, Ted Simmons, Garry Templeton–out of town and played kids. Lonnie Smith, Willie McGee, Vince Coleman, Whitey gave them all jobs. The Phillies thought Smith’s glove was as liability, and the Yankees didn’t think anything of McGee.

    For better or worse, Geoff has identified a managing style, independent of how good or bad the farm system is.

  7. I think we pretty much know what Bochy’s managing style is. He’s not a good game manager as much as a personel manager.
    The fact that Phil K-evin was getting run out there everyday in spite of his inability to swing the bat well was an indictment of how Bochy is afraid to make any changes. He could have given Nady two starts out of a week and possibly a third start to rest some of the OF but he chose not to do so despite the pronouncement that Nady was going to get 400 ABs for the season.

    By the way, for Nady to get exactly 400 ABs the rest of the season he would have to play in 51 games while averaging 3.3 AB/game. I don’t see that happening, do you?

    It’s too bad that the Padres are just chuggin along with the divison. Bochy might have been more willing to gamble with more ABs for Nady had the Padres been up by double digit games.

    This too doesn’t bode well for Bochy’s managing style. By the book, doesn’t know the time to gamble on a play to win games. A comment which a friend of mine been complaining about for the better part of 7 years and I’m more and more inclined to agree.

  8. I like the analysis, but I don’t get why you cannot experiment. Nevin, flailing. Nady, raking. Hmmm. Let me try, for 2-3 weeks, to give Nady a lot of time and see what happens. If he start to really suck, OK, back to plan A. If he maintains it, let it go. When your plan A is sucking wind, it makes you want to try something different. That is what is frustrating. It should not be a 400 AB vs. 120 AB decision, but about a 40-50 AB experiment.

    Your analysis does not defend this lack of experimentation.

  9. I’m not sure that Bochy is afraid to make changes. I think he is patient and really believes Nevin or Burroughs or whoever will turn it around.

    Now, he may be too optimistic or too patient, but it doesn’t mean he is afraid. We may not like Bochy’s managing style. But just saying it sucks and he sucks is not fair.

    Bochy solves his problems with veterans. He is patient. He is optimistic. These are traits, not reasons to call him an idiot or genius.