Padres Month in Review: April 2006

Sunday’s highly improbable comeback victory over the Dodgers to close the month notwithstanding, the Padres’ April showing was undeniably miserable. There were implosions by members of the rotation and bullpen, collisions in the outfield, and, of course, Operation Shutdown by the offense at Petco Park. Combined, they led to a 9-15 record, the Padres’ worst in April since 1997, when the club had the same mark en route to a 76-86 season.

A few things went right: We got a pretty good glimpse at what kids such as Josh Barfield and Adrian Gonzalez can do (as well as a reminder that they are still kids and will struggle at times); we saw Khalil Greene take a much more disciplined approach at the plate (with admittedly mixed results so far); we saw Woody Williams and Scott Cassidy step up and establish themselves as key members of the pitching staff; and we got a sense that Chris Young and, to a lesser extent, Clay Hensley should have a home in the Padres’ rotation for some time.

Hitting Woes: Petco Park and Magadan

Of course, when you’re losing more than 60% of your games, there’s a good chance that a lot more is going wrong than right, and this seems to be the case with the Padres. First and foremost, the offense has been atrocious. It’s particularly pronounced at home, where the club came within three outs of being swept by three different division rivals in the month, but the truth is, they’re not hitting anywhere. The Padres finished April last in the big leagues in (deep breath) R/G, HR, BA, OBP, SLG, OPS, RC27, and ISO.

Some are calling for the head of hitting coach Dave Magadan. This is hardly a surprising response — If things aren’t working, then surely someone is to blame and must be held accountable. That said, there are four questions we need to consider before rushing to judgment, one way or the other, regarding Magadan:

  1. If a hitting coach wields a significant amount of influence over the performance of his charges — particularly veterans who have a track record and presumably understand what their job entails and how to do it — then why isn’t he paid as much as the hitters he is supposed to be coaching?
  2. If the hitting coach’s presence is not such a significant factor, then why aren’t the players held accountable for their own performance? Shouldn’t they be fired for not performing to expectations?
  3. If the hitting coach must be fired, then who will replace him? You can’t just fire someone without having a plan to improve things. I mean, you can — it happens all the time; but there’s a word for that. Hint: it starts with “s” and rhymes with “tupid.”
  4. How long would any new hitting coach be given to “make the players perform” (as if he could “make” them do anything) before meeting the same fate as his predecessor?

Magadan has had a good track record with the Padres. Or perhaps it’s more precise to say that the Padres have done well during Magadan’s tenure. For that matter, most of the hitters have a decent track record. The most likely scenario is that a bunch of guys are slumping right now. The majority of them will bounce back toward career norms, with some of the younger guys possibly taking a step forward, and some of the older guys taking a step back. Why? Because that’s just how it works.

Magadan shouldn’t take the fall now, nor should he be hailed as a savior when his hitters regress to the mean. He is what he is — a professionally competent hitting coach: no more, no less. That may not be very exciting or sensational, but it’s the truth.

So the offense should take care of itself. And if it doesn’t, there probably isn’t much — short of bringing in new hitters to replace the current crop — that Magadan or anyone else can do about it.

Who Is Going to Petco Park, and Why Aren’t They Padres Fans?

A more troublesome development is that attendance is down at Petco Park. The Padres averaged 37,531 their first year, 35,400 their second, and just 32,193 through the first month of their third. The fact that some notable Padres hitters have complained publicly about their home park and its effect on offense has led to a few potential problems. Beyond its possible impact on attracting top free-agent hitters and on team morale (conceding defeat before engaging in battle is a poor strategy for motivating folks or actually succeeding at something), it can create a perception in the minds of fans that boring baseball is played at Petco Park.

When the home team is winning, “boring” is tolerable — a necessary by-product of success. When that same team is losing — especially in a city as beautiful as San Diego, where there are countless other ways to spend money and leisure time — “boring” is a compelling reason to find something else to do. And often folks who find something else to do never come back.

This leads to another problem. A lot of people who live in San Diego aren’t from here. Sure, they might call it home, but there’s no real connection to the region. This is why you’ll hear ex-New Yorkers complain about the pizza even after having lived here for 20 years (which is even more annoying than hearing someone refer to our state as “Cali,” but I digress).

Anyway, what you end up with is this:

  • San Diegans who have better things to do than watch the home team play “boring” baseball.
  • Folks from other parts of the country who are excited to see their team come into town for a few games.

I don’t want to overstate matters, but it sucks going to a game at a beautiful ballpark, in a beautiful city, where there’s a real good chance you’ll be outnumbered by frequently obnoxious fans of the other team. It sucks so much, in fact, that it potentially keeps folks from coming out to support the home club. The net effect is that not only are crowds getting smaller, they are getting more hostile toward the home team as well. I have no numbers to support this, I’m just telling you what I see and hear at Petco. And I don’t know what, if any, effect “home crowd” hostility might have on players — as a fan, I hate it, but I’m not paid millions to block that stuff out — but if it does impact them, do you suppose this could be a deterrent to potential free agents as well?

Continuity Problems

I suspect we’re also witnessing one of the risks of turning over much of a team’s roster. If you’re losing with familiar names and faces, then maybe it makes sense to stick it out a bit longer and see if the guys can pull through. With so many new players, some folks (not all, but some) might not be as patient with a group in which they haven’t invested nearly as much on an emotional level. In other words, the general attitude might be one of, “Yeah, the Padres are losing — so what; who the heck is Mike Cameron, anyway?”

When there is so much change over a single off-season, it brings an expectation that you are making the ballclub better than last year’s version. And when the results aren’t immediately evident, that can lead to disappointment (or worse). But again, this is a risk of bringing in a bunch of new guys. And note that this risk doesn’t make it a bad strategy. With the exception of the Mark Loretta for Doug Mirabelli trade (which is mitigated somewhat by the emergence of Barfield and the apparent decline of Loretta) and the failure to re-sign Mark Sweeney, I can’t find fault with any of the moves the Padres made.

For all my whining about Xavier Nady, once the team had determined not to play him every day, it made absolute sense to move him for a resource (legitimate center fielder) they desperately needed. The Rangers trade was a no-brainer. And even though I didn’t like it at the time, I could at least understand the thought process behind the deal with Washington. Ramon Hernandez? Sure, I’d love to see him still in San Diego, but not with anything close to the contract Baltimore gave him.

The point is that if the Padres had kept last year’s team intact, they probably wouldn’t be doing any better than they are now, but folks might be a little more patient with them. (Then again, folks might wonder why the Padres didn’t do more to address their weaknesses.) Change leads to an expectation of improvement; when that doesn’t happen right away, it leads to disillusionment. It leads to a lot of second-guessing and eventually even apathy, which is about the worst thing that can happen in sports (ask Barry Bonds).

Condensed Version, Please

Okay, so to pull ourselves back together a bit: April stunk. The hitters didn’t hit, the pitchers didn’t pitch, the Padres played poorly at Petco Park in front of smaller and (seemingly) more hostile crowds. On the plus side, they got to see what some of the franchise’s future could do at the big-league level and finished the month on an up note with a snatch ‘em back win against the Dodgers that was reminiscent of last September’s victory against Washington.

Also, the Pads are now entering May, which was their best month in 2005 and pretty much the reason they won the NL West last year. Although it’s unreasonable to expect the Padres to duplicate their success from a year ago, in this division, which will be lucky to see even one team win as many as 85 games, they shouldn’t have to. If the Pads can start executing with more consistency and just gain a little ground in May, they’ll be on the right track. And that’s all anyone can ask.

32 Responses »

  1. Chirst Geoff, you are hard to keep up with. You really should be getting paid for your stuff, and more then Google Ad pocket change.

    Great stuff this morning.

  2. Good stuff, Geoff. As always.


    Mirabelli to catch Wakefield tonight vs. Yankees. Guess, the Padres traded him back.


    This is the ESPN story. Wakefield for Josh Bard.

    Josh Bard? Couldn’t the Pads have gotten a Double-A pitcher or something?

  4. By the way, great post Geoff.

  5. I take back my comment — looks like they got sidearmer Cla Meredith. OK, now I feel a little better. . . ..

  6. Excellent analysis Geoff, as usual. One interesting aspect to all the roster turnover was the decision (or non-decision) to retain Bochy. If the Pads blow out the whole coaching staff while rebuilding the team they would have sent the message that it’s a clean slate, the old way of doing things wasn’t good enough and it’s time to start fresh. By keeping Bochy (and Magadan and Ballsley) they instead chose to project some stability and are saying that they are happy with the overall direction and philosophies of the staff. I’m not saying fire Bochy or Magadan or anybody else but I think it has a lot to do with the way the team has been playing, especially the veterans. For me it definitely colors my perception of the team. While I don’t think the Padres play “boring” baseball I do think they aren’t particularly exciting and they’re certainly predictable. You know Bochy is going to pinch hit with a sub par veteran to get the platoon advantage, you know he’s going to leave a pitcher in a little too long if he’s due up the next inning, you know what he’s going to say on 1090 when talking about the lack of hitting: “We need to see if we can get some of these guys going”.

    Except for one month last year the Padres were underacheivers. They’re certainly underacheiving again this year. At what point do you look to make a management change, if only to shake things up? Or is a big trade the answer, ship out some veterans and whatever valuable prospects we have to get some quality players? I don’t have the answers, I think we’re all just disappointed and confused by this team.

  7. Reports out of Boston are that there’s also a PTBNL coming from the Sox, which is quite a haul for a backup catcher if it’s true. Apparently the Yankees got involved and tried to either block the trade or up the ante.

  8. Love the cap for the month of April. I agree with almost everything. I have a theory about the attendance at Petco, aside from the way the team is playing. When Petco first opened, it was new and exciting and most people overlooked the price of tickets, the “difficulty” in parking and getting there. In the now third year of Petco, when “decent” seats going for $26 and the cheapest seats at $12 ( I don’t consider sitting on the grass and watching the game on the screen a seat for $8), it begins to get a bit pricy for the family of 4. What I believe is happening is that the average fan can only afford to come once or twice a year and that’s all. I remember paying $3 to sit in the bleachers at SD Murphy Stadium for a doubleheader, no less. Those days are gone, but not forgotten.

  9. A PTBNL from the Sox would be great.

    Loretta? Ha! Allow me to fantasize for a moment . . .

    It will probably be Adam Stern or someone like that . .

  10. Trade take from Firebrand: sounds negative.

    However, Josh Bard ain’t great shake either. But, getting 2 players plus cash/PTBNL for a 36-years old backup catcher is awesome.

  11. Geoff: Excellent summary. But where do you get off being so calm, rational, reasoned and level-headed? :-)

    Anthony: Interesting take on the underachievement of the team. That’s a tough call to make though when you consider all the variables which come into play. In fact, last year’s team won more games than their Pythagorean projection, if I’m not mistaken, which would indicate they overachieved.

    I’d say they have definitely underperformed for the first month. That much is painfully obvious. But I think it’s still too early to say the team is going to underachieve.

  12. Pythagorean or not, if the bats don’t come alive, the Padres are going to lose games more than they’d win.

  13. Orignal speculation out of Boston was that Seanez was part of the deal, not Meredith. Apparently he hasn’t lived up to expectations so far. I doubt he’d be the PTBNL but I’d take him back.

    They may have outperformed their Pythagorean but if they aren’t scoring enough runs based on the talent on the team then I would say they underacheived. But maybe the real problem is my expectations, I though they were better than they really are. I certainly thought they were better than they’ve shown so far this season.

  14. LP: Good point about the ticket prices. Hadn’t thought about that one.

    Pat: It ain’t easy. I was walking 7 1/4 miles around Mission Bay during the game yesterday while thinking about this stuff, and it wasn’t until Bellhorn drove in the game winner that I could really put it all together without getting angry. ;-)

  15. Monday’s game:
    View seats way up behind home: $18 x 4=$72
    Parking: metered spot on 2nd/Island .75 (arrived by 5)
    Dinner at the Field: $56
    Cotton Candy for the kids: $4.50
    One beer: $5.00
    One coffee: $2.50
    Total: $140.75 for the family

    Could do it cheaper, but I agree with above, we might pull that stunt one more time this year, maybe. Its costs a lot.

  16. On attendance: The reason opponents’ fans tend to take over is that Padre fans sit on their hands (unless they are being used to hold cell phones) until a Padre hits a home run or Hell’s Bells starts playing. If only we could go back to the glory days at Qualcomm in 1996 (Ca-mi! Ca-mi!) and 1998 when we had fans concentrating on every pitch. Sadly, that is not to be because…

    The Padres have very few players to cheer for, and this team has no personality. In the past we could look forward to a Gwynn or Caminiti or Nevin coming up to the plate, or someone like Eric Owens who would play his heart out. Now we sit around waiting for the ninth inning, hoping the Padres lead by 3 or fewer so we can see Trevor Time.

    Combine the lackadaisical ambiance, uninspiring team, high prices and parking issues, and Petco Park isn’t an enticing proposition.

  17. The Mirabelli deal officially inlcudes either a PTBNL or cash considerations, not both:

    Also, this bit of info from the Sons of Sam Horn forum:
    Theo was just on EEI talking about the trade. He said that the Padres were determined to move Mirabelli somewhere over the next few days, and the Sox figured they shouldn’t miss this opportunity to get him back while he was readily available.

    I love the Sox fans, 11 pages of commentary on a minor trade like this.

  18. We’ve had less then ten games of Mike Cameron…I think that Cameron can be that exciting player, but starting in a slump hasn’t helped.

    Khalil’s demeanor is a wonderful asset for the player, but hurts the marketing here. He has everything else to make him a marketer’s dream…distinctive looks, great highlight plays, hits home runs. Even has his little Tuna fish and rap music quirks. But he is sooooo calm, it is hard to build him up in the press.

    I do think this team is on the right track long term. Our pitching draft last year was excellent and we may see dividends from that soon. But this year is looking like a roller coaster ride.

  19. GY … A review of April and no mention of the fact that Jake Peavy is 1-3 with a 5.17 ERA ( … seems like he’s gotta be getting some HEAT from us!!! He’s gotta be #1 … and getting better!

  20. Rich, Cameron may be too much of the true outcome player to be loved by fans. Too many strikeouts, too low batting average, too many walks. You’ve heard the way people gripe about Giles, and he’ll beat Cameron on BA and Ks. People did get behind Finley even in his down offensive years, but they had a couple of seasons to bond with him.

    A pitching draft in which our second pitcher was Cesar Ramos can’t be that excellent. Carrillo has done well. Vandel is intriguing, but he was held back in extended spring training. Who else from the 2005 draft should get me excited? Pitchers, that is.

  21. Other than the atrocious start in Colorado, Peavy has pitched well.

    Cla Meredith can pitch a little bit, nice haul for Mirabelli.

  22. There are a couple to get mildly excited about.

    Joshua Geer 3 0 2.86 4 4 0 0 0 22.0 27 8 7 1 1 2 18 1.32

    Neil Jamison 0 0 0.00 4 0 0 0 3 4.0 1 0 0 0 0 3 9 1.00

    late round sleeper

    Brenton Carter 1 1 6.08 5 5 0 0 0 23.2 33 20 16 2 2 6 19 1.65

    John Madden and Jon Link also have potential..

  23. my comment is awaiting moderation? this something new?

  24. It seems to me that we’re forgetting that Mirabelli cost us Loretta. That means we essentially traded Loretta for Bard, Meredith and PTBNL and/or cash. It’s hard for me to get behind that one, even though Barfield has outplayed Loretta.

  25. Me too, Lamar.

    Mirabelli for Bard, Meredith, Crash or Cash, pretty good deal.

    Loretta for Mirabelli, bad deal. Doesn’t matter what Loretta does in the regular season, he was worth more. He was worth more all spring when he was hitting very well.

  26. Loretta had to go. He wasnt going to voluntarily move off of second base and Barfield was ready. The Padres had asked him to play 3b but he declined. We had to move him or suffer the same fate as when Burroughs replaced Nevin at 3b. We did not need that again.

    Lo’s nrs were starting to decline and seem to have declined further this year.

  27. It may not look like that bad of a deal if Loretta keeps hitting at a .219 clip this year.

    To me this deal justifies the Loretta deal, Loretta would have been gone at the end of this season regardless to make room for Barfield, now the padres have the rights to a young catcher who will bridge the gap to Kottaris and will be a solid back up for years to come.

    Long term (which based upon this april the Pads really need to plan for) this looks like a good deal.

  28. Players are currency. Do you spend ten bucks to get a six dollar burger? Loretta was worth ten bucks at the end of last year. Not the fifty bucks he was worth at the end of 2004, not just six bucks either.

    I haven’t seen any reports that Loretta was asked to move to 3b and declined. It doesn’t matter, anyway. You shop Loretta all winter and spring, when he was hitting .340. Worst case, a trade for a backup catcher was going to be there at the end of spring training.

    If I buy a new car at a great price and crash two days later, I still made a good deal. We sold Loretta low. Selling Mirabelli relatively high doesn’t make up for it.

  29. Didi: Part of what I was saying is, theoreticall, last year’s team should have lost more than they won. Ergo, expecting this year’s team, which I don’t think is markedly improved from last year’s team, to be much better than .500 is unrealistic.

    Anthony: I hear you. Their offensive performance has been way less than expected, but it’s still a small sample size. Over the course of the season that should come up somewhat, but I still don’t think we should have expected this to be a particularly good offensive team.

    There is really only one stellar player in the starting lineup, Giles, and he is followed by a mixed bag of aging veteran’s, who would have to be considered to have about as much chance, if not more, of declining significantly as performing better than league average, and young players/rookies who are bound to be up and down all year.

    Factor in a starting rotation which has consisted of guys like Park, Williams, Estes and Brazelton, and there just doesn’t seem to be much cause to believe they would be better than last year. If they had bumped up the rotation, or brought in some better bats, maybe, but the offense just wasn’t improved enough to make them competitive with that staff.

    Still I think we will see better play in the weeks to come if we can keep our lineup out there and healthy. Cameron should make an impact at the plate and has already made his presence felt in the field. But, unfortunately, I don’t think they will be much over .500, if that. Of course there’s always hope. Peavy, Young, and Hensley could form a pretty good front three. Williams and Park could keep up their performance as the back end of the roation, and the bullpen is looking pretty good. I’m pulling for them!

  30. Hank: Sorry ’bout the moderation thing. That’s just an anti-spam measure I’ve got in there to catch folks who dump comments full of meaningless links. I’ve made a note of this in the comments policy and added a link to the policy above the reply form so everyone can see it. Again, apologies for the trouble!

  31. thanks for the info, in the future I will just leave out the links. I can put them in later if someone wants them.