Monkeys on Roller Skates

Thanks to reader Lance for hooking us up with seats two rows behind the visitors dugout on Wednesday night. First time I’ve been anywhere near that close at Petco Park, and it’s a whole different experience. For a guy like me who lives in nosebleed, just, wow.

Also, belated welcome to all the folks at Gaslamp Ball who came over and hung with us while GLB was unavailable. Good to see so many familiar names as I browsed through the IGD.

The national story will be that Trevor Hoffman blew a save. Hooray for the media. Here are some other stories that won’t get as much play:

  • Brian Giles struck out chasing ball four in the third. Paul McAnulty followed with a walk that would have loaded the bases. Adrian Gonzalez then grounded into a double play that ended the inning.
  • With runners at the corners and one out in the fifth, Gonzalez killed another rally with an inning-ending double play.
  • Earlier, Josh Bard led off the same inning with a single to left that anyone but he or Gonzalez would have turned into an easy double (which of these guys, incidentally, gets the nickname “Piano Man”?). Bard was thrown out. The Padres proceeded to hit three straight singles and only scored one run. In the third and the fifth, San Diego had golden opportunities to put the proverbial screws to Matt Cain and it just never happened.
  • Scott Hairston flirted with a homer in the bottom of the eighth. Next inning, Jim Edmonds flirted with one of his own that would have won the game.

The main problem with Hoffman isn’t that he’s blown a couple of saves, it’s that whoever is closing games for the Padres needs to be absolutely perfect. That’s a lot to ask of anyone, let alone a guy who clearly is in the decline phase of his career.

So, now we’re left with questions. Some of these I find more compelling than others:

  • Is it time to replace Hoffman as closer?
    Boring question, in my mind, because the answer is “yes” or “no”; at this point, it’s a political debate between those who would cite a few weeks worth of data and those who would counter with several years worth of data. It’s a worthy discussion, just not one that interests me much at this stage.
  • If it’s time to make a move, then who takes over for Hoffman?
    This is a slightly better question, but it’s still not real interesting. The only viable in-house option is Heath Bell, and right now he’s looking more like Scott Linebrink version 2006 than Linebrink version 2005. If Bell can’t answer the, um, bell, then you have to start looking outside the organization. And if this team is as bad as people keep telling me it is, then how much should the front office give up to get someone who can finish games? I hear, based on 22 games, that the Padres are a second-division club. Well, who cares who the closer is for second-division clubs? I don’t agree with this assessment of the Padres, but really, if they suck as bad as folks seem to think, then stick Wil Ledezma out there. At least he’ll be entertaining. People complain that this team is boring. I guarantee you, Ledezma in the ninth would liven things up a bit. (This line of thinking was inspired by reader Lance, who somewhat jokingly suggested Glendon Rusch. Or was it a monkey on roller skates?)
  • If Hoffman can’t close, what can he do?
    Okay, here’s the fun one. If Hoffman can’t close, he’s essentially useless. The Padres employed three key setup men in 2007: Bell, Cla Meredith, and Doug Brocail. The least-used of those, Brocail, worked 76 2/3 innings. The last time Hoffman worked that many innings, Bill Clinton was just starting his second term as 42nd president of the United States. So Hoffman isn’t a setup man. Long relief? The word “long” implies an ability to pitch more than one inning at a time. So much for that. Mopup? Beyond the issue of whether it’s reasonable to pay a guy top dollar to work primarily in meaningless situations, there’s the matter of Hoffman’s history with the club and community. I don’t know that there’s a way to turn him into a mopup man without causing — well, let’s just say that if you think the Padres have some PR issues now, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. And this leads us to the only viable alternative: Force Hoffman to retire and pay him like he’s still closing. It’s not the best use of a mid-market team’s money, but at the very least, nobody will accuse the Padres of being cheap.

I’m still not prepared to give up on Hoffman or this team, although I seem to be in a dwindling minority these days. The Padres are 9-13, which is one game better than they were at the same point in 2006, when they won 88 games.

I maintain that we are witnessing an 85-win team that currently is playing like crap. You will tell me I’m wrong, and I look forward to hearing the basis for your conclusion.

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73 Responses »

  1. #34@LynchMob: Already responded in the other thread. You can read it there if you’re interested. I know I’m not interested in discussing it any longer.

  2. #49@Brett: Who on the current roster made the trip? Bell, Hoffman, Kouz I think… it’s not like the whole bullpen went over there and caught SARS.

  3. #38@PM: The team has averaged something like 86 wins in Petco with the exact opposite of Ichiro hitters. I looked at this a while ago, and the 2004 team scored the most runs of the Petco era while having the least speed (the 2008 squad might compete there). The 2007 team scored the second most runs and had the second least speed.

    It’s absolutely impossible to prove that a slash-hitting offense would either:

    1. Score more at Petco
    2. Score enough on the road

    Obviously it would be better to have a bunch of 380 OBP types who are fast, play quality defense, and have enough power to score on the road. It’s hard to trade for them or sign them on the free agent market (where we don’t play much anyway), but maybe we could draft a few more.

  4. #52@Anthony: That’s another good point. What regulars were over there? I thought A-Gon was? With Hoffman’s margin for error, maybe that trip was enough to throw him a little.

  5. #39: But you can’t throw out ratios like that with a closer who only pitches an inning at a time and about 55 or 60 IP in a season and expect to draw a meaningful conclusion from them.

    That “second half” ERA is basically three outings consisting of 1 2/3 IP. On August 5 he gave up 2 ER in 1 IP, on August 21 he gave up 2 in 1/3, and the last game of the season he gave up 3 in 1/3. That’s over half of the ER he allowed in the “second half.” When you’re dealing with really small samples, like 24 1/3 IP, little things which are really just noise distort the results.

  6. #52@Anthony: Players on the trip:


    At least it wasn’t a regular season game where the whole roster goes.

  7. I hope we don’t have a “closer” after Trevor retires. That way we don’t have to worry about hurting anybody’s feelings when they’re no longer the best pitcher in the bullpen. And more importantly, that way perhaps Bud Black will just go with the hot hand in the high leverage situations. Then again, this is the same manager that thinks having Hairston and Bard sacrifice bunt is a good idea. I suppose it’s better than a manager who makes up his depth chart in descending order of age.

  8. Check this out…

    The U-T website I guess posted this list, showing Maddux with 350 wins, before the end of the game and forgot to take it down.

  9. #52@Anthony: Padres who went to China


  10. #52@Anthony: Padres who went to China


    I’m glad it wasn’t a regular season game where the whole teams goes. Of course, the Red Sox and Atheltics are playing great so far, and they played regular season games in Japan.

  11. #55 We cant applaud the good numbers, and then discount the poor numbers simply because Hoffman doesnt pitch a lot of innings. I understand that a couple of bad games can really hurt an ERA. Hoffman had a very poor final 20 appearances last year.
    8/5 1IP, 2ER
    8/10 1IP, 1ER
    8/21 0.1IP, 2 ER
    8/23 1IP, 1 ER
    8/25 1IP, 1 ER
    8/31 1IP, 1ER
    9/29 1IP, 1ER
    10/1 0.1IP, 3ER
    He gave up runs in 8 of his final 20 games last year. Combine that with his poor April this year, and I think there is cause for concern. He is forty years old.

  12. Hey look. Just as we suspected. Bad offense so far, great starters.

  13. Hoffman feature on front of ESPN’s baseball page:

  14. #60@parlo: And it’s just as likely the chips in his elbow were bothering him at the end of 2007, while the operation to remove them and, perhaps, the trip to China have thrown off his normal preparation causing him some control problems this month.

    I’m not applauding “the good numbers, and then discount(ing) the poor numbers;” I am getting blue in the face trying to get people to realize how silly it is to try to predict a decline based on a sample size which is too small to be of any predictive value whatsoever.

  15. The basis for my conclusion? I’m a pessimist. :)

  16. #64@sdsuaztec4: See, now that’s the kind of honesty I appreciate. Thank you. 8)

  17. I said it was cause for concern to have a 40 year old struggling.
    Since 2004 Hoffman has averaged about 57 innings a year. This month combined with the second half of last year produced 31.8 innings. Thats more than half a season. It would take many years to reach a sample size of 200 IP to statistically confirm his struggling performance. I am not saying he is finished, but I am very concerned. You stated that it is silly to predict a decline, yet you are quick to blame his numbers on his elbow and the trip to China. Unless you are the team physician, that seems equally silly

  18. #63@Pat: I don’t think we need to simply rely on a sample to be able to tell that Trevor has been on a decline and isn’t our best option out of the bullpen anymore, but I just thought I’d point out that for the near future, we’re talking about a total population of probably around 55 projected innings pitched for the season.

    You might have looked already, but if we want to be about 70% confident in making a decision, the necessary sample size would be right around 17 innings pitched.

  19. If we could just hit, the Hoffman issue wouldn’t seem so big.

  20. #12@PM: Depending on the handedness of the batter, PetCo Park suppresses some or all of the following: singles, doubles, home runs, walks. It does, however, increase triples and strikeouts.

  21. #66@parlo: “I said it was cause for concern to have a 40 year old struggling.”

    I apologize then. I was lumping you in with other more emotional/knee-jerk posters. I can certainly understand being concerned.

  22. #67@Dex: OK, I’m convinced. This is all I was looking for really. This is a logical, reasoned argument with some data to back it up. I’ve got nothing to refute this position with and, therefore, I must accpet that he is finished, done, kaput. Still, I will hope it’s just a slow start and he can recover enough to be at least somewhat effective for the remainder of the season. Thanks for the insight.