April in Review

The first month of the 2010 season certainly didn’t turn out as I’d expected. The Padres finished April with a 15-8 record, 1 1/2 games ahead of second place San Francisco. Whether they can sustain their success over the long haul remains to be seen, but at the very least, they have given fans a reason to watch.

Small Sample Fun

Back in March, I expressed concern about Everth Cabrera. He had only 75 plate appearances before landing on the DL, not nearly enough to make any solid judgments, but I don’t like 19 strikeouts against 5 walks. Here’s hoping that once the hamstring heals, Cabrera will get back to the approach that made him so successful as a rookie.

Speaking of small samples, a couple of weeks ago I praised Chase Headley for tightening up his strike zone. At that point, he had fanned five times in 52 plate appearances. From then until the end of the month, he had 14 strikeouts in 45 plate appearances. Call it the Ducksnorts jinx. Or, more accurately, random fluctuation within an expected range of performance.

Words Are So Tasty, I Would Love to Eat Some

Speaking of Headley, I love that he and his teammates get offended when analysts doubt them. It is the job of analysts to doubt a team that ranks second to last in payroll and that is coming off a 75-win season, but it is also the job of baseball players to go out and play games regardless of what anyone may say. These guys are professionals, among the best in the world at what they do. If they didn’t get offended by such public doubts, I’d be concerned.

For the record, I pegged the Padres at 75 wins this season. And this quote from the oh-so-shy Heath Bell is money:

The so-called experts don’t want us to win because it proves them wrong. If we play well, it shows everyone that they’re not as smart as they make themselves out to be. So it’s up to us to keep winning.

As an analyst and a fan, let me just say that I hope the Padres keep proving me wrong. Given the choice between looking smart and seeing the team I root for bring a championship to San Diego, I’ll take being an idiot every day of the week (some would argue I’m already there, but that’s another story).

Speaking of proving me wrong, and again acknowledging the small sample, I love what Tony Gwynn Jr. is doing so far. I still have serious reservations based on his larger body of work, but he is proving to be a tough out.

I will give Gwynn this: He knows the strike zone. And he finished April on a serious tear, hitting .471/.591/.647 over the final seven games. Again, we can’t extrapolate anything on the basis of seven games, but the fact that he can do something like that in small stretches gives me some hope. That and the fact that with his new batting stance, he no longer looks like a victim at the plate.

Keep it going, Junior, make me eat my words.

Hype and Everything After

Kyle Blanks and Mat Latos, perhaps not surprisingly, have struggled a bit in the early going. The thing about young, inexperienced players is that they tend to be unreliable. Sometimes they play great, other times not so much. I suggested before the season, I think in a podcast at The Friarhood, that Blanks was among the Padres most likely to disappoint in 2010 because expectations are so high.

This is hardly a novel observation, but here’s a common progression:

  1. Kid plays well in minors, gets noticed
  2. Attention becomes hype, creates unrealistic expectations
  3. Kid gets promoted, fails to meet expectations
  4. People give up on kid, turn attention to some other prospect
  5. Kid continues to develop, “surprises” people who had given up on him

We’re seeing that with Headley, Wade LeBlanc (who finally started listening), and even Tim Stauffer right now. They may not bring the sexy that Blanks and Latos do, but they play good baseball, which is kind of nice.

Headley and Blanks

As for Blanks, yeah, he’s striking out a ton and he needs to make an adjustment at the plate. The question becomes, where is the best place for him to make that adjustment, here or in Portland? The answer may well be Portland, but not just yet. Their strong start notwithstanding, the Padres still need to be evaluating players in terms of possible future contributions to the organization. If that means letting Blanks take his lumps at the big-league level, so be it.

Give Randy Ready a chance to work with him a bit longer; if they don’t figure it out after — I don’t know how long; that sort of judgment is above my pay grade — then maybe send Blanks back to Portland and let him work on some things away from the spotlight. But we’re not there yet.

Meanwhile, I like that Headley is doing what he can to help a guy who is going through what he went through in trying to learn a new position at the big-league level. Quoth Headley: “You get mentally exhausted and so frustrated from trying so hard that you almost stand in your own way from letting your natural ability take over.”

Are You Ready for This?

Speaking of Ready, the Padres hit .248/.325/.387 in April and averaged 4.61 runs per game. Those numbers are up slightly from all of last year (.242/.321/.381, 3.94 R/G).

The main problem is that he hasn’t gotten his troops to produce away from the bandbox that is Petco Park:

      PA   BA  OBP  SLG  R/G
Home 416 .267 .364 .411 5.18
Road 463 .232 .291 .366 4.08

If Ready can get these kids to hit on the road, he just might survive the summer. But hasn’t that always been the problem? Or the opposite, whatever.

Apropos of Nothing

I still love the fact that the Padres have outscored opponents, 31-12, in the fourth inning of games this year. Interestingly, it isn’t so much because they’ve been dominating as they’ve been capitalizing on what opportunities they’ve had:

        G  PA   BA  OBP  SLG  R
Padres 23 120 .350 .445 .600 31
Opp    23 102 .337 .396 .511 12

Padres hitters have done plenty of damage, but the pitchers haven’t exactly been stingy. However, they have managed to keep the opposition from converting hits into runs. It will be interesting to see if they can keep doing that. A better strategy would be to limit the offensive output, which, of course, is easier said than done.

What Have You Done with My Pitching Staff, and Can You Keep Doing It?

The Padres finished April with a 129 ERA+, fourth best in the National League (behind only the Mets, Cardinals, and Giants). This is due in part to Jon “Hypnotist of Fielders” Garland and his seven unearned runs, but also to the fact that guys are pitching well.

The starters finished April with a tidy 3.12 ERA. Opponents hit .254/.323/.387 against them, which is sort of like Orlando Cabrera. My main complaint with the rotation, beyond Garland’s pace, is the fact that these guys haven’t worked deep into ballgames, averaging 5 2/3 innings per start.

Then again, it’s early in the season and Bud Black, himself a former pitcher and pitching coach, may be mindful of workloads. Padres starters broke 100 pitches in eight of 23 April games, with the peak being 108 (Kevin Correia twice: April 7 and April 12).

The bullpen, meanwhile, has been filthy (as one might expect from a pen full of bulls). Padres relievers posted a 2.79 ERA in April, limiting batters to a .195/.266/.314 line, which is like… well, guys don’t hit like that anymore. It’s sort of like Tommy Corcoran around the turn of the 20th century, but you don’t remember him, so that’s not very useful. I dunno, Dave McKay? It’s bad, real bad. And by bad, of course, I mean good… because I’m talking about the pitchers.

Oy. Where is my mind?

Speaking of pitchers, LeBlanc and Clayton Richard can swing the shillelagh. Don’t be surprised if Black decides to employ them as pinch-hitters at some point.

What else. I feel like I’m missing something. Eh, I usually feel that way. Let’s just call it a day and hope the boys can keep it going in May.

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13 Responses »

  1. Yes, knock wood, the Pads are playing well right now. I love it. I heard that Gwynn changed his foot position at the plate and, since that change, has been batting .400 in the last 25 games. I’m still a little leery of Cabrera, with the errors at the beginning of the season, and I hope he gains confidence and consistency.

    Good post!

  2. You left out the aggressive baserunning (steals, 1st to 3rd, etc.) and the defense, including the Padres’ base stealing prevention, if you want to compare to Boston for a few laughs. Don’t forget the pitchers not only holding runners, but picking them off. What you left out is no big deal. Those omissions probably are a separate post anyway.

  3. Thanks, Geoff, this is great stuff (as usual). Just had a quick question, though. I was wondering how this month compared to last April in terms of strikeouts looking? Especially on the outside corners. Maybe it was just that Gonzo & Black ejection game but I feel like I’d have to count on both hands for the amount of times I’ve seen Blanks S.O.L.

    Also is Scott Hairston starting to get hot a la 2009?

    Thanks again!

  4. What are you forgetting? Speed on the base paths and taking chances! Leading the NL in steals, something I have been waiting for since they moved to Petco. May the Moneyball mentality (i.e., getting on base and waiting for homers) never again raise its ugly head! Keep it up Padres, having a blast listening to the analysts either continue to write you off, or eat their words…

  5. Geoff, good review of the month so far. One additional information about the pitching staff is important to note. The home/road split is astounding (ERA 1.53/4.12 with OPS against .579/.744) and yet the team managed to be .500 on the road.

    At home for the month, the Padres RS/RA is 57-24. Taking the explosive first game out (17-2), the numbers stand at 40-22, which is a great ratio to be winning games at home. I’m optimistic going forward that the team will be above .500 at home games. The road games, however, are of concern, with pitchers giving up more than twice as many runs than at home (53 vs. 24) so far. Let’s hope the pitching will improve on the road and don’t fall off too much at home.

    Go Padres!

  6. If Blanks is having trouble with breaking pitches I doubt AAA will help him, he needs to learn to deal with major league quality pitches.

    Why is Sean “Gas Can” Gallagher still with the team? Is he out of options?

  7. Garland has sped things up quite a bit. Was at the game yesterday, and his pace was almost normal. I think someone had a talk with him.

  8. Never look hard at the standings before Memorial Day. Team is playing well, 6 shutouts is remarkable and they are finding ways to win.

    And nobody else in the division is the least bit scary.

  9. I enjoy reading your articles and I like how ESPN cites you in the power rankings. Should definitely give you some solid hits, excuse the baseball pun. Seemed appropriate. As far as Blanks goes, Scott Hairston should have the starting job and Blanks well, in my book, doesn’t really have a role on this team other than possibly a power pinch hitter. He’s a young guy that’s going to get picked on by opposing pitchers. As far as the pitching, isn’t 5 or 6 innings what the Padres starters have been used to since Bud Black came in? And with a pen of bulls like that, who can blame him?

  10. @Louise: Thanks for commenting. I hope with Cabrera, it’s just a matter of getting him more reps.

    @Larry, @Brian: Yes, I should have mentioned the baserunning and LeBlanc’s insane pickoff totals. And yes, that would make a good future post.

    @James: That’s a terrific question. I’m not sure how readily available such information is but I will see what I can find.

    @Didi: Good point about the home/road splits.

    @Anthony: Unless things get really bad, to the point where he clearly has lost all confidence, I’d prefer to see Blanks stay in San Diego as well. Fortunately Black seems to have a good amount of patience with the kids.

    And yeah, Gallagher is out of options (along with Mujica and Stauffer).

    @Zach: Good, let’s hope he keeps it going.

    @Richard: My main concern with the starters not working deep into games is that if the Padres are still in contention come August, they will need those bullpen arms to be fresh and ready for the stretch run.

  11. @James: Okay, this isn’t exactly what you were asking, but it’s the closest I could find in terms of percentage of strikeouts that were looking:

    2009: 23%
    2010: 26%

    So, yes, the numbers are up a little so far.

  12. One disappointment for me in this young season has been the bench. I was hoping for a few more hits from Stairs and Salazar. As you say, LeBlanc and Richard could handle some pinch-hitting.

  13. Great post, Geoff! Two things: it’s totally the Ducksnorts curse; and, what about Everth? I expect a detailed report on our favorite young SS to project and compare to all kinds of players past and present ASAP! ;-)