Symbol of a Lost Season

While the Padres were getting pasted by the Red Sox at Fenway on Monday evening in the first game of what I told a friend “has a chance to be the least competitive series between two baseball teams all season,” I was rewriting an article. Part of that article landed on the cutting room floor, but I think the “deleted scenes” are strong enough to publish…

If ever a game symbolized the Padres’ 2011 season, it was Saturday night’s affair with the Twins at Target Field. Beyond the sheer meaninglessness of a contest between last place teams in the AL Central and the NL West (quick, what are the playoff implications?), there is this: Chris Denorfia led off the game with a triple, and the Padres lost, 1-0.

Getting shut out in a game where your team triples isn’t as uncommon as you might think. Counting Saturday’s contest, it has happened 103 times since 2000. Less common is losing said game, 1-0; still, that has happened 22 times since 2000. The last time also involved the Padres, who beat the Giants at Petco Park on April 20, 2010.

Less common still is losing said game after a leadoff triple. The last time that happened also involved — sing it with me — the Padres. On July 4, 2007, Florida’s Alfredo Amezaga tripled against San Diego’s Chris Young to start the contest. Amezaga never made it home, and neither did any of his teammates. The Padres ended up winning on a walkoff error.

It could be worse: On May 27, 1920, the New York Giants hit three triples and were blanked by Boston Braves right-hander Jack Scott. Going back to at least 1919, this is the only time a team has hit more than two triples in a game and failed to score. Curiously, John McGraw’s Giants finished the season 86-68, while the Braves checked in at 62-90.

There have been 30 multiple-triple, zero-run games in that same span. Nine of those were 1-0 games, the most recent coming on April 25, 1973, when the Baltimore Orioles fell to the Angels despite getting three baggers from Bobby Grich and Brooks Robinson.

Saturday’s contest was decided by a home run off the bat off Danny Valencia, who is hitting .218/.279/.351 as of this writing. Even by the standards of the AL’s worst hitting team (it’s either Minnesota or Oakland, but you get the idea), Valencia is not contributing. And yet, his solo home run was enough to beat a Padres team that led off the game with a triple.

Welcome to their nightmare.

Sunday’s loss was no better… as I said at the time: “The Padres are amazing. Do you realize how hard it is to get beat by Drew Butera?” This was a rhetorical question, but you are welcome to run calculations if you’d like: Butera owns a career line of .188/.224/.280 in 281 PA, which makes him about as dangerous at the plate as former Padres left-hander Randy Wolf.

On the bright side, third baseman Chase Headley (never mind for the moment his throwing error that led to Butera’s moment of glory) is finally blossoming into the Bill Mueller some of us thought he might become after his .291/.389/.434 campaign at Lake Elsinore back in 2006. The home run power hasn’t come and maybe never will, but Headley ranks among league leaders in walks and doubles. His four-hit game on Monday was the third in the span of a week.

While the NL as a whole has seen offensive performance dip from .255/.324/.399 in 2010 to .250/.318/.384 in 2011, Headley’s trend is in the opposite direction, from .264/.327/.375 up to .297/.389/.407. This may seem like a small victory, but when large victories are non-existent, the Padres will take it.

* * *

  • The Next Market Inefficiencies: East Asian Talent (FanGraphs). There are a lot of people in the world; many would be good at baseball if they knew how to play.
  • Luebke credits Dad for work ethic ( The one guy who pitched well on Monday… is also the guy saddled with the loss. And he belongs in the rotation.
  • Scouts chat draft (Inside the Padres). Interesting quotes on Cory Spangenberg: “This guy can be a batting title contender… Defensively, he’ll be fine at second base. A lot of people think he’s a little rough at third.”
  • How old is Jack McKeon? Let’s look (Hardball Times). The former Padres skipper, now 80, is managing the Florida Marlins again.
  • Padres’ Adams: Injury Saved My Career (NBC San Diego). Quoth Mike Adams, reliever extraordinaire: “The only way you can build confidence is if you go through adversity, to get through adversity … I’m a confident person.” [h/t Gaslamp Ball]
  • The more things change with relievers (SweetSpot). Christina Kahrl notes, among other things, that “…from 1980 to 1990 teams went from using just over three relievers every two games to two relievers per game on average.”
  • Ten Questions with Pat Neshek (U-T). Continuing on the bullpen theme, Neshek is a funky cat.
  • Selig rejects McCourt’s deal with Fox TV ( Our neighbors to the north continue to be ridiculous. Our pals at IIATMS go into even greater detail.
  • Gonzo (again) (Inside the Padres). Tom Krasovic notes that Adrian Gonzalez wanted out of San Diego and reminds us that he was going to walk after this season if not traded. Kras also provides useful perspective:

    In the big scheme of things, the Padres’ struggles post-Gonzalez aren’t a big deal. This is a transition year for the club. Even with Gonzalez, the Padres likely weren’t going to win the NL West.

    Hey, the Padres lost 99 games with Gonzalez in 2008. The man is a great player, no doubt, but he isn’t some magic pill. And I’d rather see him be where he wants to be than go through the motions here. Gonzalez gave us some great years, and his departure gives us hope for the future… whenever that might be.

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68 Responses »

  1. @PadresFuture

    That’s why I’ve given you the comparison of the Padres OPS+ to the NL average OPS+. Even at its worst, relative to the league, it was average. And I didn’t say the offense hasn’t gone down — I said that the worst it has been, except for this year, was average. We haven’t had a bad offensive team in Petco before 2011, when an entire freight train’s worth of bad karma crashed into us.

    Don’t know what you mean with wRC+. Last year the average for the NL was 93.25. We were at 93. We were the very definition of an average modern major general.

    That 2004 team could really hit. Tied for second in the NL with a 104 OPS+.

  2. @Tom – wrc+ is ballpark and “league” adjusted, thus fair to include the AL. The last 5 years the Padres own a 92 wWRC+. Only 5 national league teams have had a worse wRC+ in the last 5 years. I call that bad. Consistantly being less than average for 5 years running is not good. Statcorner has wOBA with park adjustments and shows the Padres park adjusted wOBA has declined every year the last 5 years. The Padres are not just bad hitting because of Petco, they are declining and it looks like the Padres have failed to produce enough Petco players to be more competetive at home. Plus, when I see the Padres put RISP with no outs and fail to score on a consistant basis, you don’t advanced stat metrics to know they are not a good hitting team.

  3. @PadresFuture

    We’re not competing with the AL. About half of AL teams are at or near 100 wrc+. In the NL it’s more like 25%, with nowhere near the same peaks. The American League teams being much better offensive clubs overall doesn’t affect our chances of going to the playoffs one bit.

    Average is being in the middle range. 16 team league. We’re in that middle 5-6 team band and we have been since 2007. That’s average. Nobody said it was good. Average isn’t bad and it isn’t good. It’s average.

    If you look at the Padre offense since 2004, our wRC+ is 96. That’s tied, with four other teams, for 4th best in the NL. We’ve gotten worse in the second four years of Petco, but most of that time we were still a normal-hitting team, not great, not bad.

    Of course, if one thinks that Petco doesn’t affect singles….

  4. My point is Petco “shouldnt” affect singles…. a reason why I wonder about the batters eye.

    League adjusted means it takes into account league differences. 15 games is still 15 games and most years its 18 games.

    I think we can at least both agree that the offensive trend is going in the wrong direction.

  5. Why wouldn’t it affect singles? Pitchers are generally more aggressive, anything in the air holds up, even line drives hang in the air, and the infield is extremely defense-friendly. Other pitchers’ parks have also depressed singles, although not all of them. A place like the old Metrodome could increase singles (due to the turf) but overall be a pitcher’s park.

    League-adjusted means its the same scale for NL and AL teams. But we’re not trying to compete with AL teams. We’re trying to beat other NL teams 150 times a year. That’s who our offense should be compared against.

    Part of the reason the offense has gone down may be due to misdiagnosis of what sort of hitting works in Petco. Our best offense included non-speedster, non-contact players like Nevin, Giles, Klesko, Ramon Hernandez, and Greene. We stole only 52 bases. That’s not to say you couldn’t build a good offense using different types of players, if you could get enough of them, but the team that provided the most offensive success in Petco was definitely not a put-it-in-play, fundamentally sound, run like the wind kind of team.

    You can’t look at the hitting trend in a vacuum. The four worst Petco seasons coincided with the Moores debacle and the subsequent payroll limits, along with front office turnover. All by himself Adrian Gonzalez would have made a huge difference to this year’s team, but financial reality put Hoyer in a position where the trade was the most sensible move. So we can say, yes, the team has hit worse since 2008 than they did from 2004-2007, but we can’t say it’s solely (or even mostly) because of poor evaluation. When you’re shopping the clearance rack, the best you can do is to make an informed decision and hope it works out.

  6. Look I love OPS+, but it is flawed, just like any other stat that take park effects into consideration. The home town players talent or lack of talent contributes to park effects. The fact of the matter is OPS+ means nothing unless it translates into what wins games… runs. The Padres have trouble scoring them. Walk and hit all the doubles you want, but if you cant push that guy accross the plate, who cares?

    Also, Petco does not affect strike-outs, where the Padres always seem to find themselves near the top. This offense has always lacked players that put the bat on the ball at a consistent rate in the Petco-era. I also dont buy that it affects singles as much as you claim. Put teh bat on the ball more often and things will happen. Make the defense earn an out for Pete’s sake.

  7. @zmac

    Petco does affect strikeouts. Just look at our own pitching staff. We consistently have better strikeout rates at home. The only seasons that wasn’t true were 2004 and this season.

    The home team’s performance on the road, and the performance of visiting teams in other venues, is a huge part of park factors. Bad Padre hitters aren’t artificially deflating scoring in Petco, because it’s compensated for in the calculations by the way they score on the road and the way visitors score in other venues.

    It’s 7.5 years worth of data “claiming” that Petco affects singles. Is this really that hard to understand? Road teams have hit worse than us, if memory serves, in Petco — like 600 games and well over 20,000 at-bats worth of data. It’s not “Padre hitters such and that makes Petco look like a harder place to hit than it is.” It’s “Petco kills hitters.”

    Put the bat on the ball more often in Petco and what may happen is a lot of very easy innings for the opposing pitcher. Easy F8s and two-hop 6-3s don’t score runs.

  8. Yes, stats are flawed, but some are better than others. Yes, the players on a team factor into a park effect, but there have been many different players on the home team year to year and there have been a LOT of visiting players through Petco over the years. Petco’s park effect is not an illusion created by a lack of home talent or else the team would never have put up the road numbers it has in some seasons. The fact of the matter is OPS+ does correlate well with runs, which is why people use it as a representation of offensive performance.

    Petco does not affect K’s? Evidence?

    2010: Padres 1,183 K League Average (LA) 1,193. 2009: Padres 1,182 LA 1,143. 2008: Padres 1,259 LA 1,128. 2007: 1,229 LA 1,091. 2006: 1,104 LA 1,089. 2005: Padres 977 LA 1,055. 2004: Padres 910 LA 1,081.

    So in 7 seasons they’ve been below LA 3 times, in 2 seasons they were within 40 of LA, and in 2 seasons they were about 130 above LA. In 2007, when they were above LA, they finished in front of the dodgers and Giants, who were both below LA in K’s and of the 6 teams in the NL who were below LA in K’s, only 1 made the playoffs. In 2008 they were just really, really bad. :-)

    What is the point? I’m not convinced Petco doesn’t affect K’s and I’d like to see any numbers one way or the other. I don’t see any evidence the Padres K any more than LA, which means they do not “find themselves near the top.”

    Finally, contact is not a panacea. Putting the bat on the ball does not guarantee good things will happen. Modern defenders rarely make errors thanks to huge advances in glove technology, pristine playing fields and excellent lighting systems. If contact were the cure all, Juan Pierre would be a HOF and Ichiro really would be as good a hitter as Pujols.

  9. @pat and tom – this is why the Padres should also look at babip when considering roster. The Padres also need to be able to execute on offense…. i have seen some horrendous bunt attempts this year. A big part of winning at Petco is execution of the fundamentals. I do believe the Padres thought they were doing the right thing with Hudson and Bartlett, they just have not seen the results. Ludwick doesn’t play well to Petco. The Padres need guys who can make contact and have a track record of good babip, may be easier said than done but a consistant organizational philosophy can work towards it.

  10. @PadresFuture

    BABIP tends to reflect LD rate, if I’m not mistaken. And guys who consistently blister line drives around a park are generally expensive to procure.

    “The fundamentals” is a nice motto, but offensively, I’m not convinced it actually leads to wins. Giving away outs reduces your chances of scoring. If the choice is between laying down a good bunt and a bad one, obviously you want the former. That’s rarely the choice, though — pitcher hitting or certain late-game situations. The more common choice is between bunting into a near-certain out (in a park that makes it very easy for the pitcher to get out of the inning unscathed) and the somewhat better chance of advancing the runner with a hit, error, walk, or HBP.

    Like Pat alludes to, guys with the skills to shoot the ball hard all over the park are not that common. Draft and develop some, if you can, by all means. But that portfolio needs to be diversified, too. You still need hitters who can hit the ball over the fence. Those are my main worries about trying to build a team that could win 50 games in Petco: First, the difficulty of finding players who can hit for a high average, take a walk, play quality defense, and be affordable. Second, what happens to those players when they go to parks that reward power or play teams that can neutralize their offensive skills?

  11. @Pat

    Our pitching splits since Petco opened are all the evidence anyone “should” need that park factors are real — and spectacular.

  12. Just for fun… here is my idea of a solid Petco lineup that could also hit well on the road. I have purposely left out “mega” stars currently playing at high levels.

    Andrew Mccutchen
    Chase Headley
    Ben Zobrist
    Bobby Abreu
    Johnny Damon
    Adam Dunn
    Yadier Molina
    Jason Bartlett

    Two of these players are already on the Padres. I no longer consider Dunn, Damon, and Abreu to be mega stars. I am not taking this lineup as if all these guys were in their prime but based on the last 2 years or so. Notice none of these players are likely HOF’ers? These are the “type” of players that the Padres should be trying to develop, sign, and/or aquire via trade.

  13. Wait….you were talking about high-average guys who can run / play defense, and you’ve got Dunn, Molina, and Damon occupying 3 spots? That’s 2 designated hitters and a catcher almost as slow as Adrian. We’ll leave aside the FA cost of that lineup.

    McCutcheon was a premiere prospect who is playing like exactly that. We definitely need to shoot for guys like that, but so far we haven’t succeeded.

    That’s 8 players with an average OPS+ of 114 this season, and it would be 120+ if Dunn wasn’t having such a bad year. Of course that’s what we should be shooting for. Duh. You get hung up on the HoF label and then suggest that we build a team that hits like the ’98 Yankees or the 01 Mariners. It’s a great goal, but until our farm system starts churning out 3-4 good players a season or Moorad opens the budget to attract position player free agents who aren’t looking to bounce back, that’s all it will be, a goal.

  14. None of Dunn, Damon or Abreu could play in Petco. Well, Dunn might pass at 1B, but I don’t think that’s established beyond doubt. Any offensive gain you might receive from them on the road would be negated by their defensive shortcomings at home.

    The way I see it you need to be at least a 4 tool player (either high average or big power could be lacking, but not both) to stand out in Petco, but those sorts of players are quite rare. No team ever really develops a slew of them at one time. Yes, we absolutely have to do a better job of drafting and developing, but even then to expect us to ever populate a single lineup with 4 or 5 legitimate, homegrown 4 or 5 tool players is simply unrealistic. When was the last time any organization did that?

  15. @Tom – yeah, because I made it clear in my post that I thought this would seriously be a lineup the Padres could put together now or easily.

    I hate having to repeat myself but here goes….
    “Just for fun”(as Bill Engvall says “theres your sign”) …….. “These are the “type” of players that the Padres should be trying to develop, sign, and/or aquire via trade.”

    To be fair most catchers and 1B cant run. I specifically chose Adam Dunn because he has the type of power that can play in Pecto, he draws walks, and has a good babip. Rizzo has the potential to be a very good petco player.

    No one says it is going to be easy…. but in 7.5 years they have not succeeded in putting together the right team for Petco. And yes, when you play 81 games at home it is better to develop a team that can win more games at home than on the road. I do not subscribe to the school of thought that suggests they will lose just as much on the road as they gain at home by putting together a Petco team. They also play road games in pitchers parks like LA and SF. Any losses cost(real or imagined) on the road in hitters parks would wash with the gains in parks that play closer to petco… but we would be left with the gains at Petco.

    I am hopeful that Moorad will do as he promised and start slowly increasing the payroll so they can retain some players and attract others. I also think this is the “bottom out”(all stats are pointing to a year over year decline in offensive production for the Padres) year for the Padres offense. They do have some players in the minors that are getting close and fit the bill as Petco players. I just hope the Padres find a way to keep Gyorko and Headley in the lineup.

    I tried to end this thread by reaching a mutual understanding…. Petco is an extreme pitchers park and the Padres are trending downward in offensive production. That didn’t work.

    I tried to digress to a “just for fun” that was taken too seriously. That didn’t work.

    I will have nothing more to say on this thread at this time.

  16. @PadresFuture

    If only you WERE repeating yourself. You keep changing your tune as to what the problem is. First it was that Petco didn’t affect offense, then it was that we needed speedy contact-oriented players who can play defense, and finally you ended up with a sabremetrician’s wet dream lineup, including two guys who may not even own a glove anymore.

    You claim that you can build a Petco-proof team without all-stars, and that the HoF criticism, which was Pat actually being funny, is unfair. Then you build your pretend lineup with guys who rank in top 5 by wOBA at their positions. Gee, why would we ever think that might be kinda hard to do, especially since the Padres don’t have the DH option?

  17. @Tom Waits, PadresFuture et al: The related questions of a) how to take better advantage of Petco Park and b) which type(s) of offensive player will best thrive in such a run-suppressing environment are among the most important facing the Padres right now and for the foreseeable future. The fact that we are engaged in such spirited debate on the topic (and, speaking for myself, somewhat confounded by it) confirms this for me.

    My suspicion is that a combination of strong on-base and baserunning skills, along with ability to cover ground in the outfield, are key. I think the ’06 configuration of Roberts, Cameron, and Giles was almost ideal for Petco Park. I also think that Maybin fits the template… I’m less certain about Venable (poor OBP) and Jaff Decker (adequate defense but nothing special), although I like both players.

    Headley still can’t hit a lick at home (.235/.350/.319 this year, .227/.317/.335 career) but has been good to excellent on the road (.348/.425/.474 this year, .304/.365/.441 career). His real and perceived value will be depressed as long as he plays half his games in San Diego. That said, Headley’s approach and skill set fit my vision of what should work here.

    The issue is dynamic and contains many variables, which makes it difficult to study. I don’t expect solid resolution any time soon, but I’m hoping the Padres employ folks smarter than me (and with more time at their disposal) who can get things moving in the right direction.

    I look forward to contemplating this further… the ensuing headaches, not so much. :-)

  18. For my money, there is no perfect team for Petco. There is just too much evidence showing that regardless of talent level, offense will be severely suppressed. I believe the key is acceptance. What kills players in Petco is trying for a little big more. They lengthen the swing in order get more on the ball and the result is a downward spiral. Accept that the overall number will be lower and let the opposition’s frustration work against them.