Such Are the Battles One Wages

Padres skipper Bud Black started Alberto Gonzalez at first base on Friday evening against the Dodgers. The results were predictably awful, as Ted Lilly and three relievers proceeded to blank the home club on four hits.

With Kyle Blanks and Jesus Guzman nursing injuries and a lefty on the mound, Black’s options were limited. He could have started rookie Anthony Rizzo, but Rizzo isn’t hitting anyone, let alone crafty veteran southpaws. Then again, how can he learn if he never gets the opportunity?

Gonzalez, on the other hand, is a known quantity. And what we know is that he is one of the worst hitters ever to play first base for the Padres. Here are the 10 lowest single-season OPS+ among men who played at least 1 percent of their games at first base for the Padres (minimum 200 PA):

Player            Year  PA   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
Kevin Higgins     1993 202 .221 .294 .254  48
Jose Arcia        1969 321 .215 .255 .272  50
Alberto Gonzalez  2011 265 .215 .254 .285  53
Julius Matos      2002 200 .238 .279 .286  57
Ted Kubiak        1975 223 .224 .308 .250  61
Mark Bellhorn     2006 288 .190 .285 .344  67
Brian Johnson     1995 224 .251 .287 .338  67
Fred Kendall      1972 289 .216 .247 .322  67
Luis Salazar      1987 206 .254 .302 .328  70
Carlos Hernandez  2000 212 .251 .316 .340  72
Broderick Perkins 1978 227 .240 .253 .341  72

Higgins, Arcia, Matos, and Kubiak never started a game at first base. We might have forgiven Preston Gomez had he started Arcia. Yes, Gomez had Nate Colbert, but Colbert began the season backing up Bill Davis. Besides, Gomez did give Roberto Pena (who just misses our list) 11 starts at first base, the same number Bruce Bochy gave Bellhorn in 2006 despite the presence of Adrian Gonzalez.

I’m not sure I have a point here beyond hoping that this is the last time we ever see Alberto Gonzalez start a game at first base for the Padres. Also, Wade LeBlanc struck out 10 batters, which is awesome because that might not happen again in his lifetime.

* * *

Aaron Harang threw a gem on Saturday, holding the Dodgers scoreless for eight innings. The only scare was a drive to the warning track in center field off the bat of Matt Kemp in the sixth. Kemp dove away from a pitch right down the middle earlier in the at-bat, which elicited a response of “ooh” from the crowd but which was completely superfluous. He was in as much danger of being hit by Harang’s pitch as I am of being mistaken for Will Smith, although I have been known to get jiggy with it.

Harang is now 14-7 on the season. His .667 winning percentage ties him for sixth among Padres pitchers in a single season (minimum 20 decisions). He is the only member of the top 10 to pitch for a team with a losing record. Tim Lollar (16-9 in 1982) checks in at no. 11 for a team that went 81-81. Otherwise, you have to go back to 1975, when Randy Jones went 20-12 for a 71-91 team.

Because you’re dying to know:

Player       Year GS    IP ERA+ RS/G
Aaron Harang 2011 28 170.2  98  4.88
Randy Jones  1975 36 285.0 156  3.74

Sorry, Aaron, you won’t be getting your own barbecue joint any time soon…

The other thing about this game I need to mention is Andy Parrino’s play at shortstop. Parrino isn’t really a prospect but he can do a lot of little things and it’s hard not to get excited about the opportunity afforded this former 26th-round pick in the wake of injuries to Logan Forsythe and James Darnell.

The Padres always seem to have a guy like Parrino in their system. J.J. Furmaniak, Sean Kazmar, and Lance Zawadzki immediately leap to mind, and I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting. Parrino is a switch-hitter who has batted .264/.368/.398 in just over 2,000 minor-league plate appearances. He has split most of his career between shortstop and second base, but has played everywhere except catcher (yeah, he even got into two games as a pitcher at Lake Elsinore in 2009).

Anyway, Parrino started on Saturday in place of team hit leader Jason Bartlett. Batting eighth, Parrino went 0-for-0, notched his first big-league stolen base, and scored a run. That’s two walks and a HBP, in case you’re wondering.

In the seventh, he also brought back memories of Khalil Greene’s 2004 performance against the Cubs with two dazzling defensive plays. Aside from Parrino’s plays, which were beautiful to watch, there are a couple of items worth noting:

  • Rizzo’s stretch on the first play is one of the better efforts you’ll see. It speaks to his athleticism as well as his desire and focus. And for whatever struggles Rizzo may have experienced at the plate in his rookie campaign, his excellent glovework at first base has not gone unnoticed. In this observer’s eyes, he is every bit the defender that Adrian Gonzalez was.
  • On the second play, you can see Rizzo applauding Parrino’s effort. On one of the other angles, you can see rookie catcher Luis Martinez running down the line to back up the throw. When he sees the play made, Martinez gives a little fist pump.

Fans may have given up on this team, but the kids out on the field haven’t. It is encouraging to see these youngsters playing with enthusiasm despite the fact that their team stinks right now.

For his various faults (Alberto Gonzalez at first base?), Black deserves credit for not letting his charges hang their heads. Yeah, they are professionals who are expected to give their best effort 162 times a year, but you never had a bad day at work?

Maybe I’m making too much of this, but as someone who doesn’t deal well with losing, I like seeing these guys play with passion. Everyone is auditioning for next year, and it’s bringing out the best in them. They won’t all make it, but some will, and eventually this team won’t stink anymore.

* * *

While rummaging through old notebooks, I discovered an early attempt of mine to write about baseball. From an entry dated April 4, 1994:

I watched the first three innings of opening night, Cards at the Reds. 1st batter of the season, Ray Lankford of the Cardinals, works Jose Rijo to a full count, then drives a flat slider over the left-centerfield wall. Baseball is back.

Hardly profound, but there it is. And this:

Trying to put 1993 behind them, the Padres played their opener this afternoon against the Atlanta Braves. The Braves, now in the National League East under the new alignment implemented this past winter, showed that they are still the class of the league. In a matchup of two of the league’s best righthanders, Greg Maddux and Andy Benes… screw this. I love baseball but I’m not sportswriter.

This was a month shy of my 26th birthday. Patience has never been a strength of mine, and that was even more true when I was younger.

Besides, I was more into poetry so I wrote a poem about hiking through Palm Canyon in the Anza-Borrego Desert that became my first published piece. It appeared in a magazine called Wordimage, which if memory serves (like many things from that era, a copy of the magazine is probably around here somewhere, but I’ll be darned if I know where) was based out of North Carolina, a hotbed of minor-league baseball.

Then Kurt Cobain shot himself. I wrote a poem about that, based on a photograph taken while the coroner was examining the body. I also wrote a song that contained too many verses and a chorus earnest enough to make me wince 17 years later:

Anger of a generation, forgotten but not gone
You were seen as their salvation, something they had won
No apologies will be necessary
Hope you found a better place, hope you found nirvana

I’ve forgotten the chord progression but I remember the melody, which borrowed from several different Nirvana songs, notably “All Apologies,” “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and “Heart-Shaped Box.” I was never a huge fan of their music (I liked it well enough and recognize its importance to American popular culture), but Cobain’s death — like those of John Lennon and Stevie Ray Vaughan (whose spirit seems to accompany me on road trips) before him — came at a time when I still believed in heroes, even if they had their flaws.

Heroes are a reflection of those that would idolize them. Who among us is without flaws?

* * *

Sunday afternoon, Clayton Kershaw happened. The lone Padres highlight came when Aaron Cunningham cranked a homer in the fifth inning, by which time I had stopped watching.

I did watch long enough to see erstwhile “first baseman” Alberto Gonzalez boot a grounder off the bat of Matt Kemp. The home-away-from-home fans at Petco Park booed when E5 flashed on the scoreboard, and I wondered whether the Dodgers might lobby for a hit on behalf of Kemp’s pursuit of the triple crown. (Teams have been known to “suggest” scoring changes on occasion… heck, the Padres have done it.)

Apparently the Dodgers visited the official scorer, but his original, correct ruling stood. Such are the battles one wages when there is nothing meaningful left to fight.

* * *

Speaking of Kershaw and Cunningham, both appear in my latest at Baseball Prospectus ($), which examines the impact the 2006 draft has had on this year’s NL West race. Cunningham is incidental to the story, but Kershaw is one of three first-round picks from 2006 who are excelling in the division this year. (San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum and Arizona’s Ian Kennedy are the others.)

The Padres swung and missed with their first pick (Matt Antonelli), but landed Mat Latos in the 11th round. That has worked out well.

* * *

Latos was on his game Monday night. He carried a no-hitter into the sixth, eventually losing it when opposing pitcher Casey Coleman (son of Joe Coleman, third player ever picked in the MLB draft and winner of 142 games; grandson of another Joe Coleman, winner of 52 more) pulled a Bob Knepper on him, tripling to right-center with one out.

The Padres scored their only two runs in the bottom half, with Will Venable’s leadoff homer to dead center (he really went down and got that pitch) accounting for all the offense Latos, Chad Qualls, and Heath Bell would need. Mark Grant suggested that Coleman may have been tired from running the bases. Whatever the case, it worked for the Padres, who have climbed into a tie with the Cubs for second worst record in the National League.

The Astros are hopelessly out of reach, but San Diego could finish in a tie for eighth place if they win their final two games and get a little help. Such are the battles one wages…

Team     W  L  Pct  RS  RA Dif
Rockies 72 88 .450 729 764 -35
Pirates 72 88 .450 603 699 -96
Marlins 71 89 .444 621 697 -76
Cubs    70 90 .438 646 745 -99
Padres  70 90 .438 582 603 -21

Three things:

  • That is some fierce competition.
  • Where would Pittsburgh be without Ryan Ludwick?
  • Among horrible teams, the Padres have the best run differential.

Oh yeah, and Latos ended up tying a season high with nine strikeouts. He has done that twice this year… in each of his last two starts, in fact.

Cory Luebke has fanned nine batters three different times in 2011. Dustin Moseley and Tim Stauffer did it once each.

Only one Padres pitcher has cracked double digits in strikeouts, and that didn’t happen until Game 156. But you already know that because I mentioned it several paragraphs ago.

Yep, Wade LeBlanc.

When people ask you what kind of year the Padres have had, just tell them that Alberto Gonzalez started a game at first base, Jason Bartlett leads the team in hits, and LeBlanc owns the single-game high in strikeouts. That is more descriptive than 90 losses ever could be.

* * *

We’re headed out to our final game of the season tonight. Anthony Bass gets another start, which is good. I’d like to see him be a part of next year’s rotation… or at least notch more strikeouts in a game than LeBlanc.

This is always a bittersweet time for me. The baseball season is such a grind, and I am so busy trying to keep up with everything all summer that it becomes a giant blur and I seldom have time to enjoy the actual experience. But the moment it’s over, I miss it like hell.

Opening Day seems impossibly distant from me now. Soon, it will all fade like 1994, relegated to some forgotten notebook.

Yeah, well. There you go…

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17 Responses »

  1. It’s interesting that you point out that this team hasn’t given up because a couple of weeks ago, it really seemed like they had. Looking at it a bit more closely, it seems like there’s a clear correlation between effort (or “effort,” for lack of a better word) and 2012 uncertainty. The starting lineup for next year appears to be set and it’s the guys with undefined roles that are going the extra mile.

    It’s infuriating to watch Alberto Gonzalez start at first base over our top prospect, but I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that Rizzo plays with a hunger when he does get in. I’m starting to get the feeling that Bud is applying the principals he’s used with such success in the bullpen (with Stauffer and Luebke) to the starting lineup, but I wonder if that’s really the best idea. Hitting and pitching are two different animals and for all the lip service paid to “getting used to the spend of the major leagues,” isn’t hitting about rhythm? It has to be hard for the players to get comfortable when they’re only getting a couple of starts a week.

  2. So what will the 2012 Padres look like? There is a glimmer of hope if Hoyer can make 2010 type moves and not 2011 type moves.

    The Padres definitely need another bat or 2 and before you think no hitter won’t want to come here and the Padres can’t afford a hitter… Think about this. Only Guzman, Headley, Hundley, Denorfia and Maybin hit over .250 this year and the Padres lost so many close 1-2 run games. They just need a few decent .270+ contact type hitters which shouldn’t command too much money.

    This year was risky because they picked up players all coming off down years in hopes they turned it around and really only Maybin did that of the new players.

  3. The Cubs fans sitting behind me at the game last night kept talking about how Latos was throwing a no hitter from the 4th inning on until the triple by Coleman. I kept shaking my head wishing they’d shut up but to no avail. This feels like the fourth or fifth time in the last month or so that Padres pitchers have taken a no hitter into the 5th. Maybe one of these days it’ll finally happen.

  4. “team hit leader Jason Bartlett”

    Sad but true…

    Also, I’m probably being cynical, but I wonder if the Padres picked up Alberto Gonzalez to trick some casual fans into thinking Adrian is still on the team. Or, maybe they really liked his 66 OPS+ (now 62) & mediocore defense?

  5. @Jasonb619

    My guess is there will not be much change from whats out there now…

    C: Hundley
    1B: Guzman
    2B: Hudson
    3B: Headley
    SS: Bartlett
    LF: Blanks
    CF: Maybin
    RF: Venable

    SP: Latios
    SP: Luebke
    SP: Richards
    SP: Stauffer
    SP: Bass

    The only place I think the Padres could add a bat is RF, but with a limited payroll and corner OF depth in the minors and creeping its way into the majors I don’t see them signing an impact bat to fill that roll. My guess is that they will try to catch lighining in a bottle again and sign a vet coming off a down year (paging David Dejesus) to compete for the spot only to be DL’s or released by May or June…

  6. @Steve C

    I agree with your lineup but I would put LeBlanc/Moseley in the rotation. Knowing Black, he’ll want Bass back in the bullpen.

    The DeJesus talk is interesting because the team has shown interest before and doesn’t seem that high on Venable. He could make decent trade bait, maybe for a young bullpen arm.

  7. Its depressing to think that a team that generated the 29th best BA and 30th ranked slugging % will basically returned intact. What is it that they say about insanity, that it’s doing the same thing twice and expecting a different result?

    A full season of Guzman will be nice, and Maybin will only get better, though, as much as I love him, I think his BA/OBP is a little over stated, because he’ll be rewarded for making terrible contact with an infield hit that he beats out. I mean, a hit’s a hit in the box score, but i’d feel better about a few more of those hits being line drives instead of nubbers. That said, the nice thing about speed is it never has an off day. Maybe some of those veteran guys will have nice bounce back years. But the fact of the matter is, the ONLY guy to get to double digit HRs, was traded away at the deadline, and Ludwick still “leads” the team in RBIs. I know there is some what of a sample size issue with this, as only Maybin and Bartlett managed to amass more than 400 ABs (which, by itself is a pretty telling stat), but the teams .348 SLG% would indicate that the low number of ABs isn’t the reason no one got to the hollowed ground of double digit HRs.

    I guess the part that makes me feel terrible about this is, what can they do? There’s nothing really there to blow up, almost like TNTing a building that has already collapsed. Hudson probably comes back at 2B because we don’t really have any one to replace him, and his trade value is basically a mediocre middle reliever. Bartlett is in the same position, except it might be a mediocre minor league reliever. You can pretty much repeat those 2 sentences for every player that’s expensive enough to be worth trading away, except for Bell, but I’m not sure he nets a major league ready middle INF or plus power corner OF. I think Venable, and maybe Blanks, might be able to get something, though I see it more like the Sean Burroughs deal a few years ago: our talented guy that couldn’t figure it out for your talented guy that couldn’t figure it out, and i’m sure we’re all pining for Dewon Brazelton 2.0. I think I need to end this post before I end up terribly depressed about a season that is still 7 months away. Come on Jed, make something happen.

  8. That official scorer lobbying is no joke. Obviously the Padres have their media relations people in the press box, but so do the visitors. If there’s a scoring decision that they think is wrong they will ask the official scorer to review the play later/after the game. Depending on how strongly they (or their dugout) feel, the lobbying can get intense, and continue after the game ends.

    Official scorers have until the first pitch of the next game to amend their box score.

  9. Pads need way less strike outs next year. Small ball gents. It involves manufacturing runs, and you have to make contact. That and they need a replacement for Adams..

  10. The team won 90 games last year because it had not only a bench, but Adrian Gonzalez, playing hurt, but still being Adrian Gonzalez.
    This team hung it up for the year when they gave away Adams. Big mistake. They bungled Rizzo’s development, he should have been down all year till a September call up. They let Stauffer throw with some sort of injury that hampered him the second half-don’t depend on a jock to tell you they are hurt.
    For next spring, figure no Bell, no Harang, and maybe no Venable; question mark every other player except Maybin, Headley, Hundley, Jesus and a couple of starters. They drew 2 million trotting out Alberto Gonzalez instead of a real bench this year, and as long as they continue to think small market, bottom third payroll I think we can expect teams that look like this.
    A good sign, that I continue to look for, would be making a commitment to a real deal corner outfielder with line drive power and an inning eating, 15 win level established ML starter, then add to these free agents a solid backup infielder who actually can hit a baseball. In other words, middle third payroll.

  11. wow. I feel bad for Adrian Gonzalez. Two seasons in a row, losing game 162 with a chance to play game 163 because his team just kept losing in september after a big lead going into the month. Last year, it was his offense that didn’t do it throughout the season until the pitching felt apart late. This year, nothing wrong with the offense but the pitching just wasn’t up to par throughout the season until it felt apart horribly in september.

    on the other hand, both he and the Padres are going to be home at the same time this year. so that’s something, right?

  12. “I feel bad for Adrian Gonzalez”

    Really? I don’t. I do find it ironic that the paper champion SAWX ended up with the same record and in the same position as the pads did last year with juuust a little bit more hype.

    Amazing night of baseball capped by some sweet, sweet Boston schadenfreude.

  13. Payroll don’t win games. Having good players do, and some good luck along the way.

  14. @Dave,
    Yup, if you ignore the Red Sox’ two World Championships this past decade, and their 6 seasons with 95+ wins in the tough AL East, they are nearly identical to the Padres.

    I’m only messing with you….but I’m not sure what the irony is. Both teams had a first baseman named Adrian Gonzalez, and both teams collapsed – is that it?

    I’ve noticed that whatever team misses the postseason in the AL East is interpreted as a sort of ‘moral to the story’ for Padres fans. If Tampa lost, it would be used as evidence that the little guys don’t stand a chance. The Rays and Padres are both going home. When the Yankees or Red Sox don’t make the playoffs, it is justification for a $40million payroll and poor drafting, because it ‘proves’ that payrolls don’t matter. Sure, the Padres may have finished in last place, but big bad NY or Boston didn’t make the playoffs either.

    The problem with “sweet, sweet schadenfreude” is that it’s often mistaken for plain old sour grapes. The Padres lost 91 games this season, while such small market teams as Arizona, Texas, Tampa, and Milwaukee are all heading to the playoffs. Two of those teams have been to the WS in recent years, and they are back in the post season again.
    That’s what I’m thinking about this morning.

  15. What is there to say about a team with so little power? Get some! Here are some moves worth considering:
    1) See if Guzman can play 3B, give Rizzo the 1B job and trade Chase Headley. He’s 27 and his career high for HR’s is 12. Even after remembering he plays at PETCO, this is just not an acceptable power number for a major leaguer at 3B. Guzman might not be too good with the glove at 3B, but he’ll hit.
    2) Let’s see Matt Clark in LF, he hit 23 HRs for Tucson this year in 129 games. If he only does half as well in the bigs, he’d still lead this year’s team. This means demoting Kyle Blanks to 4th outfielder or to Tucson if you prefer Denorfia as the 4th OF.
    3) End the Will Venable era in RF. He’ll be 29 this year. A career line of .251 BA , .321 OBP and .410 SLG makes him the poster child for why the Padres suck. Perhaps biting the bullet and signing a free agent who can hit (Cuddyer anyone?) is indicated.
    4) Get a backup catcher who can hit his weight. I don’t care if he can’t throw anyone out, or if his glove is made of iron, we need someone who can “hit” better than .190BA/.259OBP/.285SLG.
    Varitek and Posada both are ready for walkers, but both can still do better than that.

    Teams that do well expect 20 HRs each, or over 80 total, from 3B, 1B, LF, and RF. This years team hit all of what, 86? And Ludwicke had 11 of those.

  16. I realize scadenfreude is not a particularly constructive feeling, but it certainly seemed like no matter what the padres did on the field this year, the story was The Trade, and how they gave up Adrian to a contender, and he was going to do all sorts of great things, like win the world series, MVP, etc etc, and look what ended up happening. Obviously the pads have nothing on the red sox over the past 10 years.

    I suppose you can blame it on my utter lack of belief that the Pads can pull off anything like any of those other teams mentioned did, so for now, a Red Sox collapse, which brings back memories of last year, will keep me warm through the winter.

  17. @TannedTom It’s funny that you think Venable should be given the boot yet want Denorfia as the 4th outfielder. Deno has no speed, no power, no defense and would not start on any other MLB team, yet alone get as many ABs as he does in the Bud Black regime.

    Yes Venable has been hitting .250 with a .315 OBP, but when he does make contact he turns it into something productive. I’ll take a guy who hits double digits in doubles, triples, HRs, and SB each year over someone like Denorfia who has a tough time scoring from 2nd on a base hit.

    We’ll never see the best Venable can produce with Bud Black as a manager. Same with Rizzo. If you name someone a starter, let them start, let them play. Black was starting under .200 hitters at the end of the season instead of giving Venable ABs vs LH pitchers. And one those under .200 hitters was not Anthony Rizzo. Black has something against LH hitters that aren’t named Adrian Gonzalez.