How Much Better are the San Diego Padres?

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It’s been a crazy off-season for the San Diego Padres. On Friday morning, the insanity continued when the Padres and the Atlanta Braves agreed to a trade that would send right handed slugger Justin Upton to the Padres in exchange for four Minor League players.

It’s clear what new GM A.J. Preller is trying to accomplish: add right handed power to a lineup that was one of the worst offenses baseball had witnessed in over 20 years. Last year, the Padres only managed to scrap 535 runs across the dish, which was the third fewest amount of runs a team has scored since the strike in 1994.

With the additions of Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, and Derek Norris, it’s clear that the Padres will field a much more potent offensive team than the one in 2014.

The real question is how much better have the Padres actually become? Can the Padres finally contend and post a record above .500 for the first time since 2010? Let’s take a look.

The happiest person in San Diego isn’t the Padres’ fans. No, that honor belongs to the Padres skipper, Bud Black. It maybe for the first time in Black’s tenure as Padres manager that it will be a joy to fill out the lineup card everyday and see the names of Kemp, Myers, Upton, Norris, headlining it on a daily basis.

Looking back on the Padres roster of last year, it was a lineup that suffered from injuries, underachievement, and serious lack of power. The Padres had one player on their entire team drive in over 50 runs, which was Jedd Gyorko, and not one player hit out more then 15 home runs the entire season. Not exactly a recipe for success.

This is what the Padres Opening Day lineup looked like along with their 2014 stats.

  • Everth Cabrera: .232/.272/.300, 3 HRs, 20 RBIs, 67 OPS+, -0.2 WAR
  • Chris Denorfia: .242/.293/.319, 1 HR, 15 RBIs, 79 OPS+, 0.7 WAR
  • Chase Headley: .229/.296/.355, 7 HRs, 32 RBIs, 90 OPS+, 1.4 WAR (Does not include New York Yankees stats)
  • Jedd Gyorko: .210/.280/.333, 10 HRs, 51 RBIs, 79 OPS+, 0 WAR
  • Yonder Alonso: .240/.285/.397, 7 HRs, 27 RBIs, 97 OPS+, 0.8 WAR
  • Tommy Medica: .233/.286/.408, 9 HRs, 27 RBIs, 100 OPS+, 0.6 WAR
  • Will Venable: .224/.288/.325, 8 HRs, 33 RBIs, 79 OPS+, 0.9 WAR
  • Rene Rivera: .252/.319/.432, 11 HRs, 44 RBIs, 117 OPS+, 3.0 WAR

Obviously there are a few omissions with this list of players. Seth Smith (.266/.367/.400, 2.6 WAR) was not in the starting lineup on Opening Day. Although, he hit the go ahead homerun in the game as a pinch-hitter, and he ended up being one of the only decent offensive bats in the Padres lineup. Headley was eventually dealt to the New York Yankees for Yangervis Solarte (.267/.335/.691, 0.4 WAR with the Padres), Cameron Maybin (.235/.290/.331, 0.5 WAR) and Alexi Amarista (.239/.286/.314, 0.9 WAR) were also everyday regulars in 2014 not featured in the Opening day lineup. Point being, the Padres lineup was about as useful as a flat tire.

This is what the Padres lineup could look like Opening Day 2015.

With that line up, the Padres would have scored 441 runs compared to just the 222 that the Opening Day starting lineup provided for them last season. Obviously there are some runs missing because, as stated before, some of the players on the Opening Day starting line up were gone by mid-season and the starting eight doesn’t account for bench players, either. But the impact of the Padres acquisitions is unquestionable. The projected starting eight positional players for the Padres fell but a mere 94 runs short of matching the entire season total the Padres posted last year.

But the new offensive pieces that the Padres will run out on the field in 2015 are not even solely the main reason why you have to consider the Padres a legitimate division contender in 2015. It’s their pitching staff.

I know what you’re thinking. Did I just read that right? Divisional contenders in 2015? Yes. And here’s why: the Padres scored just 535 runs last year, but only allowed 577. Which equals out to a -42 run differential. If you allow more runs then you score you’re going to lose more games then you win, obviously. But even with the -42 run differential the Padres fell only eight games under .500. Which isn’t terrible considering they were the third worst offensive club baseball has seen since 1994.

Take a closer at that number, 577 runs allowed, and why it’s significant.

Last year, the Oakland Athletics were the owners of the best run differential in baseball at a monstrous +157. Oakland’s pitching only allowed 572 runs. The Padres staff only allowed five more runs then a staff that featured Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel, and Jon Lester. But the A’s also scored 729 runs.

Continuing on, the Los Angeles Angels were the next best team in baseball at +143. And that was with a pitching staff that allowed 630 runs. 53 more runs then what the Padres staff gave up. But the Angels also scored 773 runs. The next best team was the Nationals at +131, and they allowed 686 runs. Over a 100 more runs then the Padres staff. The Dodgers owned the fourth best run differential in baseball at +101, and allowed 617 runs scored. That’s 40 runs more then the Padres.

Here’s the point: you look at the top four teams in baseball last year in differential and you put their runs scored on the Padres last year here is what you get:

  • Oakland’s runs scored on the Padres: the Padres go from -42 all the way to +152. Which would have given them the second best run differential in baseball last year.
  • Angels’ runs scored on the Padres: The Padres would have leap-frogged the A’s for the best run differential in baseball and would have been sitting at a staggering +192 on the season.
  • Nationals’ runs scored on the Padres: Another massive jump. All the way to an outstanding +109.
  • Dodgers’ runs scored on the Padres: This would have given the Padres a +141 run differential.

The Padres pitching staff last year was extremely undervalued last season. The only pitching staff to yield less runs then the Padres last year was the A’s. That’s it. Not the immensely paid Dodgers, or the Detroit Tigers who had the last three Cy Young winners on their staff, not the Nationals, not the St. Louis Cardinals, just the A’s.

This was a staff that featured Ian Kennedy, a guy who they acquired hoping Petco Park could turn him around, Tyson Ross, who came out and had a huge breakout year, Andrew Cashner, who showed he could be a potential ace, Orisamer Despaigne, who came out of nowhere and posted 16 outstanding starts, Eric Stults and Jesse Hahn, who also threw up quite a few quality innings for the Padres. No names there really strike you like a staff such as the Dodgers, Tigers, or A’s. But the Padres pitching staff allowed the second fewest runs in baseball. Given any of the top four teams in run differential offense, and they transform from a 77 win team to a nearly a 90+ win team.

That’s what makes the additions Preller and the rest of the Padres brain trust were able to accomplish so huge. You have an outstanding pitching staff, clearly, and even with a historically bad offense, they still only fell four wins short of a .500 record.

Now you’ve added an additional 302 runs with the additions of Kemp, Myers, Norris, Upton, and Middlebrooks. That’s 302 runs with Myers having an injury riddled season and failing to replicate his rookie season, and Middlebrooks still having trouble figuring out the big leagues but has shown flashes of his untapped talent.

There is quite of few question marks you cannot ignore. You cannot just wave a magic wand and go poof, all these players are going to do exactly what they did last year with their respective teams. Kemp had his first near full season since 2011, but can he post back-to-back good seasons for the first time in nearly four years? Upton is an extremely streaky hitter that is moving from a big ball park at Turner Field to an even bigger one at Petco. So there is questions how his power will play in San Diego. You have to expect Myers to bounce back with his raw talent. But how will the ballpark change effect his power? Middlebrooks does look like a bit of a lost cause, but maybe the San Diego sun will be good for him.

There is also questions about the current crop of Padres coming back from 2014. Gyorko was hurt last year, but didn’t look anything like that guy that belted out 23 home runs in 2013. Can Seth Smith be anything like he was last year? And last but not least can the Padres pitching staff be as good as it was in 2014? Bringing in Brandon Morrow and trying Josh Johnson out again could help their cause, but it will be hard for them to have a repeat performance of last years domination.

Still, even with the question marks there is no plausible reason no one cannot think of the Padres as Wild Card contenders at the least. But there is no reason why the Padres could not contend for the NL West crown in 2015. With their stingy pitching staff and new lineup additions they are much improved and should be considered a legitimate contender to win the NL West next season.

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