Unfair expectations doom Bud Black in San Diego

After nine seasons managing the San Diego Padres, Bud Black is out of a job. The Padres went on an acquiring binge this offseason, General Manager A.J. Preller’s first in San Diego, but the results so far this season have been largely underwhelming. After a 9-1 defeat last night at the hands of the Oakland Athletics, the Padres sit at 32-34 and six games back of the Los Angeles Dodgers in first.

Black is gone, but was he unfairly relieved of his duties? Were expectations unfair in the city of San Diego after the acquisitions of Wil Myers, Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, and James Shields? The Padres, after all, entered the season without addressing the holes in their lineup at third base, shortstop, and second base. The starting rotation, beyond Shields, still pales in comparison to the stables of arms assembled by the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants.

Black will take the blame for the lineup’s struggles this season. The Padres are batting only .244 as a team, 11th in the National League. Two of the players who make up Kemp’s self-proclaimed “best outfield in baseball” are doing next to nothing. The acquisition of Kemp generated headlines, but he is a shell of the Rihanna-dating star he once was. Kemp has career lows in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging. He’s hit only two home runs and is a defensive liability in the spacious Petco Park. Myers’ status as a rapidly ascending prospect was fool’s gold. While he won the American League Rookie of the Year award in 2013, that came in a weak year for first-year players, and he has not been able to stay healthy, this year included.

Save for first baseman Yonder Alonso, who has a respectable enough .313/.404/.418 line and has played near flawless defense, the entire Padres’ infield has been a massive disappointment. Scratch that, the infield has performed exactly the way you would expect a group of replacement-level players to produce. The second basemen, shortstops, and third basemen are hitting a combined .243 with a .361 slugging percentage. On Opening Day, San Diego trotted out Will Middlebrooks at third and Jedd Gyorko at second. Middlebrooks has slashed .226/.258/.387, and Gyorko put up a .210/.282/.311 line in 46 games before being demoted (along with a $35 million contract) to Triple-A. Alexi Amarista has not been much better at shortstop with a .218/.297/.288 line.

Shields holds a 7-0 record with a respectable 3.59 ERA. He has pitched just well enough to avoid taking a loss this season, although his 4.13 FIP suggests his 7-0 record is a bit misleading. Behind Shields, however, no Padres’ starter has an ERA below 4.00. Despite playing half of their games in the most pitcher-friendly stadium in the league, the Padres still rank in the bottom half of the National League with an overall 4.02 ERA. Considering the pitiful offense and below-average starting rotation performance, it’s no wonder the Padres are not in contention. They may actually be playing above their capabilities at only two games below .500. If you want to find some fault with Black, the regression of Ian Kennedy, Tyson Ross, and Andrew Cashner could conceivably be laid at his feet.

Black was always going to be on a short leash this season. He was not Preller’s managerial choice, and anything short of a playoff berth would likely have resulted in the loss of his job. Now, Preller will get a chance to mold the manager to his own vision. That may or may not be fair to a man who compiled a 649-713 record in his tenure in San Diego. The Padres had not exactly given Black the best players to work with during his time there, and the roster assembled by Preller still had many gaping holes. It was those splashy moves, however, that hid the fact that most of the major problems from last season’s 77-85 campaign were not addressed. Kemp and Myers are not the All-Star players they were billed to be when the Padres blazed through the winter. The infield is still made up of retreads and replacement-level players. In this case, someone had to take the fall for the hot shot GM, and Black was the perfect candidate.

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