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Predicting the NL West: San Diego Padres

D-backs reject > Padres savior?
D-backs reject > Padres savior?

Oh, how the "mighty" are fallen. In 2010, the San Diego Padres went all the way to the last day of the season and their implosion, even after this year's Braves and Red Sox collapses, remains in the top 10 of all time for baseball. In 2011, only the woeful Astros lost more often in the National League, as the Padres dropped nineteen games in the standings and returned to the cellar for the fifth time since Y2K. However, as the D-backs showed last year, this isn't necessarily a roadblock to contention. Is there hope for the Padres in 2012? Let's see what your shiny new system has to say...

2011 Production
On April 18, the Padres dropped in to fourth place, and never made it any higher the rest of the season - the main issue thereafter was largely whether they or the the Rockies would finish in last. San Diego eventually finished two games behind Colorado. They were initially involved in a lot of close games: of their first 23 contests, 17 were decided by two runs or less and seven went to extra innings. However, they had a losing record every month, outside the single game from March, despite outscoring their opponents in both June and August - quite significantly in the latter, going 13-15 despite a 131-117 run differential.

The Padres struggled badly in close games. They won only four of the 16 contests that went into extra innings, and were 20-31 overall in one-run games, the worst record in the National League. They weren't very good at coming back either, with a win percentage of just .097 when trailing after five innings, compared to the NL average of .181. From the point of view of our system, they will get a boost by being better in the second half: despite going 31-39, they outscored the opposition 289-273, for a Pythagorean win percentage of .526, compared to .452 in the first half. Using our formula, this works out to a surprisingly-decent base figure of 81.2 wins.

Off-season Moves
The Padres trade of Adrian Gonzalez in the 09-10 off-season was largely, correctly seen as a white flag, and the process of rebuilding continued this winter with the dealing of Mat Latos to the Reds for RHP Edinson Volquez, 1B Yonder Alonso, C Yasmani Grandal and RHP Brad Boxberger. That was far from the only action, with San Diego proving pretty active in the marketplace. And they weren't just dumping contracts, with a couple of moves which seemed like head-scratchers if the team isn't looking to compete now.

Most obviously was sending two pitching prospects to the White Sox for Carlos Quentin, who'll be among the most expensive players on the roster (just over $7m) and is a free-agent at the end of the season. They also traded for Rockies' closer Huston Street, who'll earn $7.5m, as a replacement for Heath Bell, who went to Miami. San Diego have plenty of flexibility with only Cameron Maybin signed beyond this year - just a few club options and players under control. Their farm system is stacked: Keith Law ranked it the best in baseball, and Josh Sickels rated it #2, both citing its depth, though it lacks "stars": Yonder Alonzo was highest-ranked in MLB's Top 100 list, at #39.

Arrivals WAR Departures WAR
OF Yonder Alonso 0.7 RP Heath Bell 1.7
C John Baker -0.1 RP Samuel Deduno 0.0
RP Andrew Cashner 0.4 RP Jeff Fulchino -0.2
OF Jeremy Hermida 0.5 IF Alberto Gonzalez -0.4
OF Mark Kotsay -0.1 SP Aaron Harang 1.9
P Micah Owings 0.5 1B Brad Hawpe -0.6
RP Matt Palmer -0.1 OF Jeremy Hermida 0.5
OF Carlos Quentin 3.2 C Rob Johnson -0.6
RP Huston Street 1.0 SP Mat Latos 2.6
RP Dale Thayer 0.2 SP Wade LeBlanc 0.2
SP Edinson Volquez -1.0 RP Pat Neshek 0.0
OF Eric Patterson -0.4
C Kyle Phillips -0.1
RP Chad Qualls 0.7
1B Anthony Rizzo -0.7

The Padres under well-known GM Josh Byrnes did a good job of cutting loose the deadwood on the position side, with Hermida the only departee on the position side to post a positive WAR. Quentin gives them a significant offensive boost, so that side definitely improved over the winter. However, Harang, Latos and LeBlanc combined for 73 starts, so Corey Luebke and Dustin Moseley will have to step into those gaps. Volquez really wasn't good at all last year, with a 5.71 ERA in 20 starts for Cincinnati - San Diego are hoping he reverts to his All-Star form of 2008, though as Volquez turns 29 this year, it's unclear how much upside he has.

Overall, our system projects a slight improvement, from the arrival of Quentin, the off-season moves giving San Diego an extra 0.6 wins.

The Padres were on the young side, with their hitters averaging 28.0 years of age, compared to league median of 28.6. Their pitchers were very close to the median of 28.2, coming a tick below that at 28.1. That's a total of 0.7 years under, which converts to a 1.4 wins gained through aging in 2012. A likely source for some of that is Maybin, who turns 25 just before Opening Day, posted 2.9 WAR for them last year, and was rewarded with a $25 million contract that inks him through 2016, with a team option for 2017. Yonder Alonzo should be their starting first-baseman, as well as having one of the best names in baseball.

Though the departure of the 23-year-old Latos will skew the pitching staff older, that will be countered by the loss of the 33-year olds Harang and Bell. While the Padres had six players in MLB's Top 100 Prospects list, there was only one pitcher, Casey Kelly, who came in at #50, so there probably won't be much help coming up from the farm system in this area during 2012.

Any factors we should be taking into account in 2012? The Padres did enjoy reasonably solid health last year, so might have a little more trouble in that department. However, full seasons of production from Luebke and Moseley would almost be the equivalent of adding another pitcher, and the pair were worth 2.3 WAR combined over their 37 starts last season. That'll help balance out the departees. All told, there's not really anything to merit an adjustment on the numbers above.

The Padres were nowhere near as bad a team as they seemed in 2011. Indeed, over the second-half of the season, their Pythagorean win percentage of .526 was good enough for sixth in the league. The odds are against the team being as hopelessly bad in close games as they were in 2011 - if they're merely average in that department, that could easily be worth another half-dozen wins over the 71 last season, just by itself. There were definite signs of life at Petco as the season went on, and while I'm not expecting them to contend, I think they should be significantly better, to a surprising extent. Final projection: 83 wins.

This is considerably higher than most of the other systems. MARCEL has San Diego at 73 wins, MORPS 74 wins, CAIRO 76 wins and PECOTA at 79 wins, so I'm the only guy saying they'll reach .500. Prove me right, San Diego: prove me right...