Back to basics for the San Diego Padres

Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

With a new decade at hand, the San Diego Padres are going back to the basics in their attempt to win. 

With the pressure on to dig the San Diego Padres out of the doldrums, general manager A.J. Preller and his revised coaching staff obviously intend to veer back to the basics. After all, flashy additions and touted rookies haven’t improved the performance on the field–especially when it comes to good old fashioned baseball.

The Padres may have replaced one inexperienced manager with an even more inexperienced manager, but the team also surrounded him with an old school, no-nonsense lineup of coaches. Jayce Tingler even has his very own assistant manager, Skip Schumaker, who coached first for the team the last two seasons.

It’s no accident that two new coaches, Bobby Dickerson (bench coach) and Wayne Kirby (first base coach) shared time with Manny Machado in Baltimore. At the plate in 2019, Machado underachieved at .256/.334/.462./796 as compared to his career batting line of .279/.335/.483/818. He also committed 14 errors.

Having played for three teams in two years, Machado should benefit from a routine offseason and an increased comfort level in a new town. And, if necessary, a bit of tough love from familiar faces won’t hurt, especially from guys who won’t be afraid to push players, even the $300 million variety of player.

Preller also added Tommy Pham, whom he has tried to acquire in the past.  In the last three years, FanGraphs puts Pham’s WAR at 13.6 (higher than Bryce Harper’s 12.8). During that time, he also managed an OBP (on-base percentage) of .381, which would have led the Padres last year and has been a focus of the team for several years.

Perhaps even more important, Pham has a clubhouse presence and reputation of pushing his teammates. He’s already spoken out about Padres hitters practically giving away at-bats during a series against the Tampa Bay Rays, his team last year.

Indeed, the Padres struck out a whopping 1581 times last year, tying with the Seattle Mariners for second place behind the Detroit Tigers’1595 Ks. Often, opposing pitchers ended up going deep into games thanks to the swing-for-the-fences approach of San Diego batters.

Since he arrived, Preller has been trying to bring in newbies to create the optimal environment in the clubhouse. He counted on veteran players like Eric Hosmer and Ian Kinsler to do just that, but, in reality, outsiders cannot waltz in and take over. However, Pham just may succeed where others have failed.

In interviews, Tingler and his coaching staff have emphasized a theme: the importance of making the routine plays.  On the left side of the infield, Machado and rookie Fernando Tatis Jr. made absolutely spectacular plays. But they also flubbed too many of the routine plays. Tatis Jr. rated third from the bottom among infielders with -13 OAA (Outs Above Average). Winning teams make routine defensive plays, and both Tatis Jr. and Machado have the ability to make the routine outs and should be focusing on just that during spring training.

Newly added pitcher Zach Davies could also be counted as a back-to-basics type.  Rather than try to blow hitters away with heat, Davies just pitches. With a fastball average below 90 mph, he uses his brain to outthink opposing hitters. Last year, that approach yielded a 2.5 WAR, 3.55 ERA and 102 strikeouts in 31 games.

The young guns in the Padres’ rotation could learn from a from Davis’ less-can-be-more approach. Last year, opposing teams took advantage of the young pitchers who counted on velocity more than guile and ended up with pitch counts of 80 in the fourth and fifth innings. Dinelson Lamet, in particular, could prove he’s the real deal by concentrating on his focus and command.

Lamet, like all the pitchers, will be working with a pitching coach other than Darren Balsley, a mainstay with the Padres for 17 years. When the New York Yankees parted ways with Larry Rothschild, Preller quickly moved to add a man who has been involved in baseball for over 30 years. Rothschild had coached for the Yankees for nine years, but General Manager Brian Cashman replaced him with the more analytically inclined Matt Blake.

Although many of the coaches added this year by Preller may be versed in analytics, their collective experience undoubtedly has taught them that robots don’t play baseball. Perhaps even more important, to a man, they know that no team can be successful by ignoring the basics.

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Diane Calkins
Baseball has been a part of Diane's life since her father played professionally (mostly at the minor league level). She has written for a number of publications and concentrated on companion animal welfare. She welcomes the opportunity to write about the sport she loves. Diane shares her home with her husband and a house full of rescued animals.

10 thoughts on “Back to basics for the San Diego Padres

  1. They’ve replaced the players, they’ve replaced the manager and still we’re talking about getting back to basics. What we really should be talking about is replacing the GM. There isn’t one person out there who could keep their job if they performed as Preller has. But then isn’t all this really a reflection of ownership more than any single thing?
    Let us hope for these outcomes: the team wins 84 games next year and is competitive well into September; Fowler gets replaced; Preller gets replaced; someone in this organization has the guts to platoon Eric Hosmer as a prelude to trading/dumping him.

    1. Hello Tom,
      I don’t think that there’s any doubt Preller’s future is on the line this season. I’m concerned with the rather random pattern of throwing stuff on the wall to see what sticks that has been a Preller trademark.
      Platooning Hosmer makes sense to me too, so it probably won’t happen. I think Hosmer, not Myers, is Preller’s biggest mistake.
      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment,

  2. Another great article, Diane…Back to Basics and solid fundamental baseball need to be the rule in 2020…I can’t tell you how many times I watched a lead off double die at second base….flyball…popup…strikeout…it drove me crazy…the Pads need to move runners over every time,and not just play for the homerun…I’m hoping this new coaching staff will enforce solid baseball, and we’ll all enjoy the wins add up…!!!

    1. Thanks much, Paul,
      Yep, a guy on second left there, swinging for the fences, etc. was the theme especially the second half of last season. Successful teams do not play sloppy baseball.
      Asking new coaches to change the basic way the team plays is a big ask, but let’s hope they’re up to the task.

  3. Speaking of back to the basics, other than the most basic of **scoring more runs than the other team**, the most obvious basic principle is **playing the best players on the team**.

    This is not happening. An inferior player (Hosmer)–both on offense AND defense–continues to be forced into the lineup, even at cleanup, rather than multiple other players who are better than he is. How can the Padres claim to really want to win when they are afraid to sit Hosmer, and afraid to simply play the best player at each position?

    1. Tommy T,
      Thanks as always for weighing in with your thoughts.
      There really is no more basic thing than playing the best players. That does not mean the most high priced players. But Hosmer makes the big bucks, so he’s cemented at first. What are the chances a rookie manager mixes things up? Not real high…

  4. It seems basic baseball has been replaced with individual players, stats, and contracts. I guess you can tell the ages of fans by how they discuss baseball. All of us old guys grew up with basics being the core of your play. After that… the individual metrics separated the average players from the good ones. But, someone who “plays the game right” seems to be an anomaly. Maybe they aren’t teaching it to younger kids or players as they grow.

    We used to read about the “team courts” fining players or taking them to task when they couldn’t get a bunt down or advance a runner into scoring position. Now, it seems they all swing for the fence regardless of count or situation.

    Better base running, advancing runners, proper fielding and throwing, selflessness, putting the team first, will win you games. Sometimes it might only be a few games a year. However, that can be the difference between a winning team and a losing team.

    I hope they’ll make strides this year to play more sound baseball. That they’ll run the bases properly, bunt successfully when asked, throw to the correct base and cutoff man, and put team first.

    1. Hi Tony,
      Thanks as always for your thoughts. Due to my gender, I didn’t get a chance to play baseball. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that playing the game the right way actually wins games. And yes, players disciplined one another (woe betide any guy who slacked off when Ken Caminiti was on the team). Now, with all the turnover and huge salaries, that ethic seems to be endangered.
      If the Padres don’t succeed in doing the little things, the big things won’t matter at the end of yet another season.

  5. Doing the little things right will win you many games. The spectacular plays will be made but the routine plays are more frequent and over a long season makes the difference between a winning record and a losing record. Play fundamental baseball. Love my Pads!

    1. Hi there NorCalPadsFan,
      No doubt the spectacular plays excite us, but I actually love good old fashioned fundamental baseball just as much. You are absolutely right: over the course of a season the routine plays occur much more and make all the difference.
      Thanks for reading,

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