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.