How Much Slack Should Young Padres Players Be Given?

Credit: AP

Credit: AP Photo

It’s hard in this age of Twitter, super smart phones, and a constant stream of information, to wait, to be patient. Sometimes that’s what baseball executives, managers, players, and yes, fans, need to be to see the fruits of one’s labor. Padres fans know this, and are still patiently waiting for top prospects to arrive at the big league level and produce like they are projected to.

It’s the question all managers and general managers face with a young player with tons of “upside.” How long do we give this player to figure it out and become at least an average major league player? Is there a number of plate appearances or innings pitched? It can be frustrating for everyone when a player arrives that is supposed to be a franchise player and he stumbles out of the gate. We have all seen it. So, how long until we know that this is who that player is and he won’t get significantly better? Patience is key, but when is enough enough?

Can players slowly improve over the course of their career? Of course. The question really is how long can a team afford to let a young, promising player flounder around before pulling the plug? No one wants to be that GM that quits on a player too early and ships him off elsewhere, where he becomes an All-Star (see Anthony Rizzo). Every team can find examples of when their front office gave away a player that later became a star, but it certainly seems like the Padres have done it frequently.

That being said, with the likes of Austin Hedges, Hunter Renfroe, and Bryan Mitchell still struggling to prove they can be at least average big leaguers early in their careers, how long should the leash be?

Looking at WAR per season to determine how long it took for players to “arrive,” meaning they have established themselves as major league contributors, let’s see how long on average it takes a player to establish who they really are, whether that be an All-Star or regular everyday player.

Let’s first take a look at data and examples of hitters. I looked into players and how many at-bats it took until they were a consistent 1.0 WAR player.

Of course there are freaks of nature who need no grooming, like Mike Trout (.326, 30 HR, 10.5 WAR in his rookie year) or Bryce Harper (.270, 22 HR, 5.2 WAR), but let’s look at players who may be on the same path, or were, as Hedges and Renfroe. Also, these are not the only Padres players who fall into this category. I am just using a few examples.

I researched the beginning of 35 players’ careers, ranging from perfectly average to perennial All-Star. Now, I am not expecting Hedges to all of a sudden compete for batting titles, but it would be a big step forward if he could be at least a 1.0 WAR player. Again, this is not saying if he doesn’t, we cut the cord immediately, but here are my findings:

The longest it took a player to reach a consistent 1.0 WAR was six seasons, by Jose Bautista and Brandon Phillips. Bautista has an interesting story of floating in limbo for much of his first half-decade in the bigs, never hitting more than 15 home runs or batting better than .254 until he blasted 54 home runs in 2010, his seventh year in the big leagues. He had logged over 2,000 plate appearances before he became the slugger we know him to be today.

Aside from Trout and Harper, other players burst onto the scene right away like Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu, Cody Bellinger, and Aaron Judge.

The average time, among the 35 players I researched, it took to become a 1.0 WAR was 2 1/2 seasons, or 783 plate appearances (with a lot of players getting fewer than 100 plate appearances during their first “season”).

Player Seasons until 1.0 WAR Plate Appearances
1 C JT Realmuto 2 497
2 C Salvador Perez 2 463
3 C Yasmani Grandal 4 1203
4 C Willson Contreras 1 283
5 C Jason Castro 2 512
6 C Alex Avila 3 956
7 SS Xander Bogaerts 3 1298
8 INF Eric Sogard 4 601
9 1B Yonder Alonso 3 746
10 OF Lonnie Chisenhall 3 682
11 OF Jon Jay 2 826
12 OF Gerardo Parra 3 1377
13 OF Nick Markakis 1 542
14 OF Angel Pagan 4 829
15 OF Adam Jones 3 661
16 OF Jose Bautista 6 2038
17 3B Yunel Escobar 1 355
18 2B Joe Panik 2 719
19 2B Dee Gordon 4 1319
20 2B Brandon Phillips 6 1751
21 OF Alex Gordon 1 601
22 OF Yasiel Puig 1 432
23 OF Michael Saunders 4 1188
24 OF Corey Dickerson 2 691
25 SS Brad Miller 1 335
26 SS Jose Iglesias 3 465
27 C Mike Zunino 4 1247
28 OF Byron Buxton 2 469
29 SS Zack Cozart 2 638
30 OF Hunter Pence 1 484
31 SS Didi Gregorious 2 724
32 3B Travis Shaw 2 778
33 OF Khris Davis 2 702
34 1B Anthony Rizzo 2 521
35 OF Randal Grichuk 2 466
Average     2.6 783

 

For catchers, like Hedges, it seemed to take just a little less at 734 plate appearances. Hedges is now at 621 career plate appearances, entering Monday’s game with the Rockies. Would it be fair to give him roughly 150 more plate appearances, and if he is still struggling, say “that’s it, you had your chance”? Not at all. He could turn out to be like Seattle’s Mike Zunino, who had logged three seasons’ worth of plate appearances, including two demotions, before his 2017 season when he hit 25 home runs with a 123 OPS+. It’s not like the Padres are waiting on Hedges to pick it up so they can start contending; they have time to wait it out.

Renfroe has even less of a sample size, at 545 career plate appearances. He certainly needs more seasoning as he has a career .239 average and .267 on-base percentage. Renfroe has a career 27.9% strikeout rate. You know who had an even worse strikeout rate in his first two seasons (29.3%)? Five-time All-Star outfielder Adam Jones. Maybe Renfroe is not a lost cause like some think.

We are so quick to judge and condemn, it’s only human. Some of these players barely have their toes wet. Christian Villanueva has 59 career plate appearances. 59. Though I am not seeing anyone worried about Villanueva just yet, as he looks like the far better option at third base than Headley.

A player who may be running out of chances is Cory Spangenberg. He is now at 972 plate appearances, with a 2.3 career WAR in his first three seasons (0.8 WAR per year). Although he has shown flashes of his 10th overall selection, in hindsight, one cannot justify drafting him ahead of the likes of George Springer, Sonny Gray, or Jackie Bradley, which is what the Padres did in 2011, when he has 22 career homers and a 99 OPS+ in almost 1,000 career plate appearances. With guys like Carlos Asuaje, and especially top prospect Luis Urias breathing down his neck at second base, it’s now or never.

Credit: Getty Images

Pitchers

Pitchers also sometimes start out slowly and then take off. On the flip side, some pitchers explode onto the scene and are lights out until batters get film on them and figure them out. Especially with all the young pitching talent the Padres have in their system, it’s important to have patience as they develop.

Doing the same research for pitchers, researching how many innings they pitched before establishing themselves as at least a 1.0 WAR player, 15 starting pitchers and 15 relievers were studied.

 

Pitcher IP before 1.0 WAR
1 SP Clayton Kershaw 108
2 SP Johnny Cueto 174
3 SP Jake Arrieta 410
4 SP Marco Estrada 263
5 SP Ivan Nova 208
6 SP Jason Hammel 384
7 SP Mike Leake 306
8 SP Jordan Zimmermann 284
9 SP J.A. Happ 202
10 SP Charlie Morton 423
11 SP Dallas Keuchel 439
12 SP Kendall Graveman 121
13 SP Edison Volquez 276
14 SP Bronson Arroyo 383
15 SP Zach Davies 198
Average 279

Starting pitchers may take longer to progress since they pitch more innings at once. The Padres’ recent acquisition, Bryan Mitchell, is held in high esteem by the Padres’ front office, as it took swallowing Chase Headley’s $13 million contract in order for the Yankees to part ways with Mitchell. In spring and in two regular season starts so far in San Diego, it has been a mixed bag for Mitchell. However, he only has 109 innings pitched, 170 fewer than the average innings it took these 15 pitchers to reach 1.0 WAR, and only 51 of those innings have come as a starter.

Dinelson Lamet only has 114 innings in his career, so there is a lot of room for development.

Luis Perdomo certainly made progress from 2016 to last season, improving his ERA by a full run with 20 more innings. After 319 innings, however, we only know that he is maddeningly inconsistent. Maybe he could be a Dallas Keuchel or Jake Arrieta, who both took over 400 innings to become the pitchers they are today. After two full seasons, Keuchel had a career 78 ERA+, just like Perdomo did entering his third year this season. Arrieta was 28 before he posted his first 100+ ERA+ season, which was his fifth season. I am sure the Astros are thanking the stars they didn’t give up on the 2015 A.L. Cy Young winner and I am sure the Orioles are kicking themselves for letting Arrieta reach his full potential with the Cubs.

This is not to say Perdomo is bound to win a Cy Young award. With 319 innings in the books, the jury is still out and he may only have this season to show true progress before the Padres move on. When guys like Cal Quantrill, Adrian Morejon, and Eric Lauer are ready, and they will be soon, Perdomo could be the odd man out if he doesn’t shape up this season.

Developing quality starting pitchers takes some patience as the average of 279 innings is just about two full seasons.

Again, the Padres have time to play this out. They will not “waste” a season by seeing if Mitchell or Perdomo can develop into a reliable starter, while allowing some bumps along the way.

Relief Pitchers

Reliever IP before 1.0 WAR
1 RP Tony Watson 166
2 RP Joe Smith 249
3 RP Sean Doolittle 117
4 RP Steve Cishek 59
5 RP Nick Vincent 73
6 RP Addison Reed 134
7 RP Brad Hand 378
8 RP Craig Kimbrel 98
9 RP Tyler Clippard 98
10 RP Kelvin Herrera 87
11 RP David Robertson 202
12 RP Adam Ottavino 102
13 RP Ryan Madson 79
14 RP Sergio Romo 130
15 RP Joaquin Benoit 385
Average 157

Obviously it takes fewer innings for a reliever to become a viable asset than a starter. Several of these pitchers above did not even need 100 innings before becoming a key piece of their team’s bullpen. In fact, the odd man out on this list is San Diego’s own Brad Hand, who took a while to find his footing and now is one of the most respected relievers in the game. Craig Stammen is another guy in the Padres’ ‘pen who has seemed to figure it out later in his career, as he is 34 years old, approaching 600 innings, although he had a few decent years with Washington.

Phil Maton started this season down in Triple-A El Paso, but was quickly called up, and now with Kirby Yates’ injury, he may have to take on a more prominent role. He is well short of the average 157 innings here, as he has logged just 44. With how he performed last season, it would not be shocking if Maton approaches 1.0 WAR this season.

Jordan Lyles may be a guy that is out of time if he doesn’t figure it out this season. He has pitched 687 career innings, although most of that was as a starter. He has started well this year, with four scoreless outings. Of his seven previous seasons, only one time has he achieved at least a 1.0 WAR.

Keep these numbers in mind as young players have bumps in the road. It’s bound to happen. Also, this could be a decent gauge as to when players have declared who they are, whether that’s a below-average hitter who struggles to hit north of .230 or a perennial All-Star. Every player is a little bit different of course, along with coaching situations and injuries, this data is far from perfect. For some young players, this could help us be more patient as they develop, and for others, this could be more kindling on the fire to have them get the ax.

Either way, “patience is bitter but its fruit is sweet.”

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Nick Lee
Native of Escondido, CA. Lived in San Diego area for 20 years. Padres fan since childhood (mid-90s). I have been writing since 2014. I currently live near Seattle, WA and am married to a Seattle sports girl. I wore #19 on my high school baseball team for Tony Gwynn. I am a stats and sports history nerd. I attended BYU on the Idaho campus. I also love Star Wars.

2 thoughts on “How Much Slack Should Young Padres Players Be Given?

  1. 1) Austin Hedges – Catching is not a good position to only look at overall WAR. Many teams are fine with no hit great field catchers. NL clubs not as much and when yuou bat them low in front of the pitcher it reduces the chances of the bottom third of the order ever producing any runs. He has shown power but other than that not much. I would continue to moniter that till end of July. I think they should strongly consider moving a package for JT Realmuto could be a great move. Move Hedges to backup, you need your backup catcher to play upto 60 games. His HR power would be plus as a PH.
    2) Hunter Renfroe – I think he has shown in the minors that he has hadf the results, Back in 2016 he was MVP of the PCL, his time last season over a month was better then his MVP year’ stats wise. One of his biggest downfalls on his Overall WAR was his negitive fielding. He was a -10.9 on just his defensive WAR. This has been league average so far. His current progress with the bat is a small improvment in the right direction. More walks slightly higher AVG. One thing is he does Not play full time right now as Meyers is the starting RF.
    3) Bryan Mitchell, his sample size with us is very small, 2 games. He is out of options so he most likely will get the entire season to make any decisions on him. Mainly because their is $13 MILL worth of reasons, NO MiLB options available, he has just this season to prove himself though, AJP knew that going in.

    I would add Manual Margot to this list. His defense needs to get to an elite level so he can produce like Byron Buxton of Twins. His HR power last season was over projections. My other objection is his ability to steal bases successfully. The coaches need to work with him on that, the raw speed is there. He also should be a doubles triples machine, he has not done that yet.

    1. Thanks for the run down SD Don. For the Padres to truly be competitive for the playoffs/World Series AND have Hosmer, Hedges and Margot…they will have to have them bat 6th, 7th, and 8th AND have 5 batters better than them (1 through 5). Asuaje is a fine utility (at best) but will soon be replaced (thankfully).

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