Tenet #6: Swing and Miss Pitching Staff
Padres grade = A-
Of all qualifiers in 2020, Dinelson Lamet’s K/9 rate ranked fifth-best in baseball at 12.1. And, though Zach Davies surprisingly logged 8.1 per nine, the Padres found out a chasm of difference between regular season and postseason pitching exists. Further, Davies posted a 7-4 record with a 2.79 ERA in leading the Padres to their first postseason games in well over a decade. But, in two postseason starts, Bat Boy went 0-1 with a 10.29 ERA, logging a total of 7 innings and providing a mere 6 K’s. In the postseason, the focus and analysis ratchet up, and a pitch that may have gotten an out in May is spit on either by hitters taking it as a ball or taking it for a long ride. Additionally, the perceived probability that Lamet and fellow ace, Mike Clevinger who is lost for the 2021 season to Tommy John, would be able to give 30 starts in each of the next few seasons, lowered.
The result became obvious: reinforcements who could get swings and misses became a priority. The Padres dealt a number of far-from-the-Majors talents and wisely acquired ace-level stuff for moderate costs. Blake Snell joined first, and his K/9 in 2020 was 11.34, just down from his 2019 run at 12.36. Yu Darvish followed, and his 2020 K/9 finished 11th in the game of all qualifiers at 11.0. With a healthy Lamet, San Diego heads into 2021 with three of the top dozen starting pitchers in the game at the art of the strikeout.
But that’s not all they did. They also added Joe Musgrove, an El Cajon native. His K/9 rate spiked in 2020 to a personal high of 12.48. Adding swing and miss is one side of the equation, but gradually the Padres have also moved pitchers with lower swing and miss: Davies, Joey Lucchesi (7.9), David Bednar (7.1), and Garrett Richards (8.1) are examples. A full, intentional shift has been accomplished, and when Clevinger returns in 2022, the nastiness of this rotation could be legendary.
The bullpen employs a handful of names who have strong K/9 rates as well, but most have not previously projected to be the traditional back-end pieces. On the other hand, Drew Pomeranz operated at a 14.0 K/9 in 2020 and actually performed higher yet at 15.4 in 2019. Austin Adams registered an impressive 15.8 K/9, albeit in a bit role in 2020. There would need to be significant reorganization in the bullpen to call this unit a strikeout force. And, that’s entirely possible. Names like Mason Thompson, Jose Castillo, and even some of the triumvirate of Chris Paddack, Ryan Weathers, and Adrian Morejon may become household Padres bullpen studs in a matter of months depending on how the rotation shakes out.
The one head-scratcher to this apparent philosophical shift lies the recent signing of 35-year-old Mark Melancon, whose 2020 K/9 was a paltry 5.6. Some writers tab him as a closer for this unit; this seems incomprehensibly inaccurate. With all of the inflexibility the current pen makeup faces due to limited possible movement to the minors for many arms, it seems more moves (shocking, I know) are destined to come.
The organization impressed the teacher overall: A-. If one wants to remediate or earn extra credit, this article gives more detail on the art and importance of swing and miss pitching.
Tenet #7: A Multi-Faceted Offense; A High Floor Defense
Padres grade = A-
Having a multi-faceted offense simply means being able to score in many ways: power, average, baserunning, on-base %, etc. To earn an “A” here requires a lineup and perceived bench with multi-skilled players abounding.
2020 showed the Padres offense in rare air. For many years, the Padres malnourished offense ranked at or near the very bottom in many (most?) offensive categories. Rather than moving fences and blaming dense layers of air, this group recognized the need to swing at strikes instead of balls, to make contact at a greater rate, and to show desire to get on base, understanding that solo home runs fail to win ball games. Baseball has always been so; it was so in 2020; it will always be so.
How do we know the Padres have improved? The Padres finished 5th in the game (45.1) in offensive runs above average last season in a meteoric rise. For those unfamiliar with the metric, Fangraphs details it here well. In short, “OFF” measures a player’s (or team’s) context-neutral batting runs and base-running runs above average. These statistics experience a park-adjustment and weight to give credit for the quantity and quality of run-scoring. In order, the Braves (64.1), Dodgers (60.9), Mets (51.4), and Yankees (49.7) placed ahead of them. For the first time in recent memory, the Padres offense was not only not a liability but rather a strength.
San Diego finished 14th in walk % (9.1), which is a welcomed sight, yet they did lag behind in strikeout %, amassing 21.5% and finishing 25th in the game. Keep in mind that these show a collective improvement. Key offensive players added to that 2020 crew include Ha-Seong Kim, whose on-base % in the KBO was .397, and Victor Caratini, a switch-hitting catcher with a .699 OPS in 2020, show useful additions, bringing multi-tooled talents to the team.
The equally important defensive metrics also favored the Padres in 2020. They tied the Chicago Cubs for second in the game at a 7.4 defensive runs above average, trailing only the Oakland A’s (9.8). Likewise, for those unaware of the types of measures used in today’s baseball, Fangraphs defines it well here. In short, two variants are combined to create a player or team DEF: fielding runs above average and positional adjustment. In other words, how many runs can a team prevent above average, and how would their players fare if placed in other positions.
Gold-glove-winning centerfielder Trent Grisham really skews the team score as he alone posited an eye-popping DEF of 8.3. Machado and FTJ pace the rest of the roster with 3.2 and 3.1 DEF in 2020, respectively. Room for growth exists, but in comparison with their peers, the Padres hold a strong position heading into 2021.
The grade? San Diego earns an A-, sitting near the top of the field.
How the 2021 Padres fare over a 162 game schedule remains anybody’s guess, but the organization’s health and direction signals every-year attempts at glory. Your father’s Fathers can only watch in envy. With thanks to an ownership group and front office that have been used to move proverbial mountains, all Padres supporters can look forward to the next game, the next season, and the next decade with unparalleled anticipation.