Thanks to the additions of Eric Hosmer at first base and Freddy Galvis at shortstop, the Padres have improved the infield defense. However, defense at both the hot corner and in the outfield have actually regressed according to both the eye test and defensive metrics.
Last year the Padres ranked 17th in DRS (defensive runs saved) with zero. However, that represented a huge upgrade from the 2016 season, when the Padres ranked 23rd with -27 DRS. So far this year, by the same measurement, San Diego ranks sixth with 17.
At shortstop, Galvis alone has 4 DRS so far, and Hosmer has saved the rest of the infield from errors thanks to his ability to scoop balls in the dirt. He’s not a plus defender like Adrian Gonzalez. However, he does represent an upgrade over Wil Myers’ 2017 season as a defender.
However, that only tells part of the story. Subpar defense has cost the Padres multiple games, as it did in the 5-4 loss to Pirates on May 17, when both Christian Villanueva and left fielder Franchy Cordero made errors on routine plays.
The most glaring weakness in the infield has been at third with rookie Villanueva. Hailed as a plus defender (even a possible a Gold Glove candidate) as a minor leaguer, his error-prone play (10 in just 42 games, .901 fielding percentage) at third has been both surprising and disappointing.
Villanueva’s bat has kept him in the lineup as he leads all MLB rookies with 14 home runs and 33 RBI. Gleyber Torres ranks second in homers with nine. Villanueva is currently batting .237/.308/.558.
While shortstop had been the obvious black hole for the Padres defensively, neither Yangervis Solarte nor Ryan Schimpf could be mistaken for Brooks Robinson at third base the last few years. Since Villanueva’s past history includes solid defense, the Padres can only hope he can get back on track and upgrade the defense at third.
The acquisition of Hosmer helped cause a logjam in the outfield. However, injuries have alleviated the crowding and given Travis Jankowski much more of an opportunity. Jankowski’s offense has been a pleasant surprise so far, while his solid and sometimes brilliant defense has been as expected. In the game against the St. Louis Cardinals on May 11, he made a 4-star play with a catch probability of 34 percent.
Last year, Manuel Margot actually made three 5-star (0-25 percent) catches and eight 4-star (26-50 percent) catches. However, his excellent fielding has not carried over into the 2018 season. Margot has made two of three 4-star catches, but most surprisingly, only 73.7 percent of 2-star catches (70-90 percent). Manager Andy Green has speculated that Margot’s offensive woes (.204/.248/.306) have affected his performance in center.
The collective speed of the current crop of Padres’ outfielders led the team to believe their defense would rank at or near the top in MLB. In sprint speed, Jankowski rants first at 29.5 feet per second, Margot second at 29.4, and Franchy Cordero third at 29.2. However Cordero, like Margot, has also been a disappointment, especially his -6 DRS and UZR/150 of -23.5.
Currently suffering from the seeming epidemic of arm troubles, Cordero was recently placed on the disabled list, giving Hunter Renfroe the opportunity to return from his stint with elbow inflammation. Since his return, he’s played one game in left field rather than right, despite the fact that he’s played right almost exclusively in his professional career.
Rookie Franmill Reyes, instead of Renfroe, manned right field. Since his call-up on May 14, the very large power hitter (6’5” 275 pounds) has played all 11 games in right, batting .189/.231/.432 with three home runs. Left unprotected in the Rule-5 draft, no other team claimed him, possibly because of his defense, which is considered below average.
In Tuesday night’s 9-5 victory against the Miami Marlins, Green wisely removed Reyes from the game after he put the Padres ahead with a prodigious 442-foot blast. Jankowski finished the game in right field with Matt Szczur taking over in left to protect the one-run lead at the time.
During a so-called “rebuilding” year, defensive inadequacies can be tolerated for the sake of development and making judgments on potential players for the future. However, the Padres need to be very cognizant of the fact that contending, and especially championship, teams play well on both sides of the ball.