Lofty expectations engendered by a complete roster makeover in the off-season have not been met, and the San Diego Padres clearly have several pressing issues. The club has had inconsistent play across the board, which has led to the firing of Bud Black, and many Major League Baseball insiders to question whether the team will be sellers at the All Star Break.
Though disappointing, several pundits and analysts anticipated some of the club’s current issues, most notably the lack of left-handed hitters and defensive issues. Defensive struggles have proven to be accurate, particularly in the outfield.
While clearly plagued by defensive issues, the team has experienced offensive hiccups, during which the club wins games by lopsided scores, while struggling to score in stretches. In order to balance the team’s offensive output, and avoid defensive shortcomings, an honest appraisal of the roster is in order.
The team’s defensive misgivings have been the most pronounced in center and right field, where Myers and Kemp have two of the worst defensive ratings in all of MLB – with Rdrs/yr (measures defensive runs saved per year), of -42 and -7 respectively. While not necessarily surprising, this is a major issue nonetheless. To combat this, and potentially balance the club’s offensive output, platooning them in right field and first base respectively would keep their bats in the lineup, and give Will Venable an opportunity to patrol center field.
Though neither of them have stellar defensive track records, playing right field and first base are less taxing assignments than manning center in Petco’s cavernous outfield, which would allow Myers and Kemp to focus on hitting.
But what about Yonder?
Yonder Alonso has exceeded expectations so far this season offensively, batting .318, reaching base at a .407 clip, and producing nearly a walk per strikeout (24 to 25). His power numbers have been a bit underwhelming, only 2 home runs and 9 doubles so far, but his steady bat and ability to get on base represent a major positive for a team that has batted a combined .244, which is 23rd best in MLB.
It is important to keep his bat in the lineup, by playing third base. His optimal defensive position is first base, and he has had relatively little experience at third base since high school, partially because of talented stalwarts at the position blocking him (Ryan Braun, Danny Valencia and Chase Headley). Rotating Alonso to third base may very well present new defensive issues, yet they can be offset by his consistent hitting.
Where do the remaining pieces fit?
Will Middlebrooks and Yangervis Solarte appear on the surface to be the odd men out if Alonso switches to third base, especially considering his stellar numbers against lefties so far this year – batting .405 in 37 at-bats, with a .991 OPS.
Middlebrooks is batting .222 so far this year, though he has hit 9 home runs. His defense has been slightly below average – a running theme with the Padres, and he will miss some time after slipping on a bat this past Sunday (LINK).
Solarte has played well defensively, and has excellent numbers with runners in scoring position. His timely hitting and versatility are valuable. However, his offensive numbers are underwhelming: .247 average, 18 XBHs and a .643 OPS in 227 at-bats.
Niether Middlebrooks nor Solarte present significant offensive upside, so replacing them in the lineup should not be particularly damaging.
Bridging the gap between now and Myers’ ultimate return from surgery on his left wrist has been arduous so far – the team got shut out for an MLB-leading 13th time Wednesday against the Mariners, and may continue to be painful going forward. However, his return could breathe life into a gasping offense, and re-energize a seemingly fatigued clubhouse.