Padres’ Hitting Philosophy Should be “Give Me a Good At-Bat”

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Mandatory Credit: AP Photo

“Keep your launch angles. Keep your exit velocities. Give me a good at-bat,” advises Chicago Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon (as reported by at least two sources, Patrick Mooney of The Athletic and Bret Taylor of Bleacher Nation). For the Padres, the more appropriate advice would be “hit the bloody, bleeping ball with that wooden stick you have in your hand.”

All of baseball has been infected by home run fever and an all-or-nothing approach at the plate. In the meantime, pitchers throw harder than ever before.

According to FanGraphs, the average fastball in 2002 sat at 89 mph with the velocity rising to an average of 92.8 last year. Pitchers like the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard can throw 100 mph, and reliever Aroldis Chapman, now with the New York Yankees, reached 105.1 mph in a game against the Padres in September 2010.

The Padres’ batters may not be alone, but the team certainly leads the parade with a strikeout rate of 27.8%, besting their 2017 rate of 25.2%. San Diego has averaged 10.41 strikeouts a game for a total of 281 after Friday night’s 5-1 loss to the New York Mets. At the current pace, the home team’s hitters will break their own record of futility again this year.

In the Dodgers series last week, Padres hitters struck out 45 times (despite the fact the team didn’t face ace Clayton Kershaw). In last Sunday’s game, the team had 15 strikeouts in a 4-2 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

By contrast, Brandon Belt of the San Francisco Giants had a 12-minute, 21-pitch at-bat, in which he fouled off 16 two-strike pitches in a game against the Los Angeles Angels last Sunday. He finally flied out, but certainly contributed to rookie pitcher Jaime Barria’s short outing of only two innings. Giants’ hitters saw a total of 49 pitches in the first inning alone.

The Padres help opposing pitchers immensely with their strikeout tendencies. The grip-it-and-rip-it approach allows opposing starters to go deeper into games and saves wear and tear on the bullpen.

Matt Stairs, San Diego’s current hitting, came to town with the express purpose of improving the batters’ approach at the plate. Of course, change can’t occur overnight, and the season has just begun. But so far, the team seems to have gone backward. The Padres have the lowest batting average (.221) and second lowest on-base percentage (.292) so far.

Outfielder Franchy Cordero ranks near the top in all of baseball in exit velocity at 116.8 mph. However, his exit velocity doesn’t make up for his .241 batting average or 22 strikeouts so far in 14 games. As for the obsession with launch angle, San Diego ranks 20th in home runs with 26.

Preceding Stairs, the hitting coaches for the Padres since Petco Park opened have numbered nine and include Dave Magadan, Merv Rettenmund, Wally Joyner, Jim Lefebvre, Randy Ready, Phil Plantier, Mark Kotsay, and Alan Zinter. The venue itself can no longer be blamed for the Padres’ batting stats, as changes have been made to make it less of a pitchers’ park.

As hitting coach for the Philadelphia Phillies last year, Stairs helped the hitters improve in on-base percentage (from .301 to .315) and in total runs scored. He preaches not giving up at-bats, and the Padres continue to do just that. Over time, fans can only hope the message sinks in before September 30th.

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Diane Calkins
Baseball has been a part of Diane's life since her father played professionally (mostly at the minor league level). She has written for a number of publications and concentrated on companion animal welfare. She welcomes the opportunity to write about the sport she loves. Diane shares her home with her husband and a house full of rescued animals.

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