What are the chances of the San Diego Padres making the playoffs in 2020?
The San Diego Padres have not made the post-season since 2006, where they lost the N.L. Divisional Series against the Cardinals 3-1 in the best of five series.
The 14-year drought could come to an end in 2020. People around the league believe that a potential wild card spot could be in this young team’s future, but is reaching the playoffs a reasonable expectation with such a young team? The answer is yes.
One way that you can calculate a player or team’s total value and, in turn, judge if they are post-season material is by using the statistic WAR—otherwise known as wins above replacement. WAR measures a player’s cumulative value from all facets of the game by calculating exactly how many more wins that player is worth to a team than a replacement-level player from the same position.
For example, Manny Machado had 3.1 WAR for the 2019 MLB season. This means that Machado was worth an additional 3.1 wins for the year compared to another available player or a free agent. Clearly, the higher the number, the better. If you add every player on the Padres’ total WAR for a season, you collectively get the total WAR for the Padres. The overall WAR statistic is highly indicative of team success, which translates to post-season appearances. With the Padres organization’s new-found willingness to increase payroll and subsequently growing their total WAR, playoff baseball may find itself back in San Diego.
Fangraphs, a popular website covering statistics for the MLB, uses their own coined fWAR in calculations. This is simply Fangraphs version of Wins Above Replacement, which I will be using.
Going back three years, the National League teams who earned the last Wild Card spot were the Rockies in 2017 (32.4 fWAR), the Rockies again in 2018 (33.7 fWAR), and the Brewers in 2019 (37.2 fWAR). The average over those three seasons is 34.43, meaning for a hopeful post-season team in 2020, you need to accumulate about 34 fWAR to have a fighting chance at the playoffs. Fangraphs has the Padres accumulating a total WAR of 39.9 over the 2020 season. This is comfortably over the 34 threshold. Of course, other intangibles go into a team making the playoffs—for instance, experience, which the Padres are lacking. However, having enough valuable players who show their skills not only on the field but with statistics is vital to the win column.
With the Padres having one of the top farm teams in the MLB, even after graduating top players like Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chris Paddack, you can expect their total WAR to continue to grow as more prospects join the big league club. One key example would be MacKenzie Gore.
Gore is currently ranked third in Fangraphs top 100 prospects rankings, and yet Fangraphs projects him to accumulate only 0.6 fWAR in 2020. This is due to his innings limit, where he is projected only to throw 37 innings throughout the year. Undoubtedly, Gore will show his true value in years to come where he will be able to throw without concerns of overuse in his youth stage. As Gore and other top prospects in the Padres farm system develop and produce at the big league level, the Padres’ total WAR should rival those who are consistently winnings pennants.
In the Houston Astros 2017 World Series championship campaign, the team accumulated 52.7 fWAR throughout the regular season. The Boston Red Sox in 2018 had 50.4 fWAR, and the 2019 Washington Nationals earned 48.3 fWAR. The average World Series champion over the last three years has an fWAR of 50.46. This is significantly higher than the 2020 Padres 39.9 projection. However, titles are not an overnight commodity. If the Padres continue to increase payroll by adding notable free agents and use their player development staff to benefit the surplus of young talent they already have. Then we could see their total WAR continue to rise and meaningful October games back in San Diego.