Role reversal: Padres ‘regulars’ out-shining superstars

May 1, 2024; San Diego, California, USA; San Diego Padres first baseman Jake Cronenworth (9) is congratulated by right fielder Fernando Tatis Jr. (23) and left fielder Jurickson Profar (10) after hitting a grand slam home run against the Cincinnati Reds during the seventh inning at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

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. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The Padres have several multi-time All-Stars and MVP candidates in their lineup. Yet, it seems to be everyone else that is playing at an All-Star level.

When the season started, the consensus was- the Padres will go as their superstars go. Those stars being Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado, and Xander Bogaerts. All of whom largely underachieved last season. That led to a disappointing 82-80 season and missing the playoffs, despite preseason expectations of competing for a World Series. The lone “star” from last season who produced at a high level, Juan Soto, is now in Yankee pinstripes.

Now, 40 games into the 2024 campaign, it frankly has been much of the same for the star trio. Tatis’ stats are nearly identical to those he put up last year, which was a letdown compared to his prior success. His OPS is .773 with a .439 slugging percentage. Last year, those numbers were .770 and .429 respectively—both slightly above league average.

Machado seems like he is still getting warmed up, having just begun to play third base regularly after starting the season as full-time DH. Even still, his .693 OPS and 102 OPS+ at the moment are massively disappointing. He basically has been a league-average bat while mostly being a DH.

Bogaerts is undoubtedly the most guilty of the trio. At least Tatis and Machado still have serviceable, average numbers for a big leaguer if you did a blind test without knowing the names. If you did the same blind test of Bogaerts’ numbers through one-quarter of the season, you would suggest that the player should be sent down to Triple-A or be released.

There are currently 175 qualified hitters in Major League Baseball. Bogaerts ranks 159th in OPS and slugging and 154th in wRC+. He’s been flat-out bad.

The trio has combined for a meager 1.3 offensive WAR. For reference, the Dodgers’ duo of Mookie Betts and Shohei Ohtani boasts a combined 5.2 offensive WAR. More embarrassingly, Jake Cronenworth and Jurickson Profar have combined for twice as much oWAR (2.6) as the Padres’ “Big Three.”

Therein lines why the Padres are .500 at 20-20 and not much worse.

Profar has been nothing short of miraculous. In a year where the Padres needed to make up for the loss of Juan Soto in the lineup, Profar has nearly matched Soto’s exploits in New York blow-for-blow. Profar is batting .328 while Soto sits at .338. Profar has collected 44 hits, with Soto just ahead at 49.

Profar is seventh in the National League in batting average, sixth in OPS, and seventh in hits.

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The big question is, of course, can he maintain this? At this point, who cares? Profar has already exceeded most expectations any reasonable person had for him for an entire season. He currently leads the Padres in most offensive categories, including hits, RBI, average, and OPS. He can’t be asked to carry this team all year.

And it’s not early anymore. We are one-fourth done with the entire season.

Then there’s Jake Cronenworth. Sure, you could throw him in the group of “stars” because of his two All-Star bids. Let’s be honest; he’s always been a tier below the “Big Three.” Don’t tell him that, though, as he is only being outshined on the team by the journeyman switch-hitting Profar. His .292 average and .858 OPS would be career highs. He already has six homers this year after having just 10 in 127 games last season.

Cronenworth isn’t just displaying more value at the plate. He also jumped from 33rd percentile in Outs Above Average defensively at first base last year to 89th so far in 2024. He is looking much more comfortable at the plate and at first base this year.

Luis Campusano finished last year strong and made a case to be the starting catcher in San Diego. Thus far, in 2024, he has validated that trust. He is batting .274, which is third on the team and 10th among catchers in the league. His 109 OPS+ suggests he is slightly above average. It appears, for now, the Padres have a steady presence at catcher, albeit with some room for improvement defensively.

Rookie Jackson Merrill got off to a torrid start, batting .329 in the first 26 games. He is batting .204 since April 20 but has shown signs of breaking out of his brief slump. His 104 OPS+ displays him being a league-average hitter. That in of itself is an accomplishment for a 20-year-old rookie. However, it gets better when you look at his defense at a position that he is learning on the fly, in center. At this moment, he is in the 91st percentile for Outs Above Average at centerfield and 87th percentile for arm strength.

The Padres are seventh in all of baseball in runs scored per game. That has way more to do with key role players stepping up in big moments for manager Mike Schildt rather than the superstars performing to their high standards.

Still, it feels as if the Padres will ultimately fall short of their goals if the trend of their three stars underperforming continues.

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