The Padres put players in positions to fail in 2019

Credit: AP

Credit: USA Today Sports

Several times throughout the 2019 season, the San Diego Padres had men playing out of position. If the team wants to improve their play, they must improve their defensive vversatility.

Thanks to the acquisition of Manny Machado and the callup of Fernando Tatis Jr., this Padres season began with an aura of excitement, even hope.  Tatis Jr.’s sparking play together with pitcher Chris Paddack’s hot start added to the positive vibe.  However, by the end of August, the results switched to déjà vu all over again (as Yogi Berra might have remarked).

At that point, General Manager A.J. Preller switched gears and the rest of the season became a game of let’s throw stuff against the wall and see what sticks.  In reality, little stuck, in part because multiple players were actually put in positions in which they were almost destined to fail.

Baseball has been called a game of failure with good reason as the top hitters fail approximately 70 percent of the time.  The best organizations put players in positions to succeed, but the Padres actually put players in positions to fail.  Obviously, Preller put the roster together, but it’s unclear whether he or ex-manager Andy Green or a combination thereof made the decisions regarding positioning.

Josh Naylor

With the acquisitions of Wil Myers and then Eric Hosmer, Josh Naylor became a man without a position. Drafted by the Miami Marlins in the first round in 2015, he spent the majority of his minor league career manning first base or left field, with only 59 games total in right field.

Although probably a designated hitter in the waiting, the Padres decided to try Naylor in left field.  Since that was not a disaster, the front office upped the ante and put him in right.

Credit: AP Photo

In 2019, he appeared in 33 games in left and 31 in right, committing six errors and compiling a .936 fielding percentage.  Although out of his comfort zone in left, he looked totally unmoored in right field.

Luis Urias

Luis Urias has been a second baseman for the bulk of his minor league career.  But when Tatis went down, the Padres chose to move him to short and Ty France to second with close to disastrous results.  For some reason, the Padres chose this solution rather than sliding Manny Machado over to short and putting Urias and France in their comfort zones of second and third respectively.

In relatively unfamiliar territory, Urias made nine errors. According to FanGraphs UZR/150 (runs above average per 150 defensive games) Urias rated -5.5 at shortstop but had positive results at second (17.2 in 108 innings in 2018 and 3.3 in 212 innings in 2019).

The puzzling acquisition of Ian Kinsler further complicated the situation at second base and could have further eroded Urias’ dwindling confidence. Originally signed to fill the role of clubhouse leader, pinch hitter, and occasional starter, Kinsler instead took playing time away from Urias at second.  In 87 games for San Diego, he batted a disappointing .217/.278/.368/.646.

Throughout the minors, Urias had a knack for getting on base (a skill sorely lacking with the big league team).  In the minors he had a collective batting line of .308/.397/.433/.830. With the Padres this year he batted .223/.329/.326/.618.  He seemed to abandon his get-on-base approach to join his teammates in aiming for the fences, but his struggles at the plate could also have carried over from the demands of shortstop.

Ty France

A product of San Diego State University and MVP of Pacific Coast League, France started at third in 289 games but also played 98 at first. Third base requires a totally different skill set than second, namely a strong arm and ability to reach hot smashes down the line. Large slow guys do not fit the profile for second and usually find themselves at the corners.

Credit: AP Photo

Playing in a foreign position has to be especially daunting for a rookie trying to prove himself. Hitting not defense has been his strong point, but he batted just .234/.294/.402/.696 in 184 at-bats with the Padres.

Wil Myers

The less said about Wil Myers in center field the better.  Having been displaced from his primary position at first, the Padres have searched for a home on the diamond for Myers since he’ll be around for a while unless the team can find a taker for him and his hefty contract beginning next year.

Third base turned out to be an unmitigated disaster, but he’s seemed most comfortable in left as an alternative to first base.  Although Myers is serviceable in right, he’s out of his league in center field where he has a cumulative career .986 fielding percentage and -9 Rtot  (total zone fielding runs above average). That didn’t stop the Padres from playing Myers in center in 66 games.

Since the infamous three-way trade that sent Trea Turner to the Washington Nations and brought Myers to San Diego, team officials have spoken in gushing terms about his athleticism and ability to play all over the diamond despite compelling results to the contrary.

Hunter Renfroe

Speaking of center field, Hunter Renfroe found himself in center for four games, despite the fact that he’d started in center in only 36 games in his six-year minor league career.  His best position is right field, and he’s improved his defense measurably this year.

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Covering center field, however, calls for a player with much more speed and range, like Manuel Margot and the forgotten man Travis Jankowski (who started only two games and appeared in five in center when he returned from the injured list).

Nick Martini

Perhaps even more puzzling than the addition of Kinsler was the that of Nick Martini, who was claimed off waivers from the Oakland Athletics in late August.  He can only play left (and not all that well), but Padres’ brass valued his penchant for getting on base.  Perhaps the poster child for throwing stuff on the wall, he just complicated the outfield situation going forward.  In 2018, he batted  .269/.372/.380/.751 with the A’s but didn’t match those numbers this year with the Padres (.226/.330/.323/.653).

Credit: Padres

 Javy Guerra

Acquired as a shortstop from the Red Sox in the 2015 Craig Kimbrel trade, the Padres envisioned him as just the man to fill the gaping hole left at that position when Khalil Greene was traded in 2009.

However thanks to his anemic plate appearances but live arm registering between 96-100 mph, the Padres tried him on the mound beginning this season. Since he’s a novice at pitcher, the Padres may have rushed him to the majors as a minor league call-up at the beginning of September.  In his very first outing, Andy Green left him in to give up three straight home runs against the Arizona Diamondbacks in a 14-7 shellacking which left him with an ERA of 54.00.  To his credit, he brought that down to 5.19 by the end of the season in which he pitched 8.2 innings.

For young players especially, playing outside a comfort zone can seriously erode confidence and spiral out of control as evidenced in the sloppy defense that characterized the last half of this season. But a veteran like Wil Myers is not immune to humiliation.  His confidence must be in freefall at this point in his tenure in San Diego.

For an organization with the announced intention of contending in future years, putting players in positions to fail makes absolutely no sense.

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18 thoughts on “The Padres put players in positions to fail in 2019

    1. Hi Rick,
      This obsession with the Rangers is both fascinating and discouraging. Tingler does have more experience than Green but hasn’t managed at the Major League level. I think this team needs a guy that has been there and done that. The sexual assault accusation regarding Ron Washington makes me queasy especially since that was before the Me Too movement. In the meantime, other teams are snatching up guys with more experience and gravitas.
      Thanks for your thoughts,

  1. The theme here is obvious we need to hire a GM who knows how to put together a team and put together the right people/system that can develop talent that is major league ready. After 4 plus years we have neither and the team is further away from contention now than a year ago.

    1. Hello John,
      I appreciate your reading and taking the time to comment. I must admit that I’m beginning to feel really discouraged. Watching the playoffs has cemented my concerns. Although the Rays are out of it now, they started the year with a $60 million payroll and ended up in the playoffs. They play the game the right way and not only add talent but develop that talent.

  2. Hi there Tommy T,
    I had to write this It seems that every damn game after the All-Star break I’d look at the lineup and say something a little stronger than are you kidding me? The curious player positioning hurt in multiple ways including defense, player confidence, and trade value. The lousy defense in turn adversely affects the young pitching staff as well.
    This offseason will be very interesting.
    Thanks for your thoughtful comments,

  3. Good article. Preller’s moves were more year two of a rebuild, not year four, especially with the owners apparently expecting year five results. Andy Green looked pretty good managing his first two years here, but the fourth year it looked like he lost control. It’s hard to buck the guy who hired you, but you’re responsible all the same, and putting players in their best position to succeed is the manager’s job.

    The fact both the Chairman and Managing General Partner joined in the firing announcement could be an indication they, not AJ, did the firing. That may mean AJ Preller has lost the ability to hire his own man, and possibly, dictate what goes on on the field. It’ll be interesting to see who is chosen to manage the team going forward.

    1. Thanks, LarryLarry,
      This fourth year definitely had the feeling of a loss of control in the dugout. The curious positioning reminds me of Dave Robert’s deployment of pitching in the Dodger’s last game in the playoffs. At times it was inexplicable.
      The managerial search has me concerned as well, but let’s hope for the best.
      I appreciate your comments,

  4. The reasons for Urias at SS have been written about a lot. It accomplishes the following:
    Potentially increase Urias trade value
    Let’s the Pads see what they have in a utility role for Urias as a SS stop gap/RHB at 2B
    France will never get a real shot at 3B in the ML, so he needed to be able to prove himself at 2B (Which they were giving him an audition against urias)
    Potentially increase France trade value
    Give France ABs, similar to what he’d be given if he won the RHB 2B battle or Urias traded
    Give Urias everyday ABs instead of being hard platooned with Garcia

    This was a fight for 2B next year. France at 3B, Manny at SS, Urias at 2B is most comfortable, but the least helpful in deciding a direction for the future.

  5. Urias at ss and the subsequent France 2b, Manny 3b was an effort to increase Luis’ trade value.
    Preller’s decision.
    Things have changed, Urias may stay in 2020, but let’s be clear, Preller in this and numerous other examples tied Green’s hands. A Vet Mgr will not let this happen again.

    1. Hello James,
      If the strategy was to increase Urias’ trade value, then it sure as hell backfired. He looked lost, and it had to contribute to his offensive struggles. Putting rookies and near rookies in unfamiliar positions defies common sense and most definitely messes with their heads.
      Green took the fall, but Preller set him up in many ways.

  6. The problem is that Preller either doesn’t value or doesn’t understand defense.
    You’ve detailed many of the incidents, but you could include Hedges. The best defensive catcher in all of baseball, at the toughest defensive position, with a decent WAR of 1.4, but the club has no respect for his abilities.
    Some moves to address this:
    1B. Platoon Hosmer and Myers.
    3B and 1B backup. France
    2B Garcia. Urias is backup 2B and SS until he matures and hits for average instead of the ridiculous leg kick and swing for power.
    SS Tatis. Urias, backup.
    C Hedges. Play the glove, live with the bat. Mejia, backup.
    LF Myers. Platoon partner uncertain.
    CF Margot and Jankowski platoon.
    RF Renfroe. Platoon partner uncertain. Cordero maybe.
    Needs, at least one and maybe 2 LH OFs.
    Shouldn’t be on the roster, Kinsler, Naylor and Martini.

    1. looks like you didn’t type in machado for 3B?
      Hedges batting can’t be under .180 and be lived with.
      Garcia/Urias platoon based on starting pitching
      Jank can’t have a spot on this team. A platoon would mean he would start more than Margot and his splits are bad still. Need a diff option.
      Cordero/Naylor/an established CF LHB (Benintendi?) should be the OF platoons as of right now.
      Naylor in LF wasn’t terrible, keep away from RF though.
      Other than the tweaks above, same page.

      1. Yeah, left out Machado, but that’s a given.
        I could live with a Garcia/Urias platoon.
        Hedges does need to improve with the stick.
        Jankowski actually has decent numbers against RHP. Only other player on the roster who does, and can field in the OF: Myers.
        Naylor is not an OF, trade him.

        1. Thanks for reading and commenting Tom,
          Garcia/Urias platoon would have been a better option than sticking Urias at short. It doesn’t matter what Jankowski can do, he’s not a Preller guy. Plus Preller seems to value offense over defense, thus Jankowski and Hedges are expendable. H
          Naylor certainly shouldn’t be an outfielder on a team with multiple other options. The acquisition of Hosmer really gummed up the works.

      2. Hi BK,
        Once Tatis Jr. went down, why not put Machado at short, France at third, Urias at second? Of course, when Tatis Jr. returns Machado goes back to third.
        If you look closely at Margot and Jankowski’s performance over time, Freddy has come close to matching him. In many ways, they’re the same player but only one was acquired by Preller. With Cordero, aside from the injury problem, you have another guy who can’t field. Do you really want that in center field”
        Not being terrible (Naylor in LF) isn’t exactly a strategy.
        Thanks for reading and taking time to comment,

    2. Hello Tom,
      As usual, I agree with you on most points. However, Urias should be given more of a chance at second (if he’s even on the team next year). In the minors, he got on base at a high rate, but once he got up here he lost the plot. But he was hardly alone in hitting for the fences. Watching the Rays in the postseason was so refreshing, especially the approach at the plate.
      The acquisitions of both Kinsler and Martini indicated there’s really not a plan. Poor Naylor was screwed once Myers and then Hosmer arrived and should have been moved.

  7. Thank you for writing this. I have believed this for a while, particularly about Myers and Naylor (at first base), as well as Urias at short, and giving France an actual shot, uninterrupted.

    Myers’s production would be immensely better if given first base solely, or even LF solely. He is talented, but lacks confidence (which is concerning). Preller cut him off at the knees with the Hosmer signing, and crippled the team for several years by the same inexplicable move. Naylor’s value would be much higher if he, too, were dedicated to 1B. Again, Hosmer’s signing is killing the Padres, and hurting several players, all because of AJ’s “genius.” I don’t know if France would succeed, but we will never know until he gets a full shot (and likely some other team is going to take advantage of him).

    Thanks again for writing about what I have been thinking about.

    [for what it is worth, if Hosmer was completely benched then this team would be at least 10 games better]

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