Padres Editorial: Trading Defense for Offense

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Mandatory Credit: AP Photo/Alex Gallardo
Mandatory Credit: AP Photo/Alex Gallardo

The old adage goes “Pitching (or defense depending on who you ask) wins championships.” AJ Preller went into last offseason with the stated goal of improving the San Diego Padres historically abysmal offense in order to have a decent offense to go along with the Padres stellar pitching in the hopes of bringing a championship to San Diego. What Preller didn’t seem to consider is the associated cost of trading strong defense for some offensive upgrades. While the Padres offense has improved, and the pitching has stayed relatively strong, the defense for the team has taken a huge hit. 

For the sake of simplicity, I will break down offense, defense, and pitching into one category each when measuring a team’s general success in each category. For offense a good measure is wRC+, for defense we’ll use UZR and for pitching FIP. Clearly these are simplified measures but they help paint a decent picture of a team’s overall performance in each category. To better understand what makes a World Series champion, it helps to look at these three categories for each of the World Series Champions of recent years. What follows is the results of this research:

World Series Champion Team Offense:wRC+ Team Defense: UZR Team Pitching:FIP
2014 San Francisco Giants 10th in the league- 101 15th in the league- 2.9 10th in the league- 3.58
2013 Boston Red Sox 1st in the league- 115 10th in the league- 20.6 16th in the league- 3.84
2012 San Francisco Giants 7th in the league- 101 8th in the league- 13.9 9th in the league- 3.78
2011 St. Louis Cardinals 3rd in the league- 112 27th in the league--34.7 8th in the league- 3.75
2010 San Francisco Giants 14th in the league- 98 1st in the league- 56.5 3rd in the league- 3.74
2009 New York Yankees 1st in the league- 117 16th in the league--4.7 13th in the league- 4.32
2008 Philadelphia Phillies 14th in the league- 98 2nd in the league-66.5 13th in the league- 4.30
2007 Boston Red Sox 2nd in the league- 109 6th in the league- 29.1 5th in the league- 4.14
2006 St. Louis Cardinals 13th in the league- 98 16th in the league- -1.0 25th in the league- 4.77
2005 Chicago White Sox 17th in the league- 95 7th in the league- 33.1 10th in the league- 4.12

There seems to be a common theme amongst World Series champions. Each team seems to be at least league average in all three categories or, when they fall below league average in a category, they make up for it with above average output in another category. On top of that, nearly every team (except inexplicably the 2006 Cardinals) is top ten in at least one of the three categories (and usually two) and most seem to be top five in one category.  To better understand how each category correlates to winning, each category must be analyzed in more depth.

In terms of offense, the worst offense of the bunch was the 2005 White Sox who were 17th in the league with a wRC+ of only 95. Six out of the ten produced wRC+ of over 100 and out of the other four, three were just shy at 98. On top of that, out of the ten world series champions from 2005-2014, only the 2005 White Sox were in the bottom half of the league in offense although they made up for it with both top ten pitching and defense. The same can be said for other near league average offenses such as the 2008 Phillies and the 2010 Giants who had either top five pitching, defense, or both. The real anomaly is the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals.

In terms of defense, every single World Series champion was either above league average, or just below league average (2006 Cardinals and 2009 Yankees) except for the 2011 Cardinals who were 27th in the league in defense. Out of all the teams, exactly half had defenses in the top ten with two of them having top five defenses. It seems a similar rule applies to defense that applies to offense. Those three World Series winners that had defense below league average all had offenses or pitching at the very top of the league with the only exception again being the 2006 Cardinals.

Finally in terms of pitching, every team had above league average pitching except for the 2013 Boston Red Sox, who were just below league average, and those same 2006 Cardinals. Again exactly half of the World Series champions from 2005-2014 were top ten in pitching. Those that were not again made up for through top ten offenses or defenses with the Cardinals remaining the exception.

Mandatory Credit: UT San Diego

What the table above demonstrates is that there is some sort of correlation between defense/pitching and winning championships. Even more so than that there is a strong correlation between a well-balanced team and winning championships. Usually defense and pitching have to be good but if one, or even both, are not up to par then hitting can come in and make up some of the difference. The 2006 Cardinals are the only real anomaly whereby the team was barely above league average in offense and below league average in defense and pitching. That’s winning a championship with grit I suppose.

Based on these evaluations it seems a winning formula is a balanced lineup with all three categories at or near league average with one or more categories being top ten or five in the league. Obviously this is a simplified approach but nevertheless one that has held true based on the use of simplified statistics for offense, defense, and pitching.

Using these observations and assumptions, it is sort of simple to see why the Padres have been nothing more than mediocre so far this season. Below is a table comparing the Padres of 2014 (pitching, hitting and defense) with the Padres of 2015 using the same categories used above:

Padres 2015 Offense (wRC+) Padres 2015 Pitching (FIP) Padres 2015 Defense (UZR)
25th in the league- 89 16th in the league- 3.95 29th in the league- Minus 26.6
Padres 2014 Offense (wRC+) Padres 2014 Pitching (FIP) Padres 2014 Defense (UZR)
30th in the league- 82 3rd in the league- 3.46 9th in the league- 8.9

Based on the above statistics alone, it isn’t too hard to see why the Padres have a similar record (A few games short of .500) that they did last season. While hitting was the issue last season, it seems that all facets of the game are an issue this year. Defense has taken a huge step back in order to upgrade the offense and the offense has been only mildly better than last year’s variant. On top of that, Padres pitching has actually been worse than last year’s although not by too much.

As is evidenced to an extent by the information above, pitching and defense does win championships. With that in mind, the Padres offseason acquisition of offense at the expense of defense has been overall detrimental to the team. The offense hasn’t really been leaps and bounds better than last year’s and the defensive downgrade has definitely cost the Padres three or four wins so far this year. The Padres current formula of upgrading offense at the expense of defense and pitching has been shown to not work for a team with playoff aspirations. It is time for AJ Preller to evaluate his offseason, recognize his mistakes, and refocus on pitching and defense in the long term.

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