Who do the Padres start in center field?

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Credit: Seattle Times

The San Diego Padres are in the postseason for just the second time in 16 years.

The Padres are in the postseason because they spent big at the trade deadline, filling holes in a struggling batting order with Juan Soto, Brandon Drury, and Josh Bell. However, their shiny new Ferrari of a lineup has a huge scratch. They’ve got a significant issue in center field.

In 2022, San Diego used four different players to start in center field. Trent Grisham has 124 of them, Jose Azocar started 31 times, Wil Myers just four, and the already-traded Esteury Ruiz picked up three starts.

Grisham’s struggles at the plate have been well-publicized, with the left-hander slashing .184/.284/.341 while striking out in a monumental 28.6% of at-bats. Azocar has become a fan favorite due to his light-hearted demeanor, but his performance at the plate leaves a lot to be desired. He is still looking for his first MLB home run, despite having over 200 at-bats. He also walks just 5.6% of the time, so he hardly gets on base much more than Grisham. Azocar’s OPS+ is 85, while Grisham’s is 83, both of which are well below the league average. 

Myers is a much different story. His slash line is dramatically better than either Grisham or Azocar, coming in at .261/.315/.398. He’s not an elite hitter, but his 108 OPS+ is above league average. He’s also had a strong final stretch, hitting .296/.361/.568 with six home runs since August 25. The worry with using Myers as a center fielder is that he is a defensive liability. He’s played the position just 120 times in his career and just 23 times since the start of the 2020 season. “I’m not really sure what the metrics say. But I’m comfortable with him {Myers} in multiple spots.”, said Bob Melvin when asked about starting Myers in center field. However, he’s not made an appearance in center since August 29. Since he’s mostly played at first base, it’s unlikely he’ll play much of the position in the postseason. 

(Photo by Brady Klain/Getty Images)

Azocar made the opening day roster for the Padres, and he stayed there until July 12, when he was sent down to Triple-A El Paso. He slashed just .229/.277/.321 in his opening stint, primarily serving as a fourth outfielder. After his return to the Padres, his batting average has jumped dramatically to .310. However, his power is basically non-existent. He’s got just three extra-base hits, all of which were doubles. Azocar is able to play all three outfield positions, but he’s not been especially effective, posting just a 0.1 defensive WAR. The only Padres player with a worse OPS in more at-bats than Azocar is Grisham. Azocar is a safe option for Padres skipper Bob Melvin, but the Padres cannot depend on him for any sort of production in the postseason.

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The final option for a starter in centerfield is Grisham, who, despite his struggles, does have a lot of positives. He’s hit a career-high 17 home runs this season, so he does have the ability to hit for power that Azocar does not. He’s also an elite defender, posting 1.1 defensive WAR. Grisham won a Gold Glove in 2020, and he continues to play well defensively. Despite the abysmal numbers at the plate, he still managed to post 2.4 bWAR and 2.1 fWAR. Another important thing to note is that Grisham posted an extremely unfortunate .231 BABIP, which means that he’s been fairly unlucky in 2022. There’s no guarantee that his bad luck would even out in the postseason, but if it does, he could post numbers a lot closer to his .242/.327/.413 slash line that he put together in 2021.

While he’s been the biggest disappointment of the season, there’s a reason that the Padres have stuck with Grisham through all the struggles. 

If San Diego is going to make a run in the postseason, they are going to need solid offensive and defensive production from their centerfielder. Grisham is the only guy who can do both.

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