First Month Progress Report

First Month Progress Report

11-17.

That’s the Padres’ record as of right now, including today’s 4-2 victory over the Cubs, and 10-16 in April. This means a .393 winning percentage, which is certainly not great, and actually closer to mediocre.

On the other hand, it’s a slight improvement over April of last year, when they were 7-17, or .292 (followed by 10-18 in May ’12).

But while improving one’s winning percentage by 100 points over the previous season is notable, San Diego is still in last place, 3 games behind the under-performing Dodgers, and 6 behind the over-performing Rockies–bear in mind that at this time last year, current manager Walt Weiss was coaching at the high school level.

In short, this is not where the Padres want to be.

But why are they where they are? And, is there any hope that things will get better?

Following is an analysis of the Padres’ season up to now: the good, the bad, and the downright ugly.

The Good

No one, and I do mean no one, expected Nick Hundley to play as well as he has been playing so far: .329/.357/.544, with three home runs.

Last year, he was pitiful at the plate. But it really seems that injuries got the better of him. But so for in 2013, Hundley has done everything the Padres have asked of him. This is especially good for team chemistry, as Hundley is well-liked by his fellow teammates, and is respected by the pitchers.

Additionally, this is going to make Yasmani Grandal realize that once his 50-game suspension is over, he is not guaranteed to be the starter. Though he has more natural talent than Hundley, this is only going to make him work harder.

It’s also good news that Chase Headley is back sooner than expected. When he fractured the tip of the bone in Spring Training, it was estimated that he would be back anywhere between April 15-May 1. Thankfully, he returned in mid-April. Thus far, he is at .280/.373/.540, which is about where he should be.

While you always like to have more power at first base, Yonder Alonso has done a better than adequate job, batting .280 and leading the team with 16 RBI. This puts him on pace for a 15-18 homer season with 85-95 RBI.

In the outfield, Chris Denorfia continues to impress, batting .385 with a .786 OPS, playing almost every day. Every team likes to have a guy like this who hits well, plays solid defense, and knows his role.

One of the biggest questions coming into the season was who would play shortstop. Most were expecting a platoon-type situation between Everth Cabrera and Logan Forsythe, with Forsythe also filling in occasionally at second base for rookie Jedd Gyorko.

But given Forsythe’s extensive foot problems (he is not expected back until late May), Cabrera was given a golden opportunity to show that he can play every day. After a somewhat slugglish first few games, Cabrera has come on strong, leading the team with 15 runs scored and 7 stolen bases, and a decent .358 OBP. This includes a .320 BA against lefties, whom he struggled with last season. While it’s early, he has committed only 2 errors on the field thus far.

The Padres are also served well by a decent bench which includes Mark Kotsay, Jesus Guzman, and the versatile Alexi Amarista.

Finally, the Padres bullpen has played like, well, the Padres bullpen. From Andrew Cashner, Anthony Bass and others in long relief (though Cashner now appears to be a full-time starter), to Dale Thayer, Luke Gregorson and Huston Street in the later innings, this group has done everything manager Bud Black has asked of them.

The Bad

Jedd Gyorko. Why do I include him here? Is it wrong to include him in this category? Perhaps. My only reason for putting him here is that he’s just not good yet–I should know; I have him in one of my fantasy leagues. That’s not to say he will always be here; it’s just that right now, he is having the typical rookie growing pains. Additionally, Gyorko may have been pressed early on with Chase Headley out due to injury and Carlos Quentin serving his eight game suspension.

All of that said, Jedd Gyorko has nowhere to go but up; we simply have yet to see him at his best.

Next in this category is Padre outfielders not named Chris Denorfia. The Padres count on Quentin to be their main source of power, but thus far, he has not really delivered: 2 home runs, .220 BA, and a meager (for him) .440 SLG. The Padres desperately need more production from him.

Main right fielder Will Venable continues to underwhelm. But should we really be surprised? This is his sixth year as a Padre, and his career highs are a .264 BA (2012), 13 home runs (2010), 62 runs scored (’12), and .339 OBP (’08). Keep in mind, these are his career highs, not averages. And yes, he does steal a lot of bases–over 20 each of the last three seasons. But in order for that to be effective, it needs to be accompanied by a good on-base percentage. His is .328, which is not nearly good enough.

One might come to his defense by saying that at least Venable hits RHP’s well. Really? Lifetime, he is .259/.328/.437 against them.

As I’ve been saying all along, Venable is a career fourth outfielder. Granted, there’s nothing wrong with that; every team needs one, and he would make a good one. But the Padres have got to stop kidding themselves into thinking that he’s ever going to be more than that. He’s already 30, and has reached his peak as a player. This is the best he’s going to get.

Lastly in this category are two members of the starting rotation, Jason Marquis and Eric Stults. The former is 2-2, 4.20 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, .233 BAA. In short, he’s having a pretty good year for a pitcher named Jason Marquis.

Let’s hope it lasts.

The latter is also 2-2, but with a 5.67 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, and .291 BAA. Granted, he has had some good outings–like today’s against Chicago. But he has also pitched some real stinkers, having given up five earned runs in each of his previous two starts. And he’s average slightly more than five innings per outing.

It seems like my instincts on Stults are correct: at 33, he is a journeyman pitcher with whom the Padres caught lightning in a bottle last year, when he came from out of nowhere to go 9-4 with a 2.91 ERA in 18 games (14 starts).

You heard it here first: Stults is going to come back down to Earth. However, given that the Padres are still waiting for their younger arms to mature, and that other starters are doing even worse, the Padres are going to be forced to stick with him for much longer than they would have cared to under different circumstances.

The Ugly

As Huey Lewis once said, “Sometimes, bad is bad.” 

First, let’s start with Cameron Maybin. In his first season in a Padres uniform, he batted a respectable .264 with 9 homers and 40 stolen bases, while playing gold-glove caliber defense, all of which netted him a four-year extension. Last year, he regressed a little, although he had a strong finish.

This year, he is 3-for-33 at the plate. And then he got hurt.

Indeed, sometimes, bad is bad.

Maybin will likely miss a month or more. But what happens when he comes back? Will he find his swing? Will he ever live up to his potential, or will his 2011 numbers start to look even better? Since he’s still under contract until 2015, the Padres (and their desperate fans) had better hope so.

Backup catcher John Baker has also been a disappointment, getting just three hits (all singles) in 21 at-bats. The only silver lining is that it looks like the Padres will know who to drop once Grandal’s suspension is over.

But the ugliest performers this year for San Diego are the two starting pitchers they were counting on to be their co-aces: Edinson Volquez and Clayton Richard.

Their opening day starter, Volquez is 2-3 with 6.39 ERA, 1.74 WHIP, and .313 BAA. Included in this was a stellar April 24 start against Milwaukee, when he pitched seven shutout innings. Perhaps, Padres brass must have thought, this could be the turning point for Volquez.

Wrong.

On April 30, he shut down the Cubs for the first four innings. But over the next 1 2/3 innings, he got lit up. Again. Final numbers for that day: 5.2 innings, 4 runs (all earned), including two home runs, seven hits and three walks. So much for turning points.

Padre fans might hope that this will prompt management to cut Volquez loose. They won’t–at least right away–but there’s a good reason why:

Clayton Richard is worse.

His record: 0-3, 7.94 ERA, 1.90 WHIP, .310 BAA. In other words, in 2013, Richard has been a batting practice pitcher masquerading as a big leaguer. In five stars, he has allowed more than five runs, and twice, he didn’t even make it through five innings.

It should be little wonder, then, that Padre pitchers lead the league in runs allowed.

Sometimes, bad is bad.

Overall

With a few exceptions, the Padres offense is doing pretty well. Not great, mind you, just pretty well. But their starting pitching, especially from Volquez and Richard, has been atrocious.

Along with other fans, I was pleading with the Padres front office to add a decent starting pitcher. Other than resigning Marquis and inviting over-the-hill Freddy Garcia to spring training, they did nothing. Marquis is pitching like what he is: an okay number four or five starter. But you can’t build your rotation around a guy like that and expect to win.

Here’s what will probably happen: manager Bud Black will give Volquez through the end ofMay, and Richard through the end of June to work things out; after all, Richard has been decent in the past, if not great; he won 14 games last year. But assuming things don’t change, the younger guys will be called up to show what they can do. Hopefully by then, Corey Luebke will be fully recovered from last year’s  rotator cuff surgery, and ready to go–the latest projection is mid-July, around the All-Star break.

Already, though, change has come to the starting rotation, in the person of Andrew Cashner. Even though he really only has one quality start in three tries, the potential is there. As CBS Sports reports, in Cashner’s eight career MLB starts, he has 35 strikeouts and just six walks in 34.2 innings. Still only 26, and don’t forget. he’s just two years removed from major surgery, the potential is there.

When Ross returns, and that date is still uncertain, perhaps it will be time to cut Volquez loose. But we’ll see; they’re paying Volquez over $5 million, and they want a good return on their investment. But like they discovered last year with Orlando Hudson, sometimes addition by subtraction is a good thing.

All told, Padre fans knew their team would not be in serious contention this year. When you enter into the season with as many question marks as they did, it usually doesn’t happen.

That said, they really should devote their energy to letting Erlin, Roach, Cashner, and eventually Luebke go out there every fifth day, and just see what they can do. Next year, this young crop of starters will be joined by two other recovered torn rotator cuff victims, Joe Wieland and Casey Kelly. Of those six, at least four should be solid, and one or two could be an ace.

But first, we have to finish 2013. Right now, they’re standing at 11-17. As I said before the season started, I see them winning 75-80 games, and I’m sticking with that prediction.

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