Last year, the Padres started 19-41, but finished at 76-86. Fans were hopeful that if the front office just plugged in a few holes (i.e., adding an experienced starting pitcher or two), they could be serious contenders.
Result: in 2013, they finished 76-86 again. Given their front office’s lack of action, it’s oddly appropriate that they had the same record as the previous season.
In their defense, it’s hard to see how overpaying for a mediocre pitcher like Edwin Jackson would have helped the 2013 Padres; and in fact, it might have done just the opposite.
But 2013 is over, and on paper, the Padres saw exactly no improvement from the previous year. That’s okay if you’re a perennial 90-game winner, but not if you’re below .500.
So then, what are we to make of the Friar’s just-concluded 2013 season? Let’s take a look.
First, the injuries.
Lots of them. Chase Headley got hurt in Spring Training, and missed the first two weeks. But after a decent start, he just wasn’t the same: he batted .250 (.173 in June), and had less than half the RBI total that he had the previous season (113 vs. 50).
Casey Kelly, a top pitching prospect and the key player in the Adrian Gonzalez trade, was supposed to break camp with the team. Instead, he became the third talented young pitcher (after Corey Luebke and Joe Wieland) in a year to need season-ending reconstructive surgery on their pitching elbow. To make matters worse, Luebke and Wieland were supposed to be ready to play by mid-season. They weren’t.
In June, Jedd Gyorko got hurt and was out for a month. At this point, he was batting .286 with 8 home runs, (with a .907 OPS in May). After this, he batted only .231, albeit with some power.
One-third of the way into the season, Yonder Alonso had six home runs, and he was on pace to hit 18 (in ’12, he had 39 doubles). But then he broke a finger, missed a month, and had only one extra base hit (no home runs) the rest of the year.
For the second year in a row, Carlos Quentin played only half a season.
And let’s not forget about Cameron Maybin, Logan Forsythe, Jason Marquis, Clayton Richard, and Yasmani Grandal.
Yes, injuries do happen. Look at the Yankees: they lost the left half of their infield, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, for the better part of the season (Jeter only played 17 games). The result is that role players like Chris Denorfia and Alexi Amarista get over 400 at-bats. Nothing against those two guys–especially Denorfia–but they’re role players. By definition, role players are not regulars, and when role players play so much, you’re just not going to win.
Two of the keys to the Padres’ 2012 turnaround were Everth Cabrera and Yasmani Grandal. While the former didn’t get called up from AAA in June, he nonetheless wound up leading the league in stolen bases. While a bit erratic, his defense was an improvement from that of his predecessor, Jason Bartlett. The latter boosted offensive production, providing a .297/.394/.469 line.
But then, Grandal tested positive for PEDs, and was subsequently suspended for the first 50 games. Sadly, when he returned he only played a month, then suffered a devastating season-ending injury that will likely keep him out of action until June 2014.
Cabrera was one of the many names listed in the Biogenesis scandal, and so accepted a 50 game suspension to close out the season.
Had these not happened, Padre fans could only wonder “What if,” as these deprived them of the speedy leadoff hitter they had long coveted, and a solid power bat their lineup desperately needs. If they had both Cabrera and Grandal, surely they would have at minimum finished above .500.
Third, Chase Headley.
Yes, there are downturns. But there is nothing quite like Headley’s disappointing 2013, coming as it did after his breakthrough (mirage?) 2012 season. Consider:
2012: 31 home runs, 115 RBI (led the league), 86 walks, 17 stolen bases, .286/.376/.498.
2013: 13 home runs, 50 RBI, 67 walks, 8 stolen bases, .250/.347/.400.
That’s quite a tumble! If the Padres are going to rebound in 2014, Headley has to rebound. Even if he doesn’t return to his ’12 numbers, 20 homers and 90 RBI would help.
On the plus side, there are also three things that went well.
First, the starting pitching was better than everyone thought it would be. This was especially true after Edinson Volquez (he of the unsightly 6.01 ERA and 1.67 WHIP) was released. After performing below his 2012 numbers, Clayton Richard was then sidelined for the season.
But Eric Stults, the only man to stay in the rotation all season long, was steady (11-13, 3.93 ERA, 1.27 WHIP). And if it weren’t for Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross, the rotation would have been a complete disaster. While his 10-9 record isn’t that impressive, his 3.09 ERA and 1.13 WHIP are. Cashner was especially strong down the stretch, holding a 1.48 ERA in August-September, with a spectacular one-hitter against Pittsburgh.
Ross was acquired in a seemingly minor trade early in 2013. As with Cashner, his won-loss record (3-8) isn’t nearly as impressive as his other numbers: 3.17 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and .225 BBA. What was particularly impressive about Ross was his consistency: after April, his WHIP never reached 1.20 in any single month.
The Padres also acquired veteran Ian Kennedy at the July 31 deadline. While his 4.34 ERA and 1.34 WHIP isn’t the best, they are improvements from his numbers in Arizona. Kennedy looks to be a net plus in 2014.
Lastly, two young starters, Robbie Erlin and Burch Smith gave some impressive performances. In 11 games (9 starts), Erlin went 3-3 with a 4.15 ERA. Remove one disastrous start in July against the Nationals, and the ERA goes down to 2.79. Equally impressive was his K/BB ratio of 40-15.
While Smith’s numbers are not as impressive (1-3, 6.44 ERA), he does have a very high ceiling. In one start against the division-winning Atlanta Braves, Smith pitched seven shutout innings and had 11 strikeouts.
Second, Jedd Gyorko.
Yes, his June injury hurt him. And yes, Padres coaches should be concerned that in July-August, he only walked twice, showing great impatience at the plate. That said, Gyorko led the Padres with 23 home runs and 63 RBI, including a season finale grand slam against the Giants. The talent is there, and in 2014 and beyond, Mr. Gyorko has nowhere to go but up.
Third, the bullpen.
Yes, losing left-handed specialist Joe Thatcher hurt. But the front office got this one right, as they got Kennedy in return.
Even sans Thatcher, the bullpen was terrific:
- Middle relievers Luke Gregerson, Dale Thayer, and Nick Vincent combined for 53 holds, a 2.63 ERA, and 1.09 WHIP. That’s a pretty impressive bunch.
- Gregerson especially impressed, in spite of a few shaky outings, holding batters to a .203 BAA.
- Closer Huston Street saved 33 games with just two blown saves, including a heartbreaker in the season finale.
Some might wonder, what about Will Venable? Doesn’t he count as a highlight?
Yes, it’s true that he hit a career-high 22 home runs, and also had 22 stolen bases. He also showed that he can hit lefties (.276 with 6 homers in 105 AB’s).
But I’m still not sold. Take out his impressive August numbers (8 homers in 109 At-bats, .367/.395/.697 (1.092 OPS), what do you have left? A .212 batting average.
Like I’ve said before, I hope Venable’s August month wasn’t like Headley’s 2012, i.e., a mirage. The Padres should hope so too, especially since they extended him for two more years at $8.5 million.
Looking back, the 2013 Padres didn’t move backwards, but neither did they move forward. As Chairman Ron Fowler put it, it’s like having a sister-kissing tie.
Or, getting a free scoop of ice cream; only, instead of getting your favorite flavor, you’re stuck with vanilla.
In other words, not bad. Could’ve been better, could’ve been worse.
But looking ahead to 2014, the Padres have far more going for them than against them. That will be the subject of another column.
But for now, it’s playoffs time. My prediction: Tigers over Dodgers in seven.