Defending/Explaining the Opening Day Optimization Choices

Yesterday, I posted an optimized (in my view) 25-man roster for Opening Day. Today, I’ll go a bit deeper into it, and explain my decisions.

Catcher-I’m a fan of Dusty Ryan, who showed good pop in 2008 and 2009 in Triple-A (and 2008 in the majors), but it’s pretty clear that veteran Yorvit Torrealba and holdover Nick Hundley are the two catchers who will break camp.

The question is which one will start, and since Torrealba posted a higher OPS in 2009 and has a better defensive rep (not to mention a higher salary), I’d recommend starting him. However, if Torrealba gets off to a hot start, perhaps he could be flipped to a contender for prospects, freeing up the backup job for Ryan.

First base-No need to defend Adrian Gonzalez. Oscar Salazar, he of the .302/.364/.496 line last year, should need no defense either.

Ghastly as the idea may sound defensively, I wouldn’t be opposed to Salazar getting some starts at second base. He could also handle some RF work if Aaron Cunningham struggles again. Regardless of whether he starts somewhere, gets utility work, or just pinch-hits, Salazar is definitely worth a roster spot.

Second base-I’m not a fan of either Eckstein or Hairston Jr., but there’s no question they’re going to be on the roster.

I suppose Eckstein, who has slightly better on-base skills, should start, but I don’t think it makes a huge difference either way.

Hairston showed more pop than Eckstein last year, but he played in much more homer-friendly environments, so there’s no telling how he’ll fare in that department at Petco. Seriously, how long until Logan Forsythe is ready?

Third base-As a fairly promising young, cheap switch-hitter, the selection of Chase Headley is obvious.

Shortstop-Everth Cabrera was pretty much a joke to me this time last year.

I don’t know how his 2009 big league walk rate (10.5%) could possibly be higher than his 2008 Low-A walk rate (9.3%), but he found a way.

After a solid .255/.342/.361 rookie year, with a good dose of his top-notch speed, he’s the clear starter at short. He’ll need to work on his defense some (-15.9 UZR/150), but cut the kid some slack: he’s come a long way.

Left field-Kyle Blanks’ huge rookie year (.250/.355/.514) makes him a slam-dunk, defense be damned.

Center field/Right field-Finally, things get a bit less clear-cut.

The Padres have six outfielders on the 40-man. One, Luis Durango, hasn’t seen Triple-A yet, so he should start there. Another is Blanks. That leaves Tony Gwynn Jr., Scott Hairston, Aaron Cunningham, and Will Venable around.

There’s room for all of them on the 25-man, and none have anything to really work on in the minors.

Cunningham is a right fielder, while the other three can all play center.

Of the three, Venable has shown the least defensive ability in center (1.6 UZR/150 in 43 games, and yes, I’m aware, it’s a small sample, but it does match up with the scouting consensus). He has shown good ability in right field (24.6 UZR/150 in 68 games). It makes sense, then, that Venable and Cunningham should be used in right, while Gwynn and Hairston should be used in center.

Of course, the obvious solution to having four outfielders for two spots like this is to platoon them. Obvious, however, doesn’t always mean best.

Luckily, these specific players fall into the platoon arrangement quite well. Gwynn (.290/.379/.385) and Venable (.266/.332/.505) excelled vs. RHPs in 2009, while posting sub-.550 OPS marks against lefties. Hairston (.318/.378/.543) crushed lefties, but flailed against righties (.243/.275/.419).

Cunningham hasn’t really hit anyone in the majors, although it’s a small sample (45 games). If he can’t top Venable’s .534 OPS against lefties, the team can always demote him for Chad Huffman or simply move Salazar into the RF platoon.

So we get the Gwynn/Hairston CF platoon and Venable/Cunningham RF platoon.

Pitching-Young and Garland are the two veterans guaranteed spots. I’m skeptical of Kevin Correia repeating his nice 2009, but he showed enough that he should definitely be back. I’m a bit concerned about how quickly the team rushed Mat Latos to the majors, but he posted an acceptable tERA (4.47), and there’s no reason to wreck his confidence by giving him an unearned demotion for someone like Wade LeBlanc.

That squared itself away easily enough, but I had no idea who to put for the fifth starter role.

Rather than bang my head against a wall, I turned to the bullpen.

Heath Bell and Mike Adams are locks for the back of the bullpen.

Joe Thatcher returns as the top lefty, and with a 2.52 tERA in 2009 (1.84 FIP vs. LHBs), he’s great at it.

Luke Gregerson had a spectacular 2009, so he’ll be back.

Ed Mujica wasn’t Gregerson/Adams/Bell level great, but he was solid, so he returns with Thatcher and the other three righties to form a formidable bullpen “back five.”

That left me with three spots open: fifth starter and two bullpen spots (one preferably going to a second lefty, this being the NL).

There are a ton of pitchers on the 40-man. I’ll really quick go through the ones I discarded fairly easily:

Wade LeBlanc: I’m thoroughly unimpressed with this guy. He has no velocity whatsoever, and his 2009 success was the product of a .224 BABIP. He’s a 5-ish ERA pitcher in my opinion.

Luis Perdomo: He wasn’t horrible last year, but he didn’t do much to stick around, either. Since he was a Rule 5 pick, there’s no harm in giving him time at Triple-A before worrying about what he can do in the majors.

Radhames Liz: Took some real steps at Triple-A last year, but it was less than a 50-inning sample. He was also crushed (10 ER, 4 outs, yikes!) in the majors. Let’s see him do more at Triple-A before considering him seriously.

Cesar Ramos: Pitched surprisingly well in 14 2/3 innings for the Padres last year (2.55 FIP), but needs better than a 1.45 K/BB ratio in Triple-A.

Mark Worrell: Missed all of 2009 with arm problems. Barring spring revelations, he needs time to get his command back, preferably at Triple-A. He’s also a sidearmer, and the pitchers we need to fill the spots–a fifth starter and two long relievers–need to be more than situational guys.

Cesar Carrillo/Ernesto Frieri/Craig Italiano/Steve Garrison: Haven’t shown enough in the minors to be considered. Garrison has a torn ACL anyway.

That leaves Clayton Richard, Sean Gallagher, Adam Russell, Ryan Webb, Tim Stauffer, and Aaron Poreda–six guys for three spots.

Richard and Poreda are the two lefties in the bunch, so if we’re going to go with two bullpen lefties, that would seem to be an immediate competition.

Poreda was wild last year (13 walks in 13 1/3 big league innings), but effectively so, as he struck out 12 men, got a high grounder (52.9%) and low liner (8.8%) rate, and didn’t allow a ball to leave the yard. I’ll take that over a ho-hum performance from Richard.

With less of a platoon split than Richard, Poreda’s more suited to long work, and he’s no slouch on lefties. If Poreda struggles early, it’s not like the two can’t be instantly swapped.

From here, we can split the pitchers into two groups: starters (Gallagher, Richard, Stauffer) and relievers (Webb and Russell) and pick one from each.

It’s also, of course, possible to take one of the losers in the fifth-starter competition and make him the final reliever, but I think they’re more valuable staying stretched out in Portland in the case of injury or ineffectiveness of any of the MLB pitchers–starter or reliever.

The first candidate I eliminated was Stauffer. That might seem odd, given that he posted a 3.58 ERA last year, but FIP, xFIP, and tERA all pegged him for 4.5-4.7 ERA performances in 2009. They had Richard in the 4.45-4.55 range.

There was nowhere near enough data on Gallagher for 2009, since he only threw about 40 innings between AAA and the majors. He was in a similar range to Stauffer in 2008. Given Gallagher’s edge in youth and stuff, he edges out Stauffer, who leaves the picture.

That leaves Richard and Gallagher. Gallagher is two years younger, has better stuff, and is out of options, although Richard is more established.

I decided to go with Gallagher’s upside, but it’s close to a toss-up between these two and even Stauffer, who is also out of options.

This does have the unfortunate side effect of making an all-RHP rotation (Young, Garland, Correia, Latos, Gallagher), but whatever. This is hypothetical, anyway.

As for the last spot in the bullpen, it comes down to Russell and Webb.

For me, this actually isn’t too tough, as Russell has a career 3.38 FIP and 3.20 tERA to Webb’s 4.54 and 4.24.

Given Webb’s fastball issues, which I detailed a couple of posts ago, he’s got more to work on than Russell, whose fastball has played decently in the majors to support his excellent curveball.

Ultimately, this leads to the following bullpen arrangement:

RHP Heath Bell (closer)
RHP Mike Adams (primary setup)
RHP Luke Gregerson (secondary setup)
RHP Ed Mujica (middle relief)
LHP Joe Thatcher (lefty specialist/setup/middle relief)
LHP Aaron Poreda (second lefty specialist/long relief)
RHP Adam Russell (long relief)

Hope that clears up my selections. Again, I encourage comments and/or alternate roster constructions!

Tags: 40-man Roster Hitting Padres Pitching

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