San Diego is a team built on pitching. They’re a team built on speed and defense. They are not a team built on offense. So when the two characteristics they pride themselves on, the two areas of the game that at least make the team respectable, fail, the Padres are in trouble. With the benefit of the most pitcher-friendly park in all of baseball, San Diego has built a team designed to hold teams to as few runs as possible while their offense can hopefully score just enough to win. It’s a game plan in which the merits can be argued at another time, but it’s the game plan they are working with. So when the offense does what it always does, but the pitching and defense fails, the Padres have very little chance of being competitive.
Last season, San Diego scored an average of 3.66 runs per game. So far this year, they have had their moments, but they’re scoring just 3.69 runs per game. They allowed 3.77 runs per game, but this season San Diego is already allowing 5 runs per game. Finally, defensively the Padres were sound in 2011. They committed just 0.58 errors per game. So far this year, they are committing 1.07.
There are still 149 games to be played this season, so it would make little sense to draw conclusions from this data, but we can ask questions. Why is the pitching struggling? Why is the defense failing? And why hasn’t the offense improved?
Let’s start with the pitching. San Diego has found itself with two-fifths of its starting rotation on the disabled list
early in the season. They’ve received solid work from Anthony Bass, but the Padres had to also call up Joe Wieland before they were ready to do so. Wieland has only made one start, but he struggled. As for the remaining three starters in the rotation, only Cory Luebke and Anthony Bass have ERAs under 4.00. Edinson Volquez has failed to bounce back as the Padres hoped he would. Volquez has shown flashes of pure skill, but he quickly returns to his wild ways and has walked 12 batters this season already – by far the tops on the team.
The defense is more surprising. There have been just two real changes to the defense; left field and first base. Granted each of those positions already has an error, but the changes themselves don’t seem to be the core of the problem. Jason Barltett has three errors this season. His fielding percentage is already 31 points lower than it was last season. According to Fangraphs, Bartlett has allowed three runs to score this year on his poor defensive play alone. It’s not just Bartlett though. Will Venable already has two errors, and he gets less opportunities. His current fielding percentage is under .900 (granted, fielding percentage is not a great measure of defense, it allows us to use averages whereas some of the advanced metrics do not). The Padres’ defense simply hasn’t played well. There’s not a good reason for it aside from a lack of focus.
Offensively, the team has actually been slightly better than their 2011 averages. But they haven’t improved as much as many people thought they would have. Carlos Quentin has not yet made his regular season debut with San Diego, so things may change. But for now, the team is not great offensively. They are hitting .217 as a team, good enough for fourth worst in all of baseball. Their OBP of .311 is actually a big improvement, but the runners on base are being wasted by an inability to get hits. In fact, San Diego is second in all of baseball in walks, but 23rd in hits. They’ve also struck out 100 times, tops in all of baseball. They are a contradiction. They’re walking a lot which shows patience, but they are striking out a lot which shows aggressiveness. They are not getting hits which shows an inept offense, but they are getting on base which shows improvement. This is a team without an offensive identity right now.
13 games into the season, San Diego is 3-10 and 6.5 games back of first. No other team is as far back in their division already. Only the Cubs have as few wins. It’s still early in the season, but San Diego needs to turn things around in a hurry. Surprisingly, the offense isn’t necessarily the killer. It would be nice to see them collect more hits and score more runs, but their pitching and defense have been the major issues. If they can get things under control in the field and give up far fewer than 5 runs per game, San Diego may find themselves rattling off a few wins in a row and giving the fans something to be excited about. Until then, San Diego will continue to lose series and fall further back in the standings.