Middle Infield or Pitching: What do the Padres Need Most?


There’s no question the Padres would love to have a new second baseman and a new shortstop, but can they manage with both Orlando Hudson and Jason Bartlett on the roster?  Would it be more prudent to go after another starting pitcher or shore up the middle infield?  What is more cost effective and what are the benefits?  These are among the questions surely racing through Josh Byrnes’ mind as we push on into 2012.  The Padres have built a team already this off-season with a chance to compete.*  They made huge improvements over last year’s squad, but it would seem another move is still on the way.

*Even saying this worries me.  I’m cautiously optimistic.  However, like most Padres fans, I don’t want that optimism to get away from me and turn into expectations. 

Before diving in and making arbitrary decisions on what additional moves the Padres should make, it’s important to review the facts.  We need to take a look at last season and compare the pitching results to the production from the middle infield players trotted out day in and day out during 2011.

The questions to keep in mind are; Can the Padres get by with Orlando Hudson and Jason Bartlett, does the team truly need another starting pitcher, what is the cost/benefit of each move?

First, we’ll start with Orlando Hudson and Jason Bartlett.  I lump them together because they both have one year remaining on their contracts (with buyout), and both under-performed expectations greatly during 2011.  Coming into the year, I was excited to see what type of production they could add as the team moved on without Adrian Gonzalez.  My hope was that together they could help replace many of the runs and wins lost when Gonzalez left for New England.  Unfortunately, neither contributed much, and both disappointed.

Orlando Hudson – $4,000,000 (2011 Salary)/$7,500,000 (2012 Salary)

Orlando Hudson was supposed to be a clubhouse leader, someone to replace David Eckstein, Matt Stairs, and Yorvit Torrealba.*  As we all know, that didn’t happen.  There were no indications in 2011 that Hudson helped motivate the clubhouse or inspire success.  In fact, Hudson’s injuries and spotty play may have done the opposite.

Hudson played in just 119 games and managed just 1.0 WAR.  This number is possibly inflated due to the number of games he missed.  Had Hudson played in 20-30 more games, the opportunity for his WAR total to decrease was very real considering some of his other statistics.  He posted the worst wOBA of his career at .308 (a full 17 points below his career average).  His K% was the highest in his career at 18.5%.  Hudson did steal more bases, 19, than he had at any other time in his career, but he was batting in the lower third of the order much of the time.  It’s probably a safe bet that National League teams show less concern for base stealers when the pitcher is looming as an almost automatic out.

Hudson’s defense far from spectacular as well.  His DRS was -9 and his UZR was -2.8.  Hudson’s dWAR was -0.7.  Up-the-middle fielders need to have a higher defensive aptitude due to the number of balls they handle, the double plays they must turn, and the necessity of covering second in steal-attempts.  Hudson failed to show the level of defensive aptitude necessary to help the Padres succeed.  In fact, the numbers indicate he helped them fail more often than not.  Defense can be forgiven with solid offensive play, but Hudson did not produce enough to compensate.

*Torrealba may have lost the ability to call himself a leader after his horrible actions in Venezuelan play.  Hitting an umpire in the face – open or closed fist – is unacceptable.

Jason Bartlett – $4,000,000 (2011 Salary)/$7,000,000 (2012 Salary)

Bartlett did not get on base as much as a top-of-the-order player should.  He found himself batting second the majority of the year last season.  This is a spot in the lineup generally designed to help move the lead-off hitter along and set the table for the power-hitters coming up in the next few spots (unfortunately, the Padres had little in the way of power throughout their lineup).  Bartlett posted a wOBA of just .279 last season.  League average is generally about .330.  Bartlett also posted his highest K% of his career at 15.9%.  While 15.9% is not a horrendous number, and may even be a welcome number for a power-hitter – someone like Carlos Quentin, striking out 15.9% of the time out of the number two hole is disappointing to say the least.  All of Bartlett’s poor offensive numbers contributed to a very low wRC+ of 81, or 19% below league average.

Jason Bartlett’s only chance at redemption last season would have been his defense.  Unfortunately, he failed in that regard as well.  No matter what metric you wish to employ here, Bartlett’s defense was below average (-8 DRS, -0.9 UZR, Rtot -4).  Not only was Bartlett worth far less than the $4 million he was paid in 2011, his opportunity cost essentially helped force the Padres out of contention.  What I mean is if the Padres pursued another player (hindsight being 20/20) to play shortstop before the 2011 season, they could have saved money that could have been spent elsewhere to improve the team, and they could have increased production with even an average Major League talent.

However, I don’t fault the Padres for this move.  Leading into 2011, Bartlett never had an OBP under .316 and never had a WAR under 0.3.  He managed to drop well below in both categories when he came to San Diego.

Pitching – $7,600,000 Approximately

The Padres pitching staff was once again one of the best in the league.  The Padres ranked third in the N.L. in ERA with 3.42, fifth in batting average against at .245, and sixth in WHIP at 1.270.  Obviously Petco Park plays a huge role in the success of the pitching staff, but that plays into San Diego’s favor quite a bit.  They do not need to go out and buy a very expensive pitching staff just to put up good numbers.  They can promote minor league players, sign veterans, and develop their current staff into a top five pitching staff statistically speaking.

The Padres lost Aaron Harang and Mat Latos from last year’s staff.  Harang accounted for a 3.64 ERA but a high 4.17 FIP.  He put up 1.9 WAR and helped the Padres more than he hurt them.  Mat Latos, considered the ace by most, started the year slow.  But he finished with a 3.47 ERA and a 3.17 FIP.  He struck out 8.57 per nine innings.  He has been labeled an ace by many, but still needed to perform consistently to earn that title.

In all, the Padres pitching staff was solid before all of the off-season moves, and even after the moves, it hasn’t taken much of a hit at all.  The pitching staff benefits so much from playing at Petco, much of the focus can be, and has been, directed toward the offense.

That being said, the Padres will probably look to add a reliever, but may be done on the offensive side of things if we are to believe Josh Byrnes.