Morning Coffee: Offense’s Cold Start Could Work to Padres’ Advantage

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San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Padres third baseman

Chase Headley

reacts after striking out. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

There may be an advantage to the Padres’ hitting. 220 as a team.

They will likely be underestimated all year.

In my Fantasy Baseball post a few weeks ago, I talked about the Hot Start / Cold Start Effect, which states that a very hot or a very cold statistical start to a season can skew the perception of a player, or in this case, an entire team’s offense, for the remainder of the year.

Right now, everyone knows the Padres can’t hit.  They’ve been last in baseball in every offensive category all season long, with batting averages under .200 littering the lineup.  Nobody expects them to be able to hit.

But they are starting to hit. For the last three weeks, they’ve hit .261 as a team. That puts them 7th in baseball over that span.  But that only brought their team average up from .208 to .226, which is still last in the majors.  By quite a bit, in fact.

The Padres are starting a series tonight against the White Sox, an American League team.  How much do you suppose the White Sox know about the Padres? They haven’t played each other for several years.  Most guys on the Padres will be virtual unknowns to the Chisox.  And the Sox will know that the Padres have good pitching and lousy hitting.  Sure, they’ll have access to more numbers. They’ll see that the team has been hitting better lately.  But come game time, when they look up at the scoreboard they’ll see .206 next to Yonder Alonso’s name, not the .305 he’s been hitting the last three weeks.

If the Padres hit .270 as a team for the rest of the year, that will likely be among the top 2-3 in baseball over that span. Yet their team BA for the season might never get above .255. And in August, it will still be .248, which would still  be below average.  And in August, teams don’t feel that a team with below average hitting is a particular hitting threat, unless they’re really on top of what has happened over the previous two months.

Think I’m exaggerating?  Think major league managers and players have all the information they need to know their opponents up-to-the-minute facts? Having access to knowledge and applying that knowledge are very different things. Last year, when the Braves came into town in June, they were in first place and the Padres were in fourth, a couple of games under .500.  The Padres swept the Braves in their 3-game series.  And afterwards, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said that the Padres got “hot” and that is was “weird” that his team got swept.  The thing Fredi didn’t seem to know was that, after the Padres’ 5-15 start last year, they played like one of the best teams in baseball for almost two months.  During those two months, the Padres had a better record than the Braves, about three games better.  The Padres went 27-19 while the Braves were 24-22.  So Fredi was wrong.  And he was wrong because of the hot start / cold start effect.  The Padres were terrible for 20 games, then very good for 50.  But because their overall record was still under .500, Gonzalez underestimated them.

That can happen again this year.  And we can use it to our advantage.  Being underestimated is a very good thing.

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