Padres Editorial: Are Padres Pitchers Getting Rattled by Bad Defense?


We knew the Padres’ defense was going to be bad. During the offseason makeover, while General Manager A.J. Preller added to the offense, the starting rotation, and the bullpen, the one aspect of the team that received no improvements was the defense. It wasn’t just that the defense wasn’t going to get better, it was going to get quite a bit worse.

With almost half a season gone, we’ve seen that neither the offense nor the pitching has lived up to expectations so far. The analysts who picked the Padres to get to the postseason are still waiting for the team to gel. But what about those predictions of a ghastly defense? Were they right about that?

In a word, yes.

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For the most part, the fielding has lived up to, or rather, played down to, preseason expectations. Matt Kemp, the target of much of the preseason griping, has the most errors among major league outfielders, with five. Pitch framing by starting catcher Derek Norris has suffered a significant dropoff from the skills Rene Rivera and Yasmani Grandal flashed last season. And considerably less ground is being covered by the outfield. Kemp and Wil Myers are dead last in Ultimate Zone Rating among Right and Center Fielders, and Justin Upton is fourth from the bottom among Left Fielders.

All that bad fielding has got to affect the pitchers, doesn’t it?

Try asking Andrew Cashner, who has watched the men playing behind him stumble and bumble to the tune of 19 unearned runs in his 16 starts. Nearly half of the unearned runs allowed by the Friars this season have come with Cash on the hill.

Granted, Cashner has had it worse than others.  But it’s been no picnic for the other Padres pitchers. The team has allowed 44 unearned runs in 80 games. That’s the most in baseball, four more than Oakland, who leads the American League, and six more than the Phillies, who are on a pace to lose 108 games. The average team has allowed 25 unearned runs this season. The best team in baseball, Kansas City, has only given up 12.

But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Padres’ defensive misadventures has been the way the pitching has reacted.

Because while the team has allowed the most unearned runs in baseball, they haven’t committed the most errors. Far from it, in fact. Eight teams have committed more than the Padres’ 50 errors, with Oakland leading the majors with a whopping 77. Texas and Milwaukee have each made more than 60 errors. But nobody is giving up as many runs on their errors as the Padres are.

If we consider the ratio of unearned runs to errors, San Diego has been astonishingly bad, by far the worst in baseball. The Padres are giving up .88 unearned runs for each error they commit. The league average is .54 unearned runs per error.  The best rate in baseball is .31 runs per error.

This number isn’t a function of bad defense. Defense is already factored into it. Oakland, with its league-leading error total, is right at the league average in runs/error.

What makes the Padres give up so many runs once the errors occur?

Let’s look at Cashner again. On two different occasions, he’s allowed four unearned runs in a game. The first time, after the error, he gave up three hits to the next four batters, accounting for three of the four unearned runs. The second time, in that ugly Father’s Day loss to the D-Backs, the defense behind Cashner was certainly bad, committing two errors in a 7-run second inning. But after the first error, Casher hit the next batter with the bases loaded, then gave up a 2-run single. After the second error, Cash gave up yet another 2-RBI hit.

Is Cashner having trouble bouncing back from his teammate’s mistakes? Is he getting flustered in these situations?

Possibly. But it’s hard to blame him. The defense has made 18 errors in his 16 starts, including nine in his first six games. As much as you want to rely on your teammates, it’s got to start weighing on your mind when there are that many mistakes. It can make pitchers try to get too cute, trying to be perfect instead of letting the ball fly and taking their chances with the defense. Baseball is designed for the defense to win 70% of the time. When the defense is this bad, it changes the equation.

Take away Cashner’s incredible 1.06 unearned runs/error, and the teams’ rate is still the highest in baseball.

The balls that drop in for hits due to the outfielders’ poor range are quite likely a factor. But it seems like the pitchers could do a better job of damage control.

But then, Tyson Ross is giving up 4.5 walks per nine innings, his worst rate in three years. James Shields is allowing the highest HR/9 total of his career in his first season at Petco Park. Ian Kennedy is giving up home runs at three times the rate he was last year. Odrisamer Despaigne is striking out fewer hitters and allowing more hits per nine innings than last season. Every starter on the staff is struggling with at least one aspect of his game.

And every one of those issues results in extra runs being allowed.

The bad defense certainly compounds these issues. But does it also contribute to the issues?

I’m not sure Mr. Preller considered this potential long-term affect of slashing and burning the defense.

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