Whatever the exact strategy A.J. Preller had for 2015, we now can say without a doubt that it did not work. Whether he had a cohesive strategy or more of a “hungry hungry hippo” approach of acquiring ballplayers is unknown, but certainly after what we did see in 2015 he should have a better strategy for 2016.
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Ben Rosehart of NBC San Diego argued the other day that the Padres 2-1 victory Tuesday should be an example of how the team can win in the future. He identifies four main tenants to this Padres Small Ball Approach:
1) Homegrown pitching and good defense
2) Putting yourself in position to score run with productive outs (sacrifice bunts, sac flies, etc)
3) Steal and/or bunt more often
4) Have a closer you trust – even when he makes mistakes
We now know that trying to make Petco Park work for you with power hitters isn’t a winning strategy. This year Padres team has hit 132 home runs. Last years hit 109, but was one of the worst offensive teams in history. 2013 was 146. In other words, despite all the big money spent it hasn’t done much to improve upon a year where your rookie second baseman led the team in home runs with 23. How do we fix this?
In order to fix this, the Padres need to focus on productive outs and speed. When you look a little closer, they actually have some exciting pieces in place around this.
The first piece of this puzzle is Travis Jankowski and speed. Now so far in his MLB action he is 1-2 in stolen base attempts, but this aspect of his game is highly touted as he moved through the Padres minor league system. He stole 135 bases in his minor league career with only 35 caught stealing. If he can learn to hit major league pitching more effectively he will be a dynamic force at the top of the Padres lineup.
Right now we don’t know what the outfield will look like with Justin Upton likely departing via free agency. Many hope we can trade Alonso for some value at put Will Myers at first base full time. This would help limit his injuries and he plays a pretty good defense with more power than Alonso provides. He also has the ability to steal 15 bases a year which would be a nice asset from a first baseman.
With Myers at first base – it might also open up more playing time for Melvin Upton Jr. who has 8 stolen bases on the season in limited playing time. Shortstop is still a big question mark for the Padres, but with a focus on speed perhaps they could steal away a speedy shortstop like Jean Segura (22 steals) to man the position?
Despite the sour first half – Matt Kemp has rebounded to show that he is still very much a productive major league baseball player and this should excite Padres fans for 2016. For his second half – he has hit .309 with 13 HR and 47 RBI with 3 weeks left in the season – compared to a first half line of .250 / 8 / 47. It would be nearly impossible for him not get 100 RBI on the season. Since Adrian Gonzalez had 101 RBI in 2010, the only other 100 RBI man for the Padres was Chase Headley in 2012 when he led the National League. If you didn’t remember, last year the team RBI leader was Jedd Gyorko at 51.
That RBI machine in the middle of the order with a top of the order in Jankowski and Yangervis Solarte or Yonder Alonso hitting second will give him plenty of production to continue raking and bringing in runs.
The Padres need to embrace bunting and doing the small things like moving the runner over to third base with a grounder to second base. Jedd Gyorko still is too much of a pull hitter, but hitters like Derek Norris have a decent spray chart of hitting the ball to the right side when needed and if that approach can be more emphasized it can work. Hitters like Corey Spangenberg and the aforementioned Solarte and Alonso are solid hitters who can adjust and do what is needed for the team to win. They can NOT just change their ways and hit 20 home runs a season.
The Padres have a lot of question marks heading into 2016, but deciding on their main offensive strategy should be one of the most important questions asked by General Manager A.J. Preller. Though baseball is a long season, it is hard to turn on a dime and adjust a strategy when it’s May 15th and you already realize your strategy is not working at all. With a focus on speed and the ability to make productive outs, the Padres can continue improving year over year and prove that the Winter 2014 splurge by Preller wasn’t all for naught.