Padres Offense Suffered from May Gray

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May 2, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Padres right fielder Matt Kemp (27) looks on during batting practice before the game against the Colorado Rockies at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
May 2, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Padres right fielder Matt Kemp (27) looks on during batting practice before the game against the Colorado Rockies at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports /
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In San Diego, typically cloudy weather in May and June have come to be known as May Gray and June Gloom. The San Diego Padres’ seemed to follow the weather this May, as the team struggled offensively. As the calendar makes the change from May to June, the Padres are hoping a new month will help to cure the team’s offensive woes. Because up to this point, it has been bad.

Matt Kemp has been taking the brunt of the blame for the Padres’ hitting woes. When you’re making over $20 million a year and hitting under .230 with only four walks, you’re a pretty obvious target. But the Padres’ number three hitter had a pretty good April, hitting .283 with seven homers and 19 RBI. But May came, and Kemp went south, hitting only .182 for the month, dropping his average to .228. But Kemp alone isn’t to blame. In fact, he’s bringing the team’s average up.

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Because at this point, on May 31, the Padres are dead last in major league baseball in hitting, with a .226 batting average.  Remember 2014, when the phrase “historically bad offense” was being thrown around so often? The Padres also hit .226 that year.  Last year’s .243, while still the worst in the majors, seems like a long way up.

This year’s starters, Kemp, Jon Jay, Melvin Upton, Wil Myers, Alexei Ramirez, and Derek Norris, are hitting a combined .244. Jay leads that group with a .282 average.  Yangervis Solarte is the only guy on the team with more than 10 AB hitting better than that, but his .311 average comes in only 45 AB. Hopefully, Solarte can continue at that pace as he appears to be healthy again.

For comparison purposes, the Red Sox are leading baseball with a .295 average. Jay’s Padres-leading average is lower than the Sox’ team average.

Norris is clearly the worst offender among the starters. The overworked catcher is hitting .182, and has not been over .200 all season.  He is tied with Kemp for the second-worst on-base percentage in baseball, at .238. Both backup catchers have hit significantly better than Norris, with Christian Bethancourt at .250 and Hector Sanchez collecting four hits in his ten at bats. Bethancourt also has four homers in his 56 AB, compared to Norris’ five in 148 AB. Daryll Dorman of Friars On Base examines the Bethancourt vs. Norris question in more detail here.

Norris actually improved from April to May, although it’s hard to think of a  .211 average in May as an improvement. I guess when you start the year with a .156 April, almost anything is an improvement.

Shortstop Ramirez really seemed to struggle with the May gray. The career .272 hitter hit .270 in his first month in the NL, but slipped to .205 in May. Hopefully Sunday’s home run, his first with San Diego, will get him moving in the right direction.

Myers’ move to first base was designed to keep him healthy so we could finally see what he can do with the bat. In April, we was everything we hoped for when we traded the farm for him last year, hitting .302 with five homers and three steals. A .300 season with 30 homers and 20 steals looked like a real possibility. But Myers too struggled in May, hitting .216 while only going deep twice. A third of the way into the season, we’re looking at a projection of .259 with 22 homers and 68 RBI. And while those numbers may pretty decent to long-suffering Padres fans, they are no better than average for a first baseman.

So where is the relief going to come from? Will Solarte be enough of a spark? He’ll certainly be an upgrade over Brett Wallace, who struggled to a .227 average as Solarte’s replacement. Will Cory Spangenberg help light the fire once he gets off the DL? It couldn’t hurt, but that’s a lot to ask from a guy with just over 400 AB in the majors. Again though, it will be a big improvement over replacement players Jose Pirela (.154), Jemile Weeks (.140) and Alexi Amarista (.227).

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Other than that, it’s hard to tell where help will come from. Kemp’s and Upton’s unwieldy contracts make them hard to move, which blocks the path for AAA outfielders Hunter Renfroe (.314 with 11 HR) and Alex Dickerson (.410 with 8 HR). No, that’s not a typo. Dickerson is hitting .410.

San Diego saw a lot of gray in May, in both the weather and the Padres’ offense. Let’s hope that the Padres can break out of this funk quickly, or it’s going to be a gloomy June.

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