San Diego Padres: Jose Pirela Is Successfully Filling The Void

Despite injuries to key players for the San Diego Padres, Jose Pirela keeps the team treading along.

The first three weeks of the 2018 San Diego Padres season haven’t been highly successful. For many, these opening weeks have transpired just how they imagined, with a few wins and big plays overshadowed by humiliating loses and struggles at the plate. The biggest surprise thus far, however, has been Jose Pirela.

Injuries to Wil Myers and Manuel Margot could have sent the start of this season into a quick tailspin. Luckily for the Padres, they have Jose Pirela to fill the void.

Coming out of spring training, it was assumed that Pirela would be the fourth outfielder/backup second baseman, or even the starting second baseman if it weren’t for a spring surge by Carlos Asuaje.

Now, Pirela finds himself as the Padres’ leadoff hitter and a mainstay in the outfield.

The injuries to Myers and Margot have allowed Hunter Renfroe and Franchy Cordero to exhibit why they deserve playing time. With only three outfield spots and no designated hitter slot available, it’s impossible for Andy Green and company to get every one of these deserving bats in the lineup. We’ll save this bigger debate for another post when the time comes.

His defense is questionable and he’s not the ideal leadoff hitter, however, let’s give Jose Pirela the credit he deserves.

As of Sunday morning, Pirela is slashing .304/.333/.420/.754 with a 111 wRC+. His 0.4 WAR is tied for third on the team with Eric Hosmer.  Christian Villanueva  (0.7) and Freddy Galvis (0.5) are the only hitters with a better mark.

Only Manuel Margot and Carlos Asuaje have a lower strikeout rate than Pirela (20%) of San Diego hitters who have appeared in at least 10 games. Just one other Padre starter has a batting average over .300, and only three other starters have an on-base percentage over the same mark.

Of all major league hitters with at least 40 batted balls, Pirela ranks 25th in average exit velocity, mashing balls at an average speed of 90.0 mph. Eric Hosmer is the only Padre hitter hit the ball harder (90.6 mph), so far. Franchy Cordero may quickly change that if he can find at-bats when Myers and Margot return.

When only 25% of your batted balls are fly balls, and you’re averaging a 90 mph EV, the ball finds the gap or the hole. While his 3% walk-rate may be startling to some, it can get a pass. Of course, coaches and fans alike would like a higher walk rate, should he remain in the leadoff spot, but right now, his strategy is working.

The one aspect of Pirela’s game that many question is his defense. The eye test tells you that he has a propensity to misplay balls and botch throws from deep in the outfield, however, defensive analytics paint a different story.

According to FanGraphs’ defensive ratings, Pirela has two Defensive Runs Saved already, after finishing with four last season. He’s recorded a 1.4 Ultimate Zone Rating, good for 8th best in MLB and has a 1.4 Fielding Value (1.1 for career).

Pirela isn’t flashy, but he’s one of the best overall players on the major league roster right now.