“If he’s a good hitter how come he doesn’t hit good?”
One of my favorite lines from Moneyball, and it applies a bit to the San Diego Padres so far this season. They have more problems than just the lineup, but that seems to be the main one. The Padres have won the Winter World Series the past couple seasons, and yet they haven’t become an ungodly force on the field. So what’s going on?
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It’s probably important to remind ourselves that for all the headlines and buzz and excitement the Padres have generated since they went into their full “FUCK IT” phase, they haven’t been all that good in any season. They were under .500 in 2021, and they won 89 games last year before going 5-2 in the first two rounds of the playoffs, and then pretty much getting smoked in the NLCS. Reaching the NLCS had convinced a lot of people they had arrived. But again, the playoffs were just seven games. They had the fifth-best reason in the NL. This hasn’t been an all-conquering horde running over the National League, at least not yet.
Currently, they’re one game under at 12-13 and having just gotten tossed into Lake Michigan by Justin Steele last night (no shame in that, as Steele is proving to be a stealth ace for the Cubs). The Padres rank 24th in runs scored so far in MLB, dead-ass last in batting average, 27th in on-base percentage, and 25th in slugging. For a team that has caused some of their fellow owners to shit a chicken over their spending, you’d expect a bit better.
How’d they get here? For one, Manny Machado is taking a fish up to the plate instead of a bat so far this season. He’s got a 48 wRC+ with an OPS of .522. His walk rate has been cut in half from last year, and he’s watching a lot more strikes just pass him by (68 percent swing rate at pitches in the zone as opposed to 77 last year). More worryingly, his contact type has completely cratered. His hard-hit rate has dropped almost 20 percentage points. His average exit velocity has sunk three MPH in a year where the baseball is causing most hitters’ to rise. He’s not this bad, but his expected numbers based on the noise level of the contact he’s making suggests he’s not much worse off than he should be so far this season.
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Speaking of hitters whose power has taken a vacation to Narnia, Juan Soto come on down! Soto at least has a normal OBP at .355, but he’s hitting an interstate-based .188 and slugging .365. He still walks a ton, but his K-rate has nearly doubled since 2022. Much like Machado, he’s watching a lot of pitches just go by, and sometimes it feels like he’s just hoping for a walk. It kind of mirrors what happened last year after his trade from the Nats. Unlike Machado, when Soto does hit the ball he’s absolutely pulverizing it, with a 55 percent hard-hit rate, and an average exit velocity of 92 MPH. That doesn’t mean as much though when most of it is on the ground, as Soto is carrying a 57.8 ground-ball rate. That can kill a lot of gophers but it doesn’t mean a lot of extra-base hits, which the Padres would be more interested in getting.
Farther down the lineup, Jake Cronenworth can’t stop swinging at everything. Ha-Seong Kim can’t stop chasing change-ups out of the zone (45 percent chase rate). Kim and Trent Grisham aren’t really counted on to be huge weapons on offense so much as for their gloves, but that gives the Padres a couple of glove-only positions along with the black hole the catcher spot has been offensively.
The Padres will be hoping that the return of Fernando Tatís Jr. smooths some of this out, and he hasn’t even been back in the lineup a week. He missed a whole season and is coming off a 2-for-1 sale on surgeries to go along with his suspension, so it might take some time. If it wasn’t for Xander Bogaerts and Matt Carpenter, the Padres might score at a Beavis-like rate.
It’s more than the lineup though. Blake Snell, Nick Martinez, and Yu Darvish have been causing a conga line to first base with their walks. Darvish has been able to dance around them, the other two very much have not. Joe Musgrove has returned but they’ll have to get Snell and Darvish back into the strike zone.
If this is the part of the story where Ed Harris lights up a cigarette and asks his guys, “What do we got on the ship that’s good?,” then the weird little guy with glasses would say, “The bullpen.” The Pads have four guys with ERAs under 3.00, but that hasn’t stopped them from having the 7th highest bullpen ERA in the majors. But the pen will gain Ryan Weathers and Martinez from the rotation with Musgrove’s return, which should bolster it.
Machado will ramp up. Tatis probably will. But how much? Will Soto remember he is allowed to hit the ball in the air? How good is Cronenworth really? Matt Carpenter has been trash for a few years except for a one-month binge in the Bronx last year, so is his hot start a turnaround, or just noise?
Luckily for the Padres, the rest of the division hasn’t gotten away from them. The Dodgers have had lineup issues too, and the Diamondbacks wasted enough time on Madison Bumgarner to not go anywhere yet either. The Padres are only a game and a half from first in the NL West.
But winning a middling division, if the NL West turns out to be that, wasn’t exactly what everyone had in mind for the outlay the Padres have made. Unless you’re a direct rival, most fans don’t want to see them toss up an 87-win season to justify more owners pointing at them to prove spending doesn’t mean winning and they can keep the wallets closed even more. So let’s kick this pig, Padres, huh?
Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate and he’s definitely not laughing at the White Sox. For sure not.
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