2020 MLB Preview: San Diego Padres

Five Playoff Appearances In 51 Seasons. If They Can Catch And Throw, This Year Could Be The Sixth.

The San Diego Padres seem to be on to something, or are at least trying to win again. They’ve rolled out some pretty fat contracts to first baseman Eric Hosmer and shortstop Manny Machado and the farm is starting to produce some viable starting pitching.

In fact, last year, the Padres’ pitching was good enough to win, but the players behind them were not. The staff was fifth in strikeout-to-walk ratio and were better than the league average in hits-allowed. When they had a lead late, they held on to it. The 47 saves were good for fifth in baseball and Kirby Yates (.89 WHIP) had 41 of them. All of those metrics would lead you to believe the Padres had to be somewhere near the top five in wins. But the team earned-run average of 4.60 was worse than the league average and the they lost 92 games.

Chris Paddack was the ace and won only nine games despite a 3.33 ERA and a five-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio. Joey Lucchesi, Dinelson Lamet, Matt Strahm and Eric Lauer were better than average but combined for only 27 victories in 89 starts.

What happened? Their defense was terrible, next to last in fact. The pitchers did their jobs, the fielders did not. The pitching allowed the sixth fewest chances in baseball, but the defense committed the fifth most errors. They also turned the second-fewest double plays. Right field was a problem as they led the majors in most errors with 10.

Fernando Tatis Jr. lit up the scoreboard –.317 batting average, 22 home runs, 16 stolen bases in 84 games. But he also led the team in errors with 18 in just half a season. A 35-error season for one of your middle defenders isn’t going to cut it. Manny Machado was second with 14, but that was actually among the best in baseball. Machado did not have the offensive numbers the team had hoped for. Sure he had 32 homers, but without a great option at leadoff, there were 85 runs batted-in. Perhaps, using Tatis in the leadoff spot with his .379 on-base percentage might be the thing to do to get everyone else’s production up.

The loss of Franchy Cordero hurts. He had one of the highest on base plus slugging percentages on the team. But he also was responsible for half of those errors in right field.

One interesting effect of the designated hitter rule for both leagues this year is the Padres lose some offensive advantages they had over other teams. Four Padres pitchers hit better than .200 last year, three of whom hit better than .250.

The fact we’re talking about pitchers hitting should tell you something about the Padres offense. Fun fact: no other full-time player came within 50 points of Tatis’ .317 average. The team’s batting average was third-worst in baseball and their on-base percentage was fifth-worst. You might think that those numbers are unimportant in the modern home run era, but San Diego was 19th in big flies.

Manny Machado gets all the publicity but Tatis Jr. is the real future star. In just half a season he had 41 extra base hits out of 106 hits. However, he missed time for the second season in a row. He was also on pace to strike out 200 times for a full season. If he can stay healthy and cut down on the strikeouts he’ll be next to unstoppable. The team will need first baseman Eric Hosmer and outfielder Wil Myers to produce more and more consistently.

With their pitching they are at least a .500 club. With a little better defense they are an 87-win team.

Coronavirus 60-game prediction: 33-27.

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