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Series Preview: Andy Green has averaged just one winning month per season

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After starting the season 17-13, the Padres are just 44-58.

San Diego Padres v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

How did this happen? The Padres have the most talented baseball organization in human history. They had the resources and “payroll flexibility” to add Manny Machado in the offseason. They’ve debuted some sharp pitchers and perhaps a generational talent in Fernando Tatis Jr. This was supposed to be a team on the rise.

We don’t really know how much a manager influences the outcome of a given game. We can assume based on anecdotal evidence — what players say, what analysts say, every baseball game we’ve ever watched — that individual decisions might not amount to a game-saving move, but the cumulative effect of an individual’s decision-making process might reveal itself over the course of the season.

So, here I am taking the sports radio caller’s position that it’s the manager behind his team’s lackluster performance. The Padres were supposed to be better than this. They are certainly better than they were (50-82 at this point last season), but it seems to me that a team with more talent than the Giants should at least be playing as well as the Giants, and that’s not something the Padres have done beyond the first month of the season.

But could it really be all Andy Green’s fault? Of course not. If he was out there disrespecting the algorithms by making his own lineups, he’d have been fired by now. When it comes to something like pitching changes, maybe there’s some room for fault there, but at the same time, maybe it’s just an opportunity for more growth. San Diego is 23-18 in one-run games this year. That’s not bad! And, except for Green’s first year (2016), the Padres have been a .500 team in one-run games during his tenure. That’s about the extent of managerial analysis I can provide.

Did trading away the team’s second-best hitter, Franmil Reyes (119 OPS+), have something to do with the Padres’ slide? Yeah, probably a little bit, but by the time of the trade, San Diego had won just five of the 17 games following the All-Star break. Something had to change, and hey, in return, the Padres got Taylor Trammell, a really exciting prospect.

What about the loss of Fernando Tatis Jr. for the season? They were 39-45 when he played. He was their team’s best hitter when he was in the lineup. Well, he played every game in July and the Padres still went 8-16.

So, then it must be the pitching, right? I can’t see it. Their team FIP of 4.23 is 5th in the NL. By wins above replacement, their 5.2 fWAR is tied with the Yankees for 10th in MLB (again, 5th in the NL). And they have similar ranks for all the major stat categories important to the modern game:

  • 9.26 K/9 (4th in NL)
  • 3.19 BB/9 (7th)
  • 1.29 HR/9 (6th)

Sure, the bulk of their fWAR comes from their closer, Kirby Yates (2.9), but Joey Lucchesi, Eric Lauer, Chris Paddack, Cal Quantrill, Matt Strahm, and Dinelson Lamet have combined for 8.3 fWAR out of the rotation. Quantrill and Paddack debuted this year, and they’ve already become rotation stalwarts. So, what could it be that’s caused the team to be so disappointing?

I mentioned Manny Machado, right? Hmm, let’s scroll down here and take a look at — yep, just as I suspected, he’s fine. He’s hitting .264/.335/.470 with 27 home runs. He’s been a net positive on defense (7 DRS, +5.3 Defensive Runs Above Average), and while his 109 wRC+ isn’t spectacular (his worst since 2017 and third-lowest mark of his career), it’s not a disaster. You could look at that number and then his AAV and think, “Eh, it’s not what you want, but it’s not like he has no value.” Although... yeah...

If you sort the search for just the past 30 calendar days (26 games), then some alarming trends emerge. Here are the five worst hitters for the Padres over the past month (min. 70 PA), sorted by wOBA:

5. Hunter Renfroe - .259
4. Manny Machado - .261
3. Wil Myers - .275
4. Luis Urias - .305
5. Manuel Margot - .306

That’s five lineup regulars hitting well below league average. The NL average for wOBA (pitchers subtracted from the calculation) is .328. Only Eric Hosmer (.337), Josh Naylor (.339), and Francisco Mejia (.404) have hit better than the league average. Thanks to that trio, the Padres have managed to average 4.27 runs per game, but they’re basically doing it with one hand tied behind their back.

So, it can’t possibly be the manager’s fault that the best hitters on the team aren’t performing and the best player on the team is on the IL for the rest of the year, and maybe it’s not his fault that the offense has been good when the pitching’s struggled and then bad when the pitching’s been decent to really good, but at the same time, the organization has too much talent to be worse than the Giants.

Hitter to watch

Francisco Mejia was the #15 prospect in all of baseball when the Padres got him from Cleveland in the Brad Hand-Adam Cimber trade last year. The then-22 year old catcher struggled in a 20-game call-up last year and was hitting .167/.207/.259 after the first five weeks of the season before landing on the IL.

And then the Padres let him rehab for a while down in Triple-A, getting reps and working on some stuff. Whatever that “stuff” was, it got straightened out. Since being reactivated in the middle of June, he’s hit .298/.354/.503 in 51 games (164 PA). He has a 1.000 OPS in the month of August.

Remarkably, the team he’s faced the most in his infant care has been the Giants. He has just five hits in 40 plate appearances. Only two of those are extra base hits (both doubles). In his last encounter with the Giants, he went His last encounter with the Giants (the end of July), he went 0-for-8 with two strikeouts (8 PA across 3 games). That preceded his August hot streak. We’re in unstoppable force vs. immovable object territory here, and it’s unclear who’s who.

Pitcher to watch

Dinelson Lamet had Tommy John surgery in April 2018 and was finally activated on July 2019 to join the Padres’ rotation. The Giants faced him back in 2017, but I suspect most of us don’t remember him from a season we’ve all tried desperately to forget.

He throws 96-97 with both a four-seamer and sinker. His curveball and slider aren’t top of the league in terms of spin, but well above average for a starting pitcher. Here’s some video of his offerings:

Watch how far across the strike zone this sinker travels:

Here’s his curveball — or maybe his slider?

Compare that with this, which looks to be a bit more like a traditional curve:

And compare with this, which seems to act more like a slider than the above examples:

And this pitch, which acts a bit more like a cutter than slider, but still has more horizontal movement than what I consider to be his curveball:

The four-seamer:

He also likes to throw it at 97+ way above the letters and up above the zone. Gets a lot of strikeouts that way, too.

Anyway, he’s struck out 60 in 46 IP and walked just 20. Figures to be a tough Friday night.

Prediction

Regardless of what happens, this will be the final time the Giants have to face the Padres this season. That’s a good thing, no matter the outcome.