The San Diego Padres were 11-12 after 23 games during the 60-game season. They only lost consecutive games twice the rest of the way to reel off a 37-23 record and make the playoffs for the first time since 2006. They would go on to lose three consecutive games to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS, but it was a wildly successful season for all involved.
First-year skipper Jayce Tingler seemed to be a great communicator and a tremendous captain of the S.S. Padre. Fernando Tatis Jr. became a bona fide superstar and has since been put on the cover of MLB The Show 21 and signed a $340 million contract. Manny Machado, who I continuously forget is still under 30, had a monstrous bounce back season. Even Eric Hosmer had a big year by finally realizing that fly balls are better than ground balls.
A case could be made that the Padres got a little bit lucky on the pitching side. Dinelson Lamet stayed healthy and had a career year and Zach Davies was a one-year wonder from the Milwaukee Brewers before getting traded to the Chicago Cubs in a deal that centered around Yu Darvish.
That is why the Padres have so much helium this season. They had a top-10 pitching staff and finished sixth in starting pitcher fWAR, but they have the chance to be exponentially better this season. The retooled Padres rotation is now headlined by Darvish and Blake Snell. Lamet is back, but Joe Musgrove has also been added to the picture and 2020 disappointment Chris Paddack may not even need to be in the rotation. If Mike Clevinger was healthy, he wouldn’t be.
The most incredible thing is that the Padres have made trades for guys like Darvish, Snell, Musgrove, and Tommy Pham within the last 18 months and still have Adrian Morejon, Mackenzie Gore, CJ Abrams, and Luis Campusano within the system. What AJ Preller has been able to do while maintaining control of the organization’s top prospects is simply remarkable.
Except for maybe the AL East, the Padres would be a pretty clear favorite in any other division in baseball. Unfortunately for them, they have to contend with the reigning champs and the team that knocked them out of the playoffs. Those 19 games against the Dodgers are going to be appointment television. The other 143 games should all be pretty darn winnable for this team, especially the other 57 within the division.
We’re well past the point when we look at the Padres and see a high-variance team with burgeoning talent that could go one way or the other. This is now one of baseball’s elites, with arguably the best bullpen in the game, and quite possibly a top-five rotation and a top-five lineup.
You pay a premium for things like that. To me, the only question is whether or not a team with this level of expectations for the first time is able to live up to them.
2021 Over/Under Season Win Total Odds
Odds To Win NL West
|Team||Odds To Win|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||-250|
|San Diego Padres||+200|
|San Francisco Giants||+4000|
|BaseRuns Run Differential||+81 (5.34/4.00)||-67 (4.25/4.67)|
|3rd Order Win%||38.1-21.9||73.5-88.5|
|Record in One-Run Games||8-8||26-24|
Additions: Mark Melancon, Keone Kela, Wynston Sawyer, Aaron Northcraft, Ha-seong Kim, Pedro Florimon, Nabil Crismatt, Nick Burdi, Jacob Rhame, Nick Ramirez, Brian O’Grady, Nick Tanielu, Parker Markel, Gosuke Katoh, Joe Musgrove, James Reeves, Victor Caratini, Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, Mark Melancon
Losses: Greg Garcia, Luis Perdomo, Abraham Almonte, Jason Castro, Kirby Yates, Trevor Rosenthal, Garrett Richards, Mitch Moreland, Hudson Head, David Bednar, Joey Lucchesi, Drake Fellows, Omar Cruz, Greg Allen, Francisco Mejia, Blake Hunt, Owen Caissie, Ismael Mena, Zach Davies, Luis Patino, Cole Wilcox, Yeison Santana, Reginald Preciado
AJ Preller was a busy man this winter. To be fair, he usually is, but this year’s prizes included Yu Darvish and Blake Snell. A complete overhaul of the rotation really would have taken place had Mike Clevinger, acquired at last year’s Trade Deadline, not gone under the knife for Tommy John surgery. Of course, the Padres may not have acquired Snell or Darvish if that were the case. Maybe they wouldn’t have gotten Joe Musgrove.
Whatever the case, the rotation looks vastly improved and Ha-seong Kim from Kiwoom of the KBO could end up being a really interesting player. He’s put up huge numbers the last two seasons.
The Padres added a lot of quality and paid a pretty low price. They traded away some prospects, but kept their premium ones and also upgraded the depth of the roster with some low-risk signings and trades. It was one of the most impressive offseasons of the winter and we’ve seen how much people like it based on the win total odds and the futures prices.
|Batting Average (BA)||.257 (10th)||.238 (28th)|
|On-Base Percentage (OBP)||.333 (8th)||.308 (26th)|
|Slugging Percentage (SLG)||.466 (3rd)||.410 (26th)|
|Weighted On-Base Avg (wOBA)||.341 (4th)||.305 (26th)|
|Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+)||115 (5th)||88 (24th)|
|Batting Avg on Balls In Play (BABIP)||.291 (15th)||.293 (18th)|
|Strikeout Percentage (K%)||21.5% (6th)||26.3% (29th)|
|Walk Percentage (BB%)||9.1% (14th)||8.4% (18th)|
I’ve spent a lot of time wondering how much stock to put in the 2020 season. Which increases or decreases are worthy of consideration? San Diego’s offensive gains are very much worthy of consideration. They struck out less. They walked more. They hit for a hell of a lot more power. They improved in basically every area. Furthermore, guys like Manny Machado and Wil Myers had huge bounce back campaigns.
We didn’t get as much of Fernando Tatis Jr. as we would have wanted because of COVID-19, but Tatis followed up his big half-season in 2019 with a big 59 games in 2020. It was no fluke. The .410 BABIP might have been, but his average exit velocity was absurd at 95.9 mph. His .277 batting average was probably low relative to where it should have been, which would have also bumped up his slugging percentage.
Tatis should be an absolute monster this season. I see nothing to doubt in the offensive profile. The K% went down and the BB% went up with more familiarity with the pitchers. He was a little more aggressive on the bases as he learned opponents’ pickoff moves. He’s a special, special player. The $340 million contract he got that runs through his age-35 season also confirms exactly that.
Tatis can’t do it alone, though. We’ve seen Mike Trout try to do that for about a decade now and we’ve seen how that has turned out. Tatis already has more postseason plate appearances than Trout, by the way. The MVP candidate had a lot of help last season, actually. Manny Machado slashed .304/.370/.580 with a .391 wOBA and a 149 wRC+. It was a return to prominence for Machado after posting a 108 wRC+ in 2019. I wouldn’t put it past Machado to make a .391 wOBA more of the new normal, as he won’t turn 29 until later this season. He may not put up full-season numbers like that again, but a 130-135 wRC+ is pretty likely and he’s still a plus defender at third base. If he does put up similar numbers, this team is destined for greatness.
The left side of the infield is pretty set. Another guy that saw a big increase in production was Eric Hosmer. Hosmer went from back-to-back seasons with a wRC+ in the 90s to a 127 last season. He was limited to 38 games, but he finally started to elevate the ball. Hosmer’s FB% was a career-high 34.2% and his average launch angle was 8.7 degrees. Hosmer set a new personal best in Barrel% and also Hard Hit%. My hope would be that Hosmer keeps elevating instead of pounding everything into the ground. The immediate dividends paid last season by just an 11.1% increase in FB% cannot possibly be lost on him or the team.
We’ll see if the Padres let Ha-seong Kim hit the ground running or not. If not, Jake Cronenworth was pretty solid offensively and defensively in his 54 games last season. He, too, was another above average offensive player for the Padres. Kim is projected to be about a league average bat, as MLB pitching is vastly superior to KBO pitching, but he’s got tremendous bat-to-ball skills and good plate patience to go with some surprising pop for a guy that is listed at 5-foot-9 and 168 pounds.
It looks as though the right side of the infield is also set. In the outfield, Wil Myers is not a .400 wOBA, 154 wRC+ player, but he does make a ton of hard contact and has also had a double-digit Barrel% the last two seasons. I’d probably put him in the 120-125 wRC+ range, but there may be room for more. Trent Grisham was plucked from the Brewers in the Eric Lauer/Luis Urias trade. He posted a 121 wRC+ with a high walk rate and a good power/speed combo.
Tommy Pham was really the only disappointing player for the Padres last season. He had some off-field issues and other problems last year. I’m not going to read a ton into the small sample for him. He’s been an above average offensive player every season in the Majors up to that point and I don’t think he’ll stop now.
That means that when we look at the Padres 1 through 8, every single player is an above average hitter. Even the bench guys have value. All of them have some versatility and are either good hitters or good defensive players.
This is a really tremendous group of position players. The Padres could’ve hit more fly balls to give me a little more peace of mind about the power production we saw last season, but they were fourth in average exit velocity and fourth in number of batted balls hit 95+ mph. Quality contact leads to run-scoring opportunities.
Like I always talk about in my win total write-ups. I need to know that a team has depth and a lot of players capable of picking up the slack if somebody falls off, especially when we’re talking about a win total in the mid-90s. The Padres don’t have a ton of help in the minor leagues, as most of their better hitters have either graduated to The Show or were used in trade. Preller has a lot of trade currency if needed due to an injury and the Padres have so much depth in their regular lineup that they’d be able to withstand some adversity.
|Earned Run Average (ERA)||3.87 (7th)||4.63 (18th)|
|Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP)||3.88 (5th)||4.22 (8th)|
|Adj. Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP)||3.97 (5th)||4.29 (8th)|
|Strikeout Percentage (K%)||26.2% (4th)||23.9% (11th)|
|Walk Percentage (BB%)||7.9% (5th)||7.5% (6th)|
|Left On Base Percentage (LOB%)||74.0% (10th)||70.0% (25th)|
Put yourself in AJ Preller’s mind. You sit down to evaluate the performance of your team. Your pitching staff was in the top seven in ERA, FIP, xFIP, K%, and BB%. You’re not happy with that. You look at a starting rotation that was fourth in FIP and say, “We need to be better.”
So, you get better. Presumably, a lot better. You have to wonder if Preller would have been so aggressive had the Padres not gotten a taste of the playoffs or weren’t locked into an arms race with the Los Angeles Dodgers. I guess it doesn’t really matter. Preller did what he thought he needed to do. The sickest part of it all is that the Padres got to hold on to Adrian Morejon and Mackenzie Gore through all the trades.
Eleven different starters began a game for the Padres. Four of them made at least 10 starts. Two of those four are back. Dinelson Lamet headlines the group after posting a 2.09 ERA with a 2.48 FIP and a 3.30 xFIP. There are still durability concerns with Lamet, who missed all of 2018 and then threw 73 innings in 2019 and 69 in 2020, but whatever he gives the Padres from a sample size standpoint, it should be good.
The Padres worked with Lamet to improve his control and his command. He did both without sacrificing strikeouts. Lamet’s HR/FB% fell from 19.7% to 7.9%. His BB% fell from 9.6% to 7.5%. His K% even ticked up a little. Lamet actually added velocity and threw his best pitch nearly 54% of the time with a slider that was basically unhittable. The Padres have followed a lot of other teams that have instructed their pitchers to throw their best pitches more often. Lamet did that and it was extremely successful.
They did that with Zach Davies, but he is now a Chicago Cub. They tried to do that with Chris Paddack, but his fastball command isn’t good enough. Paddack threw his changeup more and his fastball less, but was relegated to being a one-pitch pitcher most nights. We’ll see if the Padres can develop a third pitch with him. He may simply have to go to the bullpen at some point and perhaps that is the eventual plan when Morejon and Gore are ready or when Mike Clevinger comes back in 2022.
Padres pitching coach Larry Rothschild has two new toys to play with this season. With the Yankees, Rothschild was part of an organization that did exactly what the Padres are doing. It started long before the Yankees made the innovative hire of former Indians pitching coordinator Matt Blake. The Yankees pushed pitchers to throw fewer fastballs and more stuff that generated swings and misses and weaker contact.
Rothschild may be an older dog, but he’s learned new tricks and it seems like Padres pitchers reacted well to the switch. Rothschild doesn’t have to do a whole lot to improve Yu Darvish. Darvish could very well have beaten Trevor Bauer for the NL Cy Young last year with a 2.01 ERA, a 2.23 FIP, and a 2.82 xFIP. Darvish cut his HR rate significantly and had far and away his best season from a BB% standpoint.
Darvish went cutter-heavy last season and decreased the usage of his fastball again. He also had his best season ever with the slider. He added velo. He basically improved in every area. I can’t see the Padres tinkering with too much here. They don’t have to.
I think Blake Snell is the guy that we will see a lot of differences with this season. Snell throws a lot of fastballs. He dropped his curveball usage significantly last season. He used a slider more. I think the Padres are going to try and push him to use his secondaries more and his fastball less. I feel like the Rays probably pushed that and did have some measure of success with it in 2019, but Snell is something of a blank slate.
The Rays had elbow concerns with Snell I believe, which is why they made him available. Many pointed to his escalating salary, but I think it was more than that. The Padres are willing to embrace the risk and everything that I’ve seen suggests that they will maximize his ability and potential.
As mentioned, Morejon and Gore are the first line of defense in case of injury. Morejon would be in most other rotations already. Gore wouldn’t be far behind and with a full minor league season last year, he’d probably be in most of them.
As incredible as this starting staff could be, I still salivate about the Padres bullpen. There are so many interesting parts and pieces here. The San Diego pen got a little unlucky with a 4.38 ERA, but a 4.08 FIP. Mark Melancon and Keone Kela are pretty good additions to replace what was lost and Pierce Johnson was an excellent find from Japan prior to the 2020 season. Drew Pomeranz has elite upside as a reliever and Emilio Pagan is a bounce back candidate to me after a 4.50 ERA with a 4.69 FIP last season. He had a 2.31 ERA and a 3.30 FIP for the Rays in 2019.
Teams with high win totals have to have good bullpens because they need to win those games that they are in position to win. The Padres have exactly that.
Positives & Negatives
This is a team that has expectations now. Last season, the Padres were an extremely high-variance team. I would have been dead wrong on them because I looked at them to go under 82.5, but also said that they had the widest range of potential outcomes. They could have done exactly what they did. They could have also not seen the big bounce back seasons from Wil Myers, Manny Machado, and Eric Hosmer. They might have gotten below average production from Trent Grisham and Jake Cronenworth.
It sure did feel like a lot of things went right and worked out perfectly for the Padres in the 60-game season. This is why I love what Preller did, though. Too many teams have a magical season like that and plan for it to happen again. They don’t aggressively improve the ballclub. They don’t try to minimize or mitigate variance by plugging in upgrades at various positions. They just hope it all happens perfectly again.
Not the Padres. They improved the starting rotation. They improved the bench. They spent money. They deserve these lofty expectations and all of the preseason love that they have gotten.
San Diego Padres Pick & Prediction: Over 94.5
This team is legit. Really legit. Unlike the Dodgers, who just won baseball’s ultimate prize and have won the NL West several years in a row, the Padres are young and really hungry. They’re starving. They’re dogs that are gonna hunt and gonna eat. The 19 games against the Dodgers will be high-octane, but they aren’t going to put the car in neutral and coast down the hill in their other 143 games.
I think this is a team on a mission. A team that wants to be the best and wants to avoid that Wild Card Game. I don’t know if they’ll be able to do it and might give the Dodgers the push that they need to care about the regular season enough to take down another division title, but the Padres are going to win a lot of games.
There are no weaknesses on this team. The lineup is great. The bench is deep. The starting rotation is probably elite and the bullpen is definitely elite.
The over 94.5 is on my short list for picks to consider as Spring Training rolls along. I do think there is a chance that this team does stumble out of the gate with such lofty expectations and so much pressure. They’re going to be a hunted team themselves now, so they won’t be able to waltz through too many opponents, but I’m not sure that’s going to matter much.
If I see them heading towards Opening Day healthy, I may invest in this one, despite the smallish margin for error.
For now, it is a pretty strong lean for me and a pick for the Guide.