San Diego Padres Season Preview

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San Diego Padres Season Preview
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The San Diego Padres never really got their act together in 2011. They stumbled out of the gate in April and proceeded to spend the rest of the season fighting to stay out of the basement in the National League West.

The Padres were unable to do that. They lost 91 games and finished in last place in the division for the second time in the past four seasons.

On the bright side, the Padres were active during the offseason, bringing in a couple of much-needed bats and stockpiling their farm system with prospects. At worst, Padres fans can rest comfortably knowing that they have the No. 1 farm system in baseball, according to ESPN's Keith Law.

At best, this team might actually be better in 2012 than it was in 2011.

Let's discuss the matter.

 

2011 Record: 71-91

Key Arrivals (courtesy of Yahoo! Sports): RHP Andrew Cashner (from Chicago Cubs), OF Carlos Quentin (from Chicago White Sox), RHP Edinson Volquez, 1B Yonder Alonso, RHP Brad Boxberger and C Yasmani Grandal (from Cincinnati); RHP Huston Street (from Colorado), C John Baker (from Miami), OF/1B Mark Kotsay (FA), RHP Micah Owings (minor league FA), RHP Jeff Suppan (minor league FA).

Key Departures: 1B Anthony Rizzo (to Chicago Cubs), OF Aaron Cunningham (to Cleveland), RHP Mat Latos (to Cincinnati), RHP Aaron Harang (FA), LHP Wade LeBlanc (to Miami), RHP Heath Bell (FA), 1B-OF Brad Hawpe (FA), RHP Chad Qualls (FA)

 

Projected Rotation (Per Official Site)

  1. Tim Stauffer (9-12, 3.73 ERA, 1.25 WHIP)
  2. Clayton Richard (5-9, 3.88, 1.42)
  3. Dustin Moseley (3-10, 3.30, 1.28)
  4. Cory Luebke (6-10, 3.29, 1.07)
  5. Edinson Volquez (5-7, 5.71, 1.57)

 

Projected Starters

C: Nick Hundley (.288/.347/.477)

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Chase Headley

1B: Jesus Guzman (.312/.369/.478), Yonder Alonso (.330/.398/.545)

2B: Orlando Hudson (.246/.329/.352)

3B: Chase Headley (.289/.374/.399)

SS: Jason Bartlett (.245/.308/.307)

LF: Carlos Quentin (.254/.340/.499)

CF: Cameron Maybin (.264/.323/.393)

RF: Will Venable (.246/.310/.395)


Bullpen

Closer: Huston Street (R) (1-4, 29 SV, 4 BLSV, 3.86 ERA, 1.22 WHIP)

Justin Edmonds/Getty Images
Luke Gregerson

Luke Gregerson (R) (3-3, 16 HLD, 4 BLSV, 2.75, 1.37)

Ernesto Frieri (R) (1-2, 4 HLD, 2.71, 1.35)

Joe Thatcher (L) (0-0, 2 HLD, 4.50, 1.50)

Josh Spence (L) (0-2, 7 HLD, 2 BLSV, 2.73, 1.11)

Andrew Cashner (R) (0-0, 1.69, 0.66)

Anthony Bass (R) (2-0, 4 HLD, 1.68, 1.28)

Brad Brach (R) (0-2, 5.14, 2.29)

Micah Owings (R) (8-0, 3.57, 1.25)


Scouting the Starting Pitching

Take a quick glance at the starters the Padres used in 2011, and you might come to the conclusion that they got some pretty uninspiring work out of their rotation.

Nope. Padres starters posted a 3.62 ERA last season, fourth-best in the National League. They didn't log a huge amount of innings, but that wasn't a problem given the quality of San Diego's bullpen last season. 

Alas, two key members from that rotation are gone now. Mat Latos was traded to the Cincinnati Reds, and Aaron Harang left to join the rival Los Angeles Dodgers. The Padres will have to pick up the slack with the guys they have.

Tim Stauffer will be charged with being the team's ace now that Latos is gone. He has the potential to be pretty good, but he struggled in his first full season as a starter in 2011. He was just a little too hittable, and opponents tended to hit him hard when they made contact. He'll have to be better in 2012.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Clayton Richard

Elsewhere in this rotation, the Padres know what they're going to get out of Clayton Richard. He's going to put a few too many guys on base, but he'll do a relatively good job of limiting the damage.

As long as he stays healthy, he'll log innings and give the Padres a chance to win. They'll be fine with that.

Dustin Moseley should be pretty good in 2012. He racked up a few too many losses in 2011, but he was pitching effectively before he dislocated his left shoulder in late July. If he stays healthy, he'll post an ERA in the 3.00s and go for a new career-high in innings.

Cory Luebke is a wild card. He pitched pretty well after he was converted from a reliever into a starter, and was actually occasionally brilliant. He had a tendency to give up quite a few hits and he seemed to run out of gas in September, though, so we'll see how he handles a full season as a starter.

As for Edinson Volquez, the Padres really have no idea what they're going to get out of him. He's had trouble staying healthy in recent seasons, and he hasn't been very effective when he has been healthy. You never know when he's going to lose control and walk the ballpark, resulting in a very short outing.

The good news is that the Padres do have help waiting in the wings if Volquez gets hurt or can't cut it. This rotation will stay well-stocked.


Scouting the Bullpen

The Padres had one of the best bullpens in baseball in 2011. It posted a 3.05 ERA and gave up just 32 home runs all season. Only the San Francisco Giants gave up fewer dingers in the National League last season.

However, that bullpen lost Mike Adams at the trade deadline and lost Heath Bell this offseason. The bullpen that stands before us today is not as strong as it was a year ago at this time.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Huston Street

The big wild card is new closer Huston Street. He's no stranger to closing games, but there are more reliable closers out there. Since 2005, only Francisco Rodriguez and Francisco Cordero have blown more saves than Street.

Street's nemesis is the long ball, and the good news for him is that he should give up much fewer of those pitching in Petco Park. His HR/FB rate should drop significantly from the 14.5 mark he posted in 2011.

Beyond Street, there are some quality arms in this bullpen. Luke Gregerson is solid, and he'll do a good job setting things up for Street in the eighth inning. Before the game gets to that point, Bud Black has plenty of options at his disposal for working matchups.

So in all likelihood, the Padres are going to have one of the league's best bullpens once again.


Scouting the Hitting

The Padres couldn't hit in 2011. They scored 593 runs all season, third-fewest in the majors. Not surprisingly, they slugged just .349, lowest in the National League. They hit 91 home runs, fewest in baseball.

With Adrian Gonzalez gone to Boston, you kinda saw this coming. Without him, the Padres had no power source.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Carlos Quentin

Well, they do now. When he's healthy, Carlos Quentin is one of the best pure power hitters in baseball. His 162-game average for the last four seasons consists of 37 home runs and 109 RBI.

Unfortunately, Quentin doesn't play that many games. He's averaged just 120 games played in the last four seasons, in which he's been good for roughly 27 home runs and 80 RBI.

The Padres won't be able to do much about keeping Quentin healthy, but he'll provide some much needed pop when he is in the lineup. He won't win any home run crowns playing half his games at Petco Park, but the Padres will gladly take 20-25 home runs.

Sadly, there's not going to be that much support for Quentin in the lineup. When he's not bombing balls out of the park, the Padres will have to get by with small-ball tactics to score runs. It's not ideal, but at least the Padres are used to it.

Is there potential in this lineup? Of course there is. Chase Headley has plenty of ability, and the same is true of Cameron Maybin and Nick Hundley.

Yonder Alonso has potential too, but I'll get to him in just a second.


Pitching Stud

Denis Poroy/Getty Images

Since this team doesn't have a true ace, I have to go with Tim Stauffer here.

I pointed out that Stauffer struggled in his first full season as a starter, but the interesting part is why he struggled. 

The odd part is that his K/BB ratio of 2.42 was not far removed from the 2.54 ratio he posted in 2010, when he compiled a 1.85 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP between the bullpen and the starting rotation. 

The problem is that Stauffer didn't get nearly enough ground balls. His ground-ball percentage decreased and his line-drive percentage increased.

And when opponents got the ball in the air against Stauffer, it went far. His HR/FB rate jumped up from 4.2 percent in 2010 to 12.5 percent in 2011. He ended up giving up 20 homers in 185.2 innings, which is a few too many.

If (and I stress "if") Stauffer continues to maintain good control and he gets back to inducing ground balls again, he'll likely win 15-plus games with an ERA in the 3.00s. That's an ace.


Hitting Stud

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Let's talk about Carlos Quentin a little more. There's more to say about him.

Say what you will about Quentin's ability to stay healthy and stay consistent, but let it never be said that he's not powerful. In the past four seasons, he's been among the best power hitters in the majors.

From 2008 to 2011, Quentin's ISO (isolated power, basically a measurement of raw power) was .248. That puts him in the same company as Miguel Cabrera and Mark Teixeira, and he's not that far removed from Prince Fielder.

In the last three seasons (2009-2011), Quentin's problem has been making contact. His walks have taken a dip and his strikeouts have increased. He's not going to have nearly as much protection in San Diego's lineup as he did in Chicago's lineup, so he's going to have to be more selective.

If he can do that, he's going to pan out just fine. 


X-Factor

Brian Kersey/Getty Images

With Joey Votto holding down the fort at first base, the Reds really had no need of Yonder Alonso. Giving him up to get Latos was an easy call for them. 

He'll have to earn the job, but Alonso should be San Diego's starting first baseman in 2012. They have Jesus Guzman, but Alonso is younger and his ceiling is higher. May as well throw him into the fray and see what he can do.

The Reds did just that with Alonso at the tail end of the 2011 season. He responded by posting a .943 OPS and slugging five home runs in just 88 at-bats. He was on fire.

Hitting in Petco Park is significantly different from hitting in the Great American Ballpark, but the Padres will live with less pop from Alonso as long as he gets on base and hits for a high average. Quentin can be the power source, and Alonso can he his underrated sidekick.

If Alonso doesn't pan out, there's always Guzman.

UPDATE: March 3

According to Padres insider Tom Krasovic, Alonso will have to earn a starting spot in San Diego's lineup. Bud Black isn't going to anoint Alonso until he proves himself worthy.


Prospect to Watch

Harry How/Getty Images

I mentioned a while back that the Padres have rotation help waiting in the wings if they need it. In a roundabout way, I was referring to Casey Kelly.

The Padres got Kelly from the Red Sox in the Adrian Gonzalez trade. He was a top prospect when they acquired him, and he still is. In fact, he checks in at No. 32 on Keith Law's list of the Top 100 Prospects.

Kelly has the stuff to be a solid No. 3 or No. 2 starter down the road, and there's only so much more he can do in the minors. He's pitched at the Double-A level two years in a row at this point, showing significant improvement in 2011. He's going to be ready for the majors very soon.

My guess is that he'll be ready this year. My other guess is that the Padres are going to need him to be ready.


What the Padres Will Do Well

They don't have an ace, and it's probably not going to look very sexy from a distance, but this Padres team should pitch pretty well. Though lacking in star power, they've got some solid arms in their rotation and plenty more in their bullpen.

This Padres team should also field the ball pretty well. They were among the league leaders in fielding percentage and UZR in 2011, and a lot of the same guys are in the same places. Not much is going to get past them.

As long as the Padres pitch and field well in 2012, they'll win their share of games.


What the Padres Won’t Do Well

The Padres should be a better hitting club than they were in 2011. I've done my best to make that clear enough.

But let's not kid ourselves. The Padres are still well short of being a top offensive team. Runs are going to be hard to come by, and things could be just as bad as they were in 2011 if the new acquisitions don't pan out.

So despite the fact the offense should be better, this is a pitching and defense team.


Where will the Padres finish in the NL West in 2012?

Submit Vote vote to see results

Final Thoughts

I'll be shocked if the Padres contend for the NL West crown this season. They're getting better, but they just don't have enough firepower to contend with the Diamondbacks and the Giants.

Instead, the Padres are going to tough it out with the Rockies and Dodgers. The three of them will fight to avoid finishing at the bottom of the division, and it's going to be a close call when all is said and done.

Since the Padres are going to pitch pretty well and hit a little better, I like their chances to avoid finishing last for a second straight season.


Projected Record: 75-87, fourth in NL West.

 

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Zachary D. Rymer is a lifelong baseball junkie with an impressive collection of Nomar Garciaparra rookie cards and a knuckleball that is coming along. He loves the Red Sox and hates the Yankees, but he has a huge mancrush on Derek Jeter and he would like nothing more than to have a few beers with Nick Swisher. He's always down to talk some baseball, so feel free to hit him up on Twitter:

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