Much to the surprise of the baseball world, the San Diego Padres sport the best record in the National League and the third-best mark in the majors.
Few experts, if any, expected much out of the team this season. Most of the preseason buzz surrounding the team was where first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and closer Heath Bell would be traded. It was a foregone conclusion the Friars would deal their All-Star duo since San Diego dealt former ace Jake Peavy to the Chicago White Sox at the trade deadline last season for four pitchers, notably left-hander Clayton Richard and prized prospect Aaron Poreda. With all their star power presumably gone, it was expected the Padres would be among the NL’s worst once more.
But thanks to top-flight defense and the best pitching in the majors, the Padres have spent 107 days in first place according to Baseball-Reference.com. San Diego has held opponents to just a .235 BA and has held opposing teams to a .667 OPS. Overall, San Diego has allowed only 1339 total bases and sports a sparkling 3.28 ERA. With an opportunistic offense powered by Gonzalez and a stingy bullpen led by the fiery Bell, the Padres appear to be headed for the postseason.
And the team has done it all without Peavy, who ranks among the franchise’s top five in wins, ERA and strikeouts.
In fact, the Padres have gone 101-71 since the trade while the former Cy Young winner has been injured and largely ineffective. While Peavy pitched like an ace for his three starts with the South Siders last season, going 3-0 with a 1.85 ERA and a microscopic 0.85 WHIP and a .162 BAA, he has regressed significantly this year. Peavy pitched to a 7-6 record with a 4.63 ERA with a 1.23 WHIP and a .242 BAA, easily the worst marks of his career for his rookie season. Before being shut down for the rest of the year because of right shoulder surgery, Peavy made 17 starts, with only seven quality starts.
Meanwhile, Richard has gone 9-5 with a 3.83 ERA, 1.41 WHIP and .268 BAA. While Peavy‘s secondary numbers are better, Richard has stayed healthy and made 11 quality starts, with the Padres winning roughly 55% of Richard’s starts. Comparatively, the White Sox won 53% of Peavy’s starts.
Though it seems to be a wash, Richard is a better fit for the team going forward because he is 2 years younger than Peavy and makes significantly less. Peavy is owed $15 million in 2010, $16 million in 2011, $17 million in 2012, with a $22 million team option for 2013. Richard is owed just $423,000 this season and is not arbitration eligible until 2012 and won’t be a free agent until 2015. Additionally, with Richard, staff ace Mat Latos and the maturing Wade LeBlanc, it appears as though San Diego has a young, cost effective trio of quality pitchers to trot out to the mound for the foreseeable future. The savings San Diego has accrued from the trade are not insignificant; as a small market team, payroll is a valuable commodity. These savings could conceivably be used for locking up Gonzalez and Bell, as well as newly acquired outfielder Ryan Ludwick.
Peavy’s future seems to be more muddled. Though he still possesses great stuff, durability has been an issue as of late. In addition to spending time on the shelf this season because of his shoulder problems, Peavy has been on the DL the past two seasons. According to ESPN, his elbow injury in 2008 was indicative of scout’s concerns over his delivery, due to “the torque his delivery puts on his arm."
Even when healthy, Peavy’s pitching style and environment may still render him less effective than he was at PETCO Park and the NL. Thanks to the vast dimensions of PETCO Park, Peavy’s fly ball tendencies were masked, leading to potential home runs dying on the warning track as well as a lower BAA. According to Baseball-Reference, PETCO Park clearly benefited pitchers, with Park Factors of 87 and 88 for Batting and Pitching, respectively. Conversely, U.S. Cellular Field has Park Factors of 104 for Batting and Pitching, which clearly benefits hitters. In addition to an inflated ERA and WHIP, Peavy’s Home Run Rate climbed from 2.0% in 2009 to 2.9% this season. According to FanGraphs.com, Peavy’s Fly Ball Percentage also increased from 39.5% to 41.9% this year, with 10.1% of those fly balls turning in to home runs. While the Sabermetrics Library website notes the league average is 10.6%, the White Sox counted on getting an elite pitcher, not an average one. Based on this season’s numbers, it appears as though the AL version of Peavy may be a pitcher who can dominate for stretches (as evidenced by his fantastic June in which he gave up just seven runs over five starts) but won’t be the elite force he was in the NL thanks to his home ballpark and the better lineups he will face in the AL.
With his durability issues, ineffectiveness and albatross contract sitting on the bench, Peavy has proved to be dead weight this year. Swapping Peavy for Richard was the right move for San Diego this season and possibly beyond.
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