Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Padres/Rockies, 29 June - Notes

Last night was unused season ticket night at the old ballpark, so we had an excuse to go.  Not that we really need an excuse, we have season tickets.  Some thoughts on Tuesday's game:

  1. A quiet groan could be heard when Tony Gwynn Jr was announced as the leadoff hitter.  Gwynn's OBP (.324) doesn't lend itself to this slot.  Here's an interesting tidbit:  It's actually third highest on the club, behind Adrian Gonzalez (.399), David Eckstein (.326), and Yorvit Torrealba (.338).  It would be awesome to hit the catcher leadoff, but I don't think Bud black is that progressive.
  2. Chase Headley had a rough night at the plate.  He left 2 runners on in each of his first two at bats.  He would have hit into a double play in the sixth, but Scott Hairston's great take out slide broke it up.  Finally he was caught stealing in the eighth, although to be fair that looked like a blown hit and run.
  3. I hate the contact play.  San Diego ran themselves out of a run in the third.  Clearly Scott Hairston gets pitched differently with a runner on third and two out instead of a runner on first and two out, so we cannot say he would have gotten the single anyway.  Why send the runner with the infield halfway in the third inning?  Gwynn Jr made a great slide, but he was out.  A little over-aggressive there, I think.
  4. Gwynn Jr's RBI single in the seventh was foul.  We were sitting in Section 220 and had a great look at it.  The umpire hesitated on the call because Rockie LF Ryan Spilborghs blocked the ball with his body after he landed.  I think the ump decided the ball hit Spilborghs while Ryan was still in fair ground.  It didn't look that way to me.
  5. Jerry Hairston Jr's HR would have been out even if the fan hadn't caught it; it bounces off the scoreboard and into the crowd.  That was one of two fine plays in the stands tonight (the other being the barehanded catch of a soft line drive just behind first base).
  6. Yorvit struck out in the eighth and the catcher didn't hold the strike.  Why didn't Torrealba run to first?
  7. The ball Carlos Gonzalez hit out was crushed.  Actually I'm glad the Rockies scored a few more runs, it would have been unjust for LeBlanc to lose 1-0 on that lone mistake.
  8. Edward Mujica will hereafter be known as "Home Run Ed".  When he was announced, I unloaded a loud "NO!" into the air.  Someone behind me asked who I'd wanted to come in, Mike Adams?  I replied, "Anyone but Mujica.  Here comes a HR."  Of course the same guy told me I was to blame for the home run.  He was kidding, I think, but good God:  10 HR in 40 IP?  Perhaps Black needs to re-think his situational pitching.
  9. The Padres blew a hit and run in the eighth that got Headley thrown out stealing.  The Rockies perfectly executed a hit and run in the ninth, which jump-started the inning and eventually led to 2 insurance runs.
  10. Why did Beimel pitch to Gonzalez?  Because Gonzalez was 4 for 24 going into that at-bat.  4 for 25 afterwards.  Yes his groundout knocked in a run, but the Rockies were still ahead, and Belisle struck out Scott Hairston to end the threat.
  11. The first six innings were played in 90 minutes.  The last 3?  Ninety minutes.  Eight pitching changes help make the game go a lot longer.
But at least, we all got free tacos.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tony Gwynn Jr's Glove

Tony Gwynn Jr is a prototypical slap hitter with no power.  In 2009 with the Padres he slashed .270/.350/.344.  So far in 2010 he's actually worse:  .225/.322/.326.  Yet, he's played in 22 games during the month of June, starting 18 of them.  Why would a guy who's such an offensive liability see so much playing time?

The conventional wisdom is, Gwynn Jr's glove has become the best OF glove the Padres have.  I was curious, so let's look at Dewan plus/minus on each of the Padre outfielders.  I grabbed the plus/minus number for the position each player has played the most in 2010.  All statistics do not include last night's 10-6 loss to Colorado.
  • Gwynn Jr:  +8 (CF, 451.1 innings)
  • Blanks: +1 (LF, 253)
  • Cunningham:  0 (RF, 26)
  • Denorfia:  +1 (LF, 82.2)
  • S. Hairston:  -1 (LF, 204.1)
  • J. Hairston Jr: +1 (RF, 42)
  • Salazar:  0 (LF, 82)
  • Stairs:  -2 (RF, 51)
  • Venable:  +1 (RF, 480.1)
I believe that's everyone who has played in the Padre outfield this season.  If I've forgotten someone please mention them in the comments and I'll add their statistics to this post.  Based on the data, it appears the conventional wisdom is correct - Tony Gwynn Jr is the best outfield glove the Padres have.

For a team built on run prevention, it makes a whole lot of sense why they play Gwynn Jr in center field every day.  So long as he continues to go get it, and hit no higher than eighth in the order, he's helping the Padres more with his glove than he's hurting them with the bat (as an aside, he's worth 1.6 WAR according to Fangraphs - negative 2.1 batting and 9.9 fielding)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Juggernaut

Fear the Padres - especially on the road.  For all the talk about building this team to play in Petco, they've been very tough on the road.  I was surprised to discover tonight the Padres have the best road record in the National League (18-13).  The Philadelphia Phillies are the only other NL team with even a winning record on the road (Cincinnati is .500 away from Great American Ballpark).

It gets better.  San Diego also has the second best road record in the Majors, behind only Tampa Bay (24-12).  You want the mark of a good team?  They win on the road.  As if you needed any more proof the Padres are good in 2010.

I'm not sure how else to describe Mat Latos at this point.  Since being shellacked by Florida on 26 April, Latos has torn it up.  Ten starts, 9 quality starts, 66 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings, 15 walks, opposing hitters are slashing .159/.223/.237 against him (slash starts don't include last night's game).

The Padres have won seven of his last 10 starts. 

Mat Latos had the eighth best xFIP in the NL among starters for May according to Fangraphs (3.41).  For June, his xFIP has slipped a little bit to a bloated 3.73.  For the season, under the qualified rule set Fangraphs uses, he's tied for the 12th lowest xFIP in the league (3.71).  By xFIP he's the best starter on the Padres.

Jed Hoyer faces a difficult choice.  Latos has thrown 86 innings this season, and the Padres set a 150 inning limit on his arm.  What will the club do if it remains in the pennant race, Latos remains their most consistent pitcher, and he reaches the 150 inning limit in early September?  Will they allow him to push beyond it, or shut him down for the year?

Actually I hope the club is faced with that decision, because we'll be watching meaningful games in September for the first time since 2007.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Zawadzki down, Ryan up

First, some self-promotion:  my weekly Padres recap at Baseball Digest is up for your enjoyment.

A rather quiet off day.  Among several moves the Padres made on Monday, two stood out:  Lance Zawadzki was optioned back to Portland, and catcher Dusty Ryan was called up.  It's interesting Zawadzki was sent down given Jed Hoyer's recent comments about not having someone on the roster able to spell Chase Headley at third from time to time.  That problem was probably exacerbated with Everth Cabrera's injury, which forced Jerry Hairston Jr to play every day at short.  With this move, there's no one to back-up Headley at third.

Dusty Ryan's call-up may be a precursor to Yorvit Torrealba serving his suspension.  I believe MLB rules prevent teams from replacing a suspended player on the roster; in other words, while Torrealba is serving his suspension they have to play with 24 men.  Could someone confirm that in the comments if so inclined?  I wonder if the team told Torrealba to just serve the suspension and get it over with.  Note that's all speculation on my part.

Ryan has a total of 80 plate appearances over 2 years in the majors, all with Detroit.  He didn't hit the ball well at all in 2009; hopefully he's put that behind him.  Welcome to the National League, Dusty Ryan.

Elsewhere, the aforementioned Cabrera continues his rehab assignment and could be back with the Padres late this week.  Also, Kyle Blanks has suffered a setback in his rehab, coming down with elbow stiffness.  He was due to complete rehabbing on Sunday, when the Padres would either have to activate him or option him to AAA.  Looks like that decision will wait for a later day.

Padres start a 3-game set with Tampa Bay, which will conclude the Interleague docket for 2010.  San Diego is catching the Rays at a good time; Tampa has dropped 4 of 5 and 7 of their last 9 against the NL.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Odds and Ends on a Friday

A quick post for you:

1.  Reminder the second June San Diego SABR mini-regional meeting is Saturday - which happens to be tomorrow.  9:30 AM, La Jolla/Riford Library, 7555 Draper Ave La Jolla 92037.  12-year and current MLB umpire Joe Cuzzi will be speaking to the group.

2.  Good luck to the US Soccer team against Slovenia this morning.

3.  The Padres are putting on a blood drive at the Hall of Champions today from 10-4.  From 1-2, Clayton Richard and Luke Gregerson are scheduled to be at the drive and signing autographs.

Finally, Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there.  In many ways, fatherhood is the most thankless and yet rewarding job a man can have.  Here's to you trying to raise your children right.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Three and Five

MLB handed down their decision on Yorvit Torrealba's 'discussion' with home plate umpire Larry Vanover Monday night - 3 game suspension.  Yorvit was not amused, as quoted by Chris Jenkins:
If it’s a fine, all right, whatever, but three games is a little bit too much. One game, two games, I’m gonna get my lesson no matter what. But I don’t see umpires getting fined and I don’t see umpires getting suspended. They make a lot of mistakes.
Jon Garland had a choice comment too.  I love this one:
Garland said Wednesday that he’d pay Torrealba’s fine in appreciation for the catcher backing [him] up.
The Padres will appeal the suspension, but now that Torrealba has continued to rip the umpire in the press, I would not expect the length to get reduced.  I wonder if an appeal has ever resulted in the suspension getting longer.  For the record, good for Torrealba for expressing himself clearly, and when will MLB make the review of umpiring performance more transparent?  I think some level of public accountability with umpires who make repeated bad calls, are confrontational, and/or are inconsistent pitch-to-pitch or inning-to-inning would go a long way to restoring their reputation as a whole with the players and fans.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Short Rest and Short Tempers

To start last night's series with the Toronto Blue Jays, the Padres decided to thrown Jon Garland on three days (or short) rest.  Garland has not fared well in short rest situations; in fact, according to facts I heard after the game, he had only made 2 previous career starts on 3 days rest and was 0-1 with a 7.20 ERA.  Even if you are one who does not put a lot of stock in the traditional statistics (and as a general rule, I do not), those numbers do not portend to a good result.

So watching Garland labor through 3 innings while throwing 84 pitches was no surprise.  One would think throwing that many pitches meant he wasn't pitching well.  In fact, he got 6 of those 9 outs via strikeout.  The John Buck 2-run shot in the second hurt, but what really killed him was the walk to Toronto starter Shaun Marcum with two out in the same inning.  In fact, it appeared Marcum got a borderline pitch called a ball on a 2-2 count, then proceeded to walk.

It also appeared that call got to Garland - as evidenced by the 2 doubles he then gave up, and the two looks he gave home plate umpire Larry Vanover as he left the field.  Garland eventually made it through 5, and allowed only one hit the rest of the way (a two-out single to Lyle Overbay in the fifth).

In the meantime, the Padres were hitting home runs too - except theirs came with no one on.  Jerry Hairston Jr homered to lead off the third, an inning after he was left in the batters box while Will Venable was caught stealing.  Adrian Gonzalez homered leading off the fourth, cutting the deficit in half. 

The Curious Case of Edward Mujica came on, and while he didn't give up a tater, he didn't disappoint by allowing another run to score.  With the score 5-2 the Padres finally got a look at the game.  Singles by Scott 'Big Country'* Hairston and Venable sandwiched Yorvit Torrealba reaching on an error by the Toronto shortstop Alex Gonzalez**.

*The stadium PA system played 'Big Country' by Big Country before Hairston's first at bat in the second inning.  He will forever be known as Big Country on this blog.

** Yorvit wore out Gonzalez in this game - single to short, ground out to short, reach on an error by short.  He didn't get a chance to go for the quad though...

Unfortunately, the Hairston Jr just missed a Marcum fastball and popped out to left.  Not deep enough to score the run.  The Gwynn Jr then hit a slow roller to third.  A run scored, but there were two out.  Oscar Salazer's soft line out to center ended the majority of the drama for this game.

That is, until the earthquake hit in the eighth.  I truly was not worried until the tremor kept going and going.  The PA announcement to 'REMAIN CALM' did more to excite the crowd than the earthquake did.  Of course, I immediately said, to no one in particular, "They're not out of coffee are they?  THEY BETTER NOT RUN OUT OF COFFEE!!!" fully realizing no one under 40 would get that joke.  Judging from the high school kids looking at me quizzically, they didn't.

The final excitement was Torrealba's final at bat of the night, with Big Country on first and no one out.  Based on Torrealba's reaction the pitch was inside; my seats did not support a good angle to see the pitch. Vanover called it strike three and Yorvit went ballistic.  Vanover stuck his finger in Torrealba's face (here we go again), and Torrealba got right in his grill.  Yorvit also bumped the umpire a couple of times.

Yorvit's going to get fined and probably suspended, and that's too bad.  I'll save my umpire rant for the Podcast.*

*I'll also point out that on my last Podcast I stated the Blue Jays had never played San Diego.  That's wrong, they faced off in San Diego back in 2004.  The Padres have never played in Toronto.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Curious Case of Edward Mujica

Edward Mujica has a bad case of Gopher-ball-itis in 2010, up to and including the decisive, mammoth shot he surrendered to Ike Davis on Tuesday in the eleventh.  Last year he gave up a home run about every 7 innings (14 in 93 2/3 innings pitched).  This year it's every four (8 in 29).  Is the 2010 trend a sign of worry?

For analysis like this, I find Fangraphs the best site to look at.  Comparing 2009 to 2010 we find:
  • Mujica's K/9, BB/9, WHIP, and BABIP are all better this year than they were in 2009.  In some cases, significantly so (like BABIP is currently 100 points better, .213 from .316)
  • He's throwing more ground balls (his GB/FB rate is up) and giving up fewer line drives (13.2% vice 17.2%0
  • His velocities are about the same:
    • Fastball averaging 92.4 (2010), 92.7 last year
    • Slider averaging 82.1, 82.7 last year
    • Split finger fastball averaging 87.5, 86.9 last year
  • Hitters contact rates are virtually identical to what they were last year.  Hitters are swinging at more pitches out of the zone, and Mujica is getting more swinging strikes.
By those metrics, there really isn't an explanation.  The only thing I can find is he's throwing a lot more splitter this year (up about 15%) than last, and he's not throwing as many fastballs (down 9%) and sliders (down 5%).  I don't know if favoring the split has led to a higher HR rate (it doesn't make sense, because the split is evaluated as his best pitch right now) or not, but it's the only major change Mujica seems to have made in 2010.

All his metrics indicate he's pitching better, but he's getting hammered by the long ball.  Odd. 

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

5 June San Diego SABR meeting Wrap-up

As I promoted last week, the San Diego SABR Chapter hosted the first of two mini-regionals on June 5.  The focus of the meeting was Andy Strasburg's Fantography project, his effort to preserve for posterity those great baseball photos we all have that may never be seen outside our families or Vacation slide shows.

Yes I realize many of you have never sat through Vacation photos at someone else's house, and have never seen a slide projector.  Ah for the days when all you needed was a light bulb and a blank wall to look at photos, instead of an HD TV or a $200 photo frame a memory stick plugged into.  But I digress.

Thirty-two baseball enthusiasts made their way to La Jolla for the meeting. That's slightly above average for a San Diego SABR event, and many thanks to all who attended.  Andy presented some of the photos he has collected during the project, and back story for many of them.  After Andy's remarks, a couple of folks who had contributed their photos talked about the ones they had donated.

David Nuffer speaks to the group (Photo:  Andy Strasburg)

Howard Frank tells his story (Photo:  Andy Strasburg)

Bret Moutow.  Yes even Cubs fans are welcome here (Photo: Andy Strasburg)

I make the Cub crack tongue-in-cheek.  As you know from attending Cub games, they have a large and vocal following in these here parts.  Some of them attend our SABR meetings regularly, and they contribute a lot to the chapter and the discussion.

At any rate, the meeting ran about 60 minutes, with a lot of discussion after it broke up among the attendees and Andy.  Sounds like a great event, I'm sorry I missed it.

Our next mini-regional meeting will be 19 June with current MLB Umpire Joe Cuzzi.  Grab you Dad and head to the La Jolla library.

(Thanks to Tom Larwin for providing the photos in this post.)

Padres drop a heartbreaker on Strasmus Day

In case you couldn't tear yourself away from the ancient and royal festivities surrounding Strasmus Day in our Nation's capital, the Padres played a tense game last night in New York.

(They say Stephen Strasburg walked on the Potomac as part of his game preparation.)

A Chase Headley single and Adrian Gonzalez double with one out in the first started the Padres off, and for a long while it looked like it would be enough.  Clayton Richard threw very well and had a shutout with two out in the seventh, when Jose Reyes hit the tying HR to left (although that shot would have to be confirmed via replay).

(Strasburg free climbs the Washington Monument as part of his strength and conditioning program.)

San Diego had opportunities to forge ahead.  Lance Zawadzki doubled with one out in the eighth and was left.  Scott Hairston got to second thanks to a David Wright throwing error and was stranded.  David Eckstein singled and was moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, but he stayed right there.  One only gets so many opportunities to win a game.

(Strasburg puts his pants on both legs at the same time without jumping.)

Based on bullpen usage during the Philadelphia series, Edward Mujica was the most rested arm down there as this game headed into extras.  Mujica has allowed the second most HR by a reliever in the NL behind only Juan Guitterez of Arizona, and he crept closer in that department as Ike Davis rounded the bases off him.  2-1 Mets in 11.

(Strasburg has sent his Mom flowers every day since he signed his ML contract.)

Coupled with another Dodger win, the Padres fell out of first place for the first time since April 19.  It doesn't get any easier for San Diego, they get Johan Santana again today.

The SABR mini-regional Saturday was a success, and I will have a post on that up later Wednesday.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Podcast time shift and San Diego SABR meetings

What a scintillating win for the Padres to close out a 9-game homestand - an Adrian Gonzalez walk-off Grand Slam.  The Padres went 6-3 over those nine games.  On May 24, these were the standings:
  • Padres
  • Dodgers 1 game back
  • Giants 3.5 games back
  • Rockies 4 games back
  • D'backs 6.5 games back.
Here they are today:
  • Padres
  • Dodgers 1 game back
  • Giants 3.5 games back
  • Rockies 4 games back
  • D'backs 12.5 games back.
It sucks when a team plays .667 ball and picks up no ground at all on their division.  Except the Diamondbacks, who might be the worst team in the NL right now.  It tells me the NL West is a much better division than I thought it would be coming into the season.  San Diego continues to have the best record in the league.

Two items for you today.  First, the Padres Trail Podcast is moving to 9pm Pacific starting tonight (that's 2100 for those of you in the military).  Although I'd like to say it's due to fan requests, it's actually because Burn Notice returns to USA tonight... at 10pm.  Three guesses where I'll be at 10:00.

Second item:  the San Diego SABR chapter has decided to start hosting 'mini-regional' meetings, in addition to our two semi-annual meetings.  The first of these two mini-regionals will be this Saturday, 5 June, at 10am, and will feature Andy Strasburg.  Andy is the Chapter Vice President, but he is two other things as well:  the creator of Fantography, currently on display at the SD Public Library Main Branch, and Roger Maris' biggest fan.

The second mini-regional will be 19 June at 9:30 am, and will feature current umpire Joe Cuzzi,  12-year MLB veteran.  Here's a unique opportunity to talk to one of the game's arbiters that may never pass your way again.  You can ask him about Jim Joyce if you want.

Both events will be held at the La Jolla/Riford Library, 7555 Draper Avenue, La Jolla, CA, 92037.  Admission and parking are free.

I most likely won't make the 5 June meeting due to a previous engagement, but I'm going to move heaven and earth to be at the 19 June one.  If you go to either, PLEASE tell the man at the door you heard about it at Padres Trail!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Do The Padres Need A Hitter?

One of the impressive things about this Padre start is what they've been able to do without much offense.  Coming into Tuesday's action, they had the third lowest wOBA in the National League, yet sported the league's best record.  Naturally their somewhat (somewhat?) anemic offense has started calls for the team to pick up a bat.

Last January, the San Diego SABR chapter was pleased to have Merv Rettenmund speak at one of their semi-annual meetings.  During that meeting, Rettenmund mentioned how Petco Park is very difficult to hit in during April/May, but that the ball "jumps" better once the summer starts.  Since 81 games a year are played at Petco, the park should play a big role in the team's month-to-month wOBA numbers*.  That, coupled with this year's team, got me thinking.  Has the Padre offense improved when the weather warms up, and can the Padres rely on this improvement to give them the 'jump' of offense they need to contend this summer without acquiring another bat?

*Granted, the monthly numbers will be affected by the number of home/road games played in that particular month.  I did not look at the schedules for each month when conducting this analysis.

Thanks to Fangraphs, I took a look at the Padre team wOBA, month by month, since Petco Park opened.  I included Mar-May 2010 in the data set, and threw out the high and low value for each month.  Here's a graph of the averages.

What I find interesting about this graph is, on average, the Padres struggle MORE to get on base once the summer starts (here summer is defined to start on Memorial Day.  Nothing if not a traditional outlook at Padres Trail).  The team wOBA is worse in June and July than it was in March/April, and May.  Note the big jump in August, and that jump is consistent across seasons (and talent levels of teams).

This tells me, although the ball may travel better once June 1 rolls around, it doesn't start jumping until August 1, and the Padres will continue to struggle offensively through 2/3 of the summer.  The team can't wait until August for an offensive boost.  A lot can happen in 60 days, including the Padres sinking completely out of contention.

There are a couple of positions on the diamond (most glaringly, shortstop, Jerry Hairston Jr's 3 HRs in the last 8 games not withstanding) where the Padres would be better off with a better bat.  I'm sure that Jed Hoyer's team, with their renewed emphasis on building a team that fits in Petco, has a list of candidates that could improve the team if on this roster.  It's probably time to start seriously looking at those options.

This team will contend all season given their pitching and defense.  It would be fantastic for their offense to get some help, and get them into the post-season.

(Here's the complete data set)