A look at the changes to the Padres oufield for 2016.

How About Some Offense AND Defense Please?
By Hugh Rothman
No team, it seems, is affected more by its outfielders than the San Diego Padres. In 2014, as I have stated several times before, the Padres offense was historically awful. And while the infield was pretty dreadful, it was the 2014 Padres outfield that truly dragged the team’s offense down to history making levels. In 2015, the Padres sported a completely revamped outfield which was a breath of fresh air to their fans who had suffered through the nightmares of far too many Will Venable at-bats. The 2015 Padres outfield was far more productive offensively. However, on the surface, the idea of having Justin Upton, Wil Myers, and Matt Kemp roaming the spacious fields of Petco Park seemed like a scary defensive experiment. It turns out that the results of said experiment were far scarier than anticipated.
A Brief Mention of 2014 – Or Seth Smith, We Turn Our Lonely Eyes to You
Seth Smith put up a .266/.367/.440 slash line for the 2014 Padres in 521 plate appearances, finishing second on the team with 12 homers. That’s not exactly star quality production, but it ain’t bad. Of course, it absolutely outpaces every other player who attempted to play outfield for the Padres in 2014. Are you ready for some ugly numbers? Hold on tight:
Plate Appearances
On-Base %
Slugging %
Will Venable
Cameron Maybin
Alexi Amarista
Chris Denorfia
Tommy Medica
Carlos Quentin
Rymer Liriano
Jake Goebbert
Abraham Almonte
  • Note: Amarista played in the infield as well. He had 197 plate appearances as an outfielder.
Wasn’t that fun?!? There’s more! Xavier Nady, of all people, rose from the dead and contributed a groovy .135/.238/.405 slash line with his 42 plate appearances before sinking back into the stinking, gurgling abyss where all zombies come from. I was personally surprised to see that even Jeff Francoeur, who is apparently on a whirlwind tour to ruin the offenses of every team in baseball, managed to sneak in 28 plate appearances. Naturally, Francoeur had to outdo all of these other outfielders by putting up a tasty .083/.179/.083 slash line that is beyond the pale in pure suckitude.
In short, this was an absolute embarrassment. Clearly, big changes had to be made.
2015 – I Got it! No, You Got it!
A.J. Preller immediately got to work and acquired Kemp, Myers, and Upton to play the outfield, relegating all other pretenders to the bench, or to triple-A, or to… somewhere (anywhere!) else. Alas, one of the victims of the purge was the venerable Seth Smith, but he did fetch a decent bullpen piece. Upton and Kemp had certainly shown they could hit and hit well in the past. Myers too, in his rookie season, had a very impressive campaign. So what happened?
Matt Kemp had a nightmarish start to the season. He didn’t hit his second homer until June. Eventually, he heated up in the second half to finish with a sort of respectable-ish .263/.312/.443 slash line, with a nice even 100 RBIs to boot. Offensively, this was not a disaster. Justin Upton had a different year. He started off reasonably hot, cooled off, got hot again, cooled off, and eventually finished with a .251/.336/.454 slash line. Again, very respectable, considering what the Padres had experienced in the prior year. Wil Myers hit .253/.336/.427 when he was healthy, which, alas, was not very often. Saving the day for the Padres when Myers was tending to his ouchies, was none other than Justin Upton’s brother Melvin, who returned from two disastrous seasons in Atlanta to actually contribute something to a team! His .257/.329/427 slash line as a center fielder was quite welcome, for the first time in 3 years.
However, there is another aspect to the game of baseball: defense. This is where there were significant problems. Let’s start with the good news: The Upton brothers were both ok with the glove. Their DRS numbers (defensive runs saved) were slightly above average. Their defensive WAR numbers were both above replacement level, although not by much. Unfortunately, Justin, the brother who can thump, left for greener pastures this year, but Melvin, the brother who might yet have something left to contribute, is still around to play left field.
Center field was manned by Wil Myers, at least, when the season began. Myers, who had only briefly played center in the minors, was on board with the move, reportedly working on angles and reads during the offseason and in spring training. Since Myers was the youngest and fastest of the three starting outfielders, and besides, the Padres didn’t have anyone else, it made sense to stick Myers in center and watch him prosper. The Padres were sort of following the Ferengi philosophy (the pure capitalists on Star Trek, Next Generation): Step 1: Acquire a youthful player, Step 2: Put him in center field, Step 3: Profit! It didn’t work out very well. First of all, Myers, for all of his preparation, still stank as a center fielder. The numbers aren’t pretty: He was on pace to have a DRS of -20 for the year. That would rank among the lowest numbers in baseball. His defensive WAR was -0.8. That’s pretty hard to do, especially considering that Myers hurt his wrist, was out for a month, came back for 3 days, and then was out for 10 weeks recovering from surgery on that very same wrist. There is no truth to the rumor that the Padres pitching staff were the ones who applied a Billy club whack to Myer’s wrist in the middle of the night, but it wouldn’t be shocking if those rumors were true! Eventually, he came back, but by then, thankfully, Melvin Upton had supplanted him in center. The Myers center field experiment was an abject failure because 1). He can’t play center field very well, and 2). He is too fragile to play there anyway. Myers moving to 1B in 2016 is a sensible move for everyone involved.
How about right field? That was manned by Matt Kemp, who used to be such a good fielder that he played center field back in the day. That was before his arthritic hips starting acting up. Nowadays, Kemp is not a reasonable candidate to play center field anymore. Unfortunately, his days in right field may be numbered as well because in a word, he is a disaster out there. Kemp had an offensive WAR of 2.2, which isn’t bad. Unfortunately, his defensive WAR was an incredible -2.4, which actually made Kemp a below replacement level player in 2015! His DRS was -15. His .972 fielding percentage was worst on the team. Sometimes numbers lie, and maybe Kemp really isn’t this bad. But no, not this time. He really is this bad. Unfortunately, the Padres have an obligation to pay Kemp a premium salary for the next 4 years. The ending could get ugly.
The result of the below-average outfield play from Myers and especially Kemp no doubt contributed to the decline of the pitching numbers. Even the average defense from the Upton brothers didn’t help the pitchers that much (but at least they didn’t hurt them). Will Venable and Cameron Maybin proved they are below average hitters, especially in 2014, but at least those two can play some serious defense. The 2015 Padres outfield had at best average defense from some of their outfielders, and well-below average defense from the rest. The venerable Bill James himself was quoted as saying that much of pitching is in fact, defense! How much did the pitching suffer due to sub-par defense in 2015? Using DRS, the Padres saved a total of 8 runs from their outfield defense in 2014, but gave up a total of 31 runs from their outfield defense in 2015. Thirty-nine runs, just from defense in the outfield, is a pretty big swing and undoubtedly hurt the pitching staff big time in 2015.
2016 – How About Both Offense AND Defense This Time?
Perhaps the Padres learned some valuable lessons over the last two years. You see… outfielders have to play offense AND defense. Anyway, Justin Upton predictably accepted a multi-year contract of many millions to ply his trade in Detroit. Yonder Alonzo was jettisoned to Oakland, making room for Wil Myers to play 1B. Melvin Upton was still around, and his promising half-season was enough to convince the Padres brass that he still could contribute. Albatross Matt Kemp is still around. At least one more outfielder was needed. Seth Smith, sadly, was not available. Instead, the Padres traded for the former Cardinals centerfielder Jon Jay.
Jon Jay was a typical Cardinal: he wasn’t a high draft pick, he didn’t have particularly outstanding tools, he wasn’t a power hitter. Yet, at every level, all he did was hit, including in the majors. His career batting average is .287 and he enjoyed success in every year of his career, except for last season, which was quite terrible. Various injuries were to blame, including wrist problems, which concerned the Cardinals enough to consider trading him. The Padres, who were all too happy to rid themselves of Jedd Gyorko and his ridiculous contract, took the plunge. If Jay is back to full health, there is no reason to think he can’t be the leadoff hitter the Padres have pined for since the days of Bip Roberts, at least for a couple more years. Jay is just the sort of player that may be perfect for Petco Park. He can hit for average, doesn’t have much power, and can play a solid center field. A pretty good pick up for the Padres… if he is fully healthy.
Matt Kemp is Matt Kemp. He is one year older, his hips are not getting any better, and his best position nowadays might be designated hitter. But alas, the Padres have no choice but to pay him, play him, and hope for the best. I repeat: this won’t end well.
Melvin Upton is… well, who knows what he is. He could be the exciting player who looked crazy good with the Tampa Rays. Or, he could be the rotting corpse that played for the Braves the last couple years. My guess is that it is something in between, that at the very least, Melvin Upton is once again able to contribute enough to help a team. The Padres will welcome anything they can get from Melvin considering they have to pay him a princely sum as well.
Backing up these guys are a couple youngsters: Travis Jankowski and Jabari Bash… er Blash. Jankowski is a speedster with little power and Blash is a monster power hitter with no plate discipline to speak of. It makes sense for the Padres to have both of these players on the bench with the hope that one, if not both of them will break out. It won’t happen. Jankowski doesn’t hit well enough to make up for his lack of power and Blash doesn’t recognize a ball from a strike most of the time. Jankowski is 25 and Blash is 26 so this is who they are, for the most part. The Padres could (and have) done worse for backups. Rymer Liriano, at least, is thankfully no longer in the picture, nor is Jake Goebbels, whoever he is (see that 2014 chart above!).
This is not a championship outfield. The Padres have a decent center fielder in Jay, an ok left fielder (at best) in Upton, and an above-average offensive but below-average defensive right fielder in Kemp. It is unlikely that the Padres will suffer 2016 with a historically bad offensive outfield like they did in 2014, or a significantly below-average defensive outfield in 2015, but being “average” or more likely, a bit below-average overall, is not enough to push a team to a championship.

Author: elfuego25

When I'm not writing about baseball (or shoving kettle corn into my mouth at the ballpark), I am probably walking Daisy, who is a very good dog, researching my Portuguese-Irish roots, or wondering when my lovely wife will return from her latest fabulous trip. Yes, life is good!

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