Padres: A Look Into Their First-Half
The Padres entered the All-Star Break taking three of four from MLB’s best team, continuing what has been a solid first step back towards contention.
A 45-45 record usually isn’t anything to be celebratory about, but if you are the San Diego Padres, it’s something to take solace in. This is a franchise that nothing has gone particularly good for historically, as they perpetually find themselves in a rebuild of sorts, having not made the playoffs since 2006.
But they just went into Los Angeles and won three in a row, putting themselves on track to crack 80 wins for the first time since 2010.
2019 was supposed to be the beginning of a new era. They had just signed 26-year-old superstar, Manny Machado in free agency, housed an elite closer, possessed the stable Eric Hosmer at first base, and were loaded with the preseason’s top farm system. Things were supposed to be different this time; this was a rebuild that was supposed to work.
Playoffs weren’t expected immediately, but the first step in the right direction towards legitimate postseason contention was assumed. But their 20th-ranked offense and 15th-ranked team ERA, per FanGraphs, show that this squad still has significant flaws to address before getting to where they want to.
But for such a young team, whose majority of talent is still in the minors, a .500 record through 90 games- and two games out of a playoff spot- isn’t too shabby, especially when playing in a relatively competitive division (one that houses the 60-32 Dodgers). And they have had a top-ten offense since June 1, which is around the time key players came back from injury or shook off the rust.
So you can say it’s neither great nor disappointing; instead, meeting rational expectations leaning towards positivity.
After being a league-average offensive player in 2018, Hosmer has taken a step forward, albeit an incremental one. Manny Machado’s slow start has skewed what has been an otherwise solid debut season thus far (but nowhere near $30-million-a-year good).
It’s been their young and/or cheaper players that have done most of the damage. 24-year-old Franmil Reyes already has 25 home runs at the All-Star Break in his first full season, while Hunter Renfroe is slugging an excellent .613 with 27 home runs. But they haven’t been the only standouts for the Padres in 2019.
MVP- Fernando Tatis Jr.
The rookie has been limited to 55 games thus far, but he’s already shown why he was a consensus top-two prospect in the game heading into 2019 and why he’s viewed as a future superstar.
In 234 plate appearances, the 20-year-old (yes, 20) is hitting .327/.393/.620 with 14 home runs, 13 stolen bases, and a 166 OPS+. He leads the Padres in everything but homers, and if he had the minimum amount of plate appearances to qualify, Tatis Jr. would have been fifth in batting average, tied for tenth in on-base percentage, and seventh in slugging in all of baseball.
Among players with at least 230 plate appearances, the rookie is eighth in batting average, tied for 12th in on-base, eight in slugging, and sixth in OPS, per FanGraphs. He also has a terrific .416 wOBA (5th) and 162 wRC+ (5th).
But those may not even be his most impressive feats. First, he’s doing all this from the shortstop position, which makes his production that much more premium. And second, he has a 3.3 bWAR in just 55 games. And why is that second point important?
It puts him on pace for a 9.72 WAR, which would have placed him third among position players and fifth among all players this year and last. And again, he’s just 20.
For comparison, Mike Trout .329/.399/.564 with 30 home runs, 49 stolen bases, and a 168 OPS+ as a 19-year-old rookie. In other words, Tatis Jr. is already playing at an MVP-level at such a young age, and historically, most his age can’t relate.
Cy Young- Kirby Yates
The Padres have a guy who should eventually be contending for Cy Young awards soon, but we’ll get to him later. Instead, let’s focus on the guy that has been San Diego’s best pitcher, inning for inning: closer, Kirby Yates. And what hasn’t he done?
The 30-year-old owns a minuscule 1.15 ERA and 0.79 WHIP with a 60:9 KK/BB ratio in 39 innings and a 1.38 FIP that shows his dominance has been legitimate. He leads all qualified relievers in ERA, FIP, WAR, and home runs allowed (one). He’s third in WHIP, fifth in strikeouts-per-nine (13.85), and second in strikeout percentage (40.5%).
Yates has continued the dominance he broke out with last season and has elevated himself into the upper-echelon of relief pitchers. Whether he’s in the Padres’ long-term picture or not, they have a premium commodity which would be extremely valuable with them or in a trade.
Best Rookie- Chris Paddack
Tatis Jr. has been the Padres’ most outstanding rookie and position player, but let’s use this section to point out another one of San Diego’s excellent first-timers, Chris Paddack.
Armed with a strong fastball and nasty secondary stuff, the 23-year-old has been everything the franchise could have asked for out of a rookie starting pitcher, posting a 2.84 ERA and 0.923 WHIP with 87 strikeouts in 82.1 innings.
He started the season off with a 1.55 ERA in his first seven starts before being roughed up in four of five outings between May and June and ultimately demoted for 11 days to reset himself. Since coming back, he’s allowed just three runs in 16.2 innings.
He’s been a bit lucky overall in 2019, with a .224 BABIP (.300 is average) and 3.78 FIP indicating signs of eventual regression, but many pitchers experience such fortune, and as a rookie, we can’t hold this against him too much. Instead, the Padres should be happy that they have the frontline starter they feared they were missing before the season and an anchor atop the rotation for years to come.
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