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August 29, 2001

The Daily Prospectus

Not Again...

by Joe Sheehan

I have shamefully little credibility on the following topic, less so than I do on Paul Wilson or on speaking French or on dunk techniques. So read the following with a salt shaker by your side, and for some history, check out this piece from last year, or this one from earlier in 2001.

(Dear Craig: sorry, man. It has to be done.)

The San Diego Padres are 6 1/2 games out of the National League wild-card spot. The small-market, traded-two-starting-pitchers-at-the-deadline, way-off-radar San Diego Padres are within a hot week of controlling their postseason destiny. They took the first game of a huge three-game series with the Cardinals to move to within four games of the Redbirds, and they get the Diamondbacks in their backyard over the weekend.

How did this happen? The Padres were supposed to be marking time until their new park was ready, an event that now looks like it will occur sometime during Gary Condit's second presidential term. Left to play the little brother to a bad franchise in a football stadium, GM Kevin Towers did a good job of locking in a good, low-cost offense while acquiring and developing a host of capable, albeit low-upside, starters. The Padres are third in the NL in runs (second only to the teams that play in Coors Field and Enron), in a virtual dead heat for the league lead in Equivalent Average, have a better Pythagorean record than all but four NL teams, and are getting quality work from all five starters, none of whom had a big-league job nine months ago.

That last part has been the key. The Padre offense was the surprise of the early part of the year, as Rickey Henderson and Bubba Trammell stepped in to provide good OBPs in the outfield corners. Henderson has faded a bit, and Trammell's playing time has been cut a little, but the pitching has picked up the slack. Since Sterling Hitchcock and Woody Williams were sent to New York and St. Louis bracketing the trade deadline, here's what the Pads have gotten from the rotation:


                  ERA       IP
Bobby Jones:     5.67   33 1/3
Brian Tollberg:  3.73   31 1/3
Brian Lawrence:  2.84   31 2/3
Junior Herndon:  2.51   32 1/3
Kevin Jarvis:    2.76   32 2/3

That's not dominant, but it's been more than enough to support an offense that is quietly excellent. Of the ten guys currently getting the most playing time, D'Angelo Jimenez sports the worst EqA at .255. An average EqA is .260, so the Padre lineup is within striking distance of being Lake Woebegon's adopted children: all above average.

The success of the offense this season is no secret: the Padres lead the NL in walks, contributing to a #3 rank in OBP and making up for slugging percentage and home-run totals among the NL's worst. The pitching staff owes the success it has had to control of the strike zone, too: they rank third in the NL in fewest walks allowed.

Earlier this season, I trumpeted the "Walk Gap," as a quick-and-dirty way of seeing which teams controlled the strike zone. Simply put, it's the difference between walks allowed and walks drawn (ESPN.com's Rob Neyer is the person who introduced the idea, at least to me), and I like it as a measure of a team's attention to the strike zone. The Padres' Walk Gap of +220 is the largest in the NL by more than 100.

While I like what the Padres have done, I'm not making any predictions. The Padres could use some bullpen help, and maybe asking Junior Herndon and Kevin Jarvis to be good for four more weeks is a recipe for disaster. My point, though, is the same as it was a year ago: any team this close to a postseason berth this late in the season deserves to be treated, and covered as such, no matter the size of their revenues or the challenges of their market. The Padres are in the playoff mix, and no amount of Chicken Little yammering changes that fact.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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