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September 29, 2014

Pebble Hunting

The Padres' Sad Team Leaders

by Sam Miller

I remember the 1987 Cardinals team-leader card, where on the back it said the most home runs hit by any Cardinal the previous season was 13, by Andy Van Slyke. That was absurd, and it was so absurd that I had to explore further, and upon further exploration I learned my first lesson in team building: The Cardinals, with that artificial turf, were built for speed. They stole 262 bases. They didn't need to hit home runs, except inasmuch as they finished with the fewest runs scored in the National League and a .600 OPS. That was a fun team-leader card. It was an educational team-leader card.

Next year's Padres team-leader card is not going to be as fun. It'll be dispiriting, it'll be disorienting, and if it teaches you anything it'll be how to spell "Gyorko." But there is fun to be had with it, and this is the Fun Fact portion of this post:

Player HR BA RBI
Adam Jones 29 .281 96
Adrian Beltre 19 .325 77
Adrian Gonzalez 26 .273 113
Albert Pujols 28 .271 105
Alexei Ramirez 15 .273 74
Andrew McCutchen 25 .314 83
Anthony Rendon 21 .288 83
Anthony Rizzo 31 .283 76
Aramis Ramirez 15 .287 66
Buster Posey 21 .310 87
Carlos Gomez 23 .284 73
Charlie Blackmon 19 .287 72
Corey Dickerson 24 .312 76
Devin Mesoraco 25 .276 80
Edwin Encarnacion 34 .268 98
Freddie Freeman 18 .289 77
Giancarlo Stanton 37 .288 105
Hunter Pence 20 .278 74
Ian Kinsler 16 .272 90
J.D. Martinez 23 .315 76
Jacoby Ellsbury 16 .271 70
Jayson Werth 16 .292 82
Jose Abreu 36 .317 107
Jose Bautista 35 .286 103
Justin Morneau 17 .319 82
Justin Upton 29 .270 102
Kole Calhoun 17 .273 58
Kyle Seager 25 .270 96
Marcell Ozuna 23 .269 85
Matt Adams 15 .288 68
Matt Holliday 20 .272 90
Matt Kemp 24 .284 87
Melky Cabrera 16 .301 73
Michael Brantley 20 .327 97
Miguel Cabrera 25 .315 109
Mike Morse 16 .279 61
Mike Trout 36 .288 111
Neil Walker 22 .270 75
Nelson Cruz 40 .273 108
Nolan Arenado 18 .287 61
Pablo Sandoval 16 .278 73
Paul Goldschmidt 19 .300 69
Ryan Braun 19 .268 81
Todd Frazier 29 .274 79
Torii Hunter 17 .288 82
Troy Tulowitzki 21 .340 52
Victor Martinez 32 .337 103
Yan Gomes 21 .278 74
Yasiel Puig 16 .297 69

Each of those 49 players would have been the Padres' Triple Crown winner. Forty-nine players would have led the Padres in all three categories. It's easy to do, whether you're

  • A superstar, like Mike Trout
  • Not that good at most parts of baseball, like Mike Morse
  • Currently drinking your meals, like Giancarlo Stanton
  • A distant memory of this season, like Paul Goldschmidt
  • A huge disappointment, like (at least in some categories) Yasiel Puig
  • A leadoff hitter, like Kole Calhoun
  • A player released by the Houston Astros within the past 12 months, like J.D. Martinez
  • Likely to be out of the league in about four years, like Charlie Blackmon
  • A below-average hitter, like Ian Kinsler
  • One billion years old and barely replacement level, like Torii Hunter

I love Fun Facts, but I don't love all facts that are fun. A Fun Fact, in my observation, usually checks multiple boxes, as this one (which was inspired by Ryan Kaltenbach, and powered by the Play Index at Baseball Reference) does:

It usually tells you something about the era. In this case, a team Triple Crown winner hitting .268 with 15 homers and 51 RBIs (and note that the Padres got these achievements out of three separate players: Seth Smith, Yasmani Grandal, and Jedd Gyorko) would have been not just incredible, improbable, but more or less impossible through most of the years of our baseball lifetimes. In 2006, just eight years ago, 100 players matched all three totals. In 1994—in 1994!!!—there were 46 such player seasons. The fact that the Padres have team leaders hitting .268 with 15 homers and 51 RBIs tells us just how far offense has sunk, and the fact that we see this primarily as a LOLPadres moment (partially justified, of course) tells us how our perceptions always lag, and we've always got a few brain cells that are a few years behind.

***

It often tells you something about the subject that you didn't quite know. You knew that the Padres didn't have a good offense already, and you might have sensed that they had such a bad offense that this sort of thing would be possible, but what you might not have realized is: Practically nobody on the Padres played a full season. Seth Smith is the only hitter who managed to qualify for the batting title. He did it by 18 plate appearances.

The Padres, then, were quietly the unluckiest team in the National League. Through early August, at least, they had the most disabled list days and the highest percentage of salary lost to injury of any NL team, behind only the Rangers in all of baseball. It was easy to miss this fact because there were no expectations for the Padres in the first place. But when you compare the experience of cheering for the Padres this year (one qualified hitter) with cheering for the Royals (eight, along with Mike Moustakas, who came up just two plate appearances short), you realize what a different sport it was in San Diego.

***

It usually tells a lie, too. Not a malicious lie, not something that pivots on some fundamental untruth, but more like a magician's patter: don't look at that thing, focus on this thing. In this case, the underemphasized detail is Petco Park. The Padres weren't totally without good hitters. Seth Smith would have been, by some adjusted measures, the second most productive hitter on the Rockies, who have five Padres Triple Crowners. Further, when's the last time you heard us talk about batting average and RBIs on this site? That's the dead giveaway: This is a Fun Fact.

But we accept the lie because it sparkles up a core truth, one that is worth knowing and one that we might not otherwise pick out of a warehouse of facts that are merely notable. In this case, the core truth is that the Padres' offense was really, truly horrendous, one for the ages. They had the worst True Average in the majors and the worst OPS+. They had the worst road OPS in baseball, and that's without ever playing a single road game at Petco Park. (They even had the fourth-worst baserunning in baseball.) You might have tried to interrupt me, midway through this, probably in the qualified-for-the-batting-title part, to say, "yeah, that's because they traded two of their best players at the deadline." Oh, sure. They traded Chase Headley and Chris Denorfia. Headley was hitting .229 with seven homers and 32 RBIs at the time of the late-July trade. Denorfia was hitting .242 with one homer and 16 RBIs. Those were their two tradeable assets! Those guys!

***

The Padres had, then, the worst offense in baseball, in the least hitter-friendly ballpark in baseball, in the most pitcher-friendly era of Seth Smith's lifetime. And that, ultimately, is where this Fun Fact takes us: There are basically three things that affect a team's offensive bottom line: their ability, their home park, and their sport. All conspired to make the Padres fail to score runs, and the Padres did, indeed, fail to score runs. They could have fought it, but in this life you usually need one ally. The Padres had no allies. They were the weakest pig in the litter, and they simply died of it.

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

Related Content:  San Diego Padres

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