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March 25, 2007

Hope and Faith

How the San Diego Padres Can Win the World Series

by Marc Normandin

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Brad talks with Marc Normandin about the Padres' chances on Baseball Prospectus Radio. Click to download the mp3.

The 2006 Padres finished the season with 88 wins-including a gaudy 13-5 record against their rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers-and this was in a season where Vinny Castilla accumulated ample playing time for a few months, staff ace Jake Peavy was off his rhythm for the first half, and former star outfielder Brian Giles lost his ability to hit for any semblance of power. This is a team that has won the division the past two seasons, even when most analysts did not think that would be the case either year, and this version is more than likely the most talented of the bunch. There are plenty of reasons to harbor hope and faith for the 2007 edition of the Padres.

Rather than sit still and see if the team could sneak out another division title, the front office kept itself busy with trades and signings aplenty over the winter. The Friars traded second-year second basemen Josh Barfield for prospect #52 on Kevin Goldstein's Top 100, Kevin Kouzmanoff. PECOTA is high on Kouzmanoff, forecasting a .290/.348/.499 line with 31.4 VORP at third base, whereas the 2006 club featured Russell Branyan, Todd Walker, Manny Alexander, Mark Bellhorn, and the recently discovered black hole that scientists have codenamed 'Vinny Castilla'. Apparently, this Castilla phenomenon is a place from which no offense can escape, lest you keep him well above sea level.

Those five players combined for -14.3 VORP and an aggregate batting line of .230/.304/.356, which even a struggling Kouzmanoff should be able to improve upon. If that fails, Branyan remains on the team, and he was one of the few tried out at third base last year who actually contributed, hitting .292/.416/.556. Third base is not the only position where the Padres should improve, as new second basemen Marcus Giles-claimed off of waivers from Atlanta-should be able to bounce back from a disappointing campaign in 2006 to give the Padres a viable leadoff option, while also allowing for more depth in the lineup.

Josh Bard most likely will not replicate his standout campaign from 2006 where he hit .338/.406/.537, but this lost production should be made up elsewhere; besides the aforementioned Kouzmanoff and Giles acquisitions, some of the younger players, like Adrian Gonzalez and Khalil Greene, should be able to improve upon last year's performances. PECOTA expects Gonzalez to lose a little offensive value, forecasting a .289/.355/.481 line, but Gonzalez should be capable of more than that. In Gonzalez's first 130 at-bats, he hit a paltry .231/.290/.369, and the Padres looked like they would miss Ryan Klesko's bat more than they initially thought. For the rest of the season, Gonzalez hit .325/.384/.539, including a .312/.366/.512 line at home in the pitcher's haven of Petco Park. Expecting more out of Gonzalez than PECOTA suggests is a safe assumption, and one that gives the Padres a little more hypothetical pop in their lineup.

As for Khalil Greene, the problem seemingly isn't that he hasn't yet figured out how to hit, it's that he has not figured out how to hit at home. His platoon split against right-handers and left-handers is negligible, but the difference between his home and road numbers is staggering: .236/.306/.361 at Petco and .277/.340/.507 on the road from 2004-2006. Considering that David Pinto's Probabilistic Model of Range has Khalil Greene ranked as one of the top five defensive shortstops in the league-in a season where he only played in 121 games-not hitting at home is not as much of an issue as it would be for some, but if he were to improve at the plate in Petco, it would add to a lineup that has more ability than many give it credit for.

Brian Giles slumped considerably in 2006, but was able to keep his on-base percentage up. He was still a league average player despite the drop in offensive production, but PECOTA forecasts a bounce back season of sorts, with a .282/.394/.460 line. Considering his line drive rate was well down from where it normally stands for Giles, this is not a line out of his reach, and if Giles were to bow to the wishes of PECOTA, the Padres would be more than happy to accept this boost to their lineup.

The Friars' bench is strong, with some combination of Jose Cruz Jr., Paul McAnulty, Geoff Blum, Manny Alexander, Rob Bowen, Branyan and Walker filling in when necessary. Excepting Alexander, that is quite the collection of players with severe platoon splits, valuable late game bats, or defensive abilities that could help in the late innings, or when one of their more hittable pitchers is on the mound. One thing the Padres have been able to do well the past few years in the absence of an overly strong rotation or lineup is to add wins on the margins, by building from bullpen strength, the bench, and the team defense, which led the league in Defensive Efficiency in 2006.

This remains one of the top defensive teams in the league, with Greene, Marcus Giles, Gonzalez, Bard, and Mike Cameron all very good to stellar defensive players. This defense, combined with their home park, is a great boon to a pitching staff that is plenty talented on its own. Besides running out one of the most talented bullpens in the league-anchored by Trevor Hoffman, the highly underrated Scott Linebrink and Cla Meredith-the Padres have one of the deepest rotations in the National League.

Peavy was a very unlucky pitcher in the first half of the season, but he pitched very well in the second half, only allowing a .237/.311/.387 opponent line from the All-Star break onward. PECOTA has no qualms with Peavy in 2007, projecting a PERA of 3.58 and 45.5 VORP. Combined with Chris Young, who established himself very well with a quality sophomore campaign in 2006, the Padres have one of the most intimidating 1-2 punches in the league.

Throw in another year from Clay Hensley (4.07 PERA, 187 innings in 2006) along with a full season-before you laugh, this is Hope and Faith, remember?-of David Wells (3.06 PERA in just 28.3 innings for San Diego) as well as the production of newcomer Greg Maddux (4.37 PERA, 137 innings forecasted by PECOTA) and you have yourself a very deep one through five rotation. If or when one of these five succumbs to injury, Mike Thompson and Tim Stauffer should be there to plug the leak, with Thompson more likely to keep the floodgates shut for a longer period of time. PECOTA feels the Friars have a few replacement level spot starters in the mix, which is all a team really needs for a few starts spread out here and there.

Overall, the Padres have a deeper lineup than last year thanks to the additions of Kevin Kouzmanoff and Marcus Giles, a defense that should be roughly on par with last year's excellent effort, another fantastic looking bullpen and a quality bench, as well as a rotation that is probably the deepest and most talented of any Padre rotation in recent memory-I know Joey Hamilton and Sterling Hitchcock helped them get to a World Series, but let's be serious for a moment here-and you have a team that has no problem digging up plenty of that Seligian hope and faith.

Brad talks with Marc Normandin about the Padres' chances on Baseball Prospectus Radio.



Click to download mp3


Marc Normandin is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. You can reach Marc by clicking here or click here to see Marc's other articles. You can find some of Marc's other work here.
Related Content:  Brian Giles

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Premium Article Hope and Faith: How th... (03/26)
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The Week in Quotes: Ma... (03/26)

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