SweetSpot: San Diego Padres

2012 predictions you couldn't predict?

February, 18, 2012
Last year, You Can't Predict Baseball came up with bold predictions for the year. We had a lot of fun coming up with them, and then laughing at how hilariously wrong they were at the end of the year. This year, we're bringing these predictions to SweetSpot, along with explanations for some of them. Keep in mind, these predictions are supposed to be bold, but not insane -- even we know the Orioles aren't going to the playoffs in 2012.

Los Angeles Angels: Kendrys Morales stays healthy all year.

Houston Astros: Bud Norris is top five in K/9 in the NL. We figured something good had to happen to the Astros, right? Norris actually has a pretty nice career K/9.

Oakland Athletics: Yoenis Cespedes is their starting center fielder by Memorial Day.

Toronto Blue Jays: Brandon Morrow makes the jump to elite starting pitcher. He's struck out more than 10 batters per 9 innings two years running, though his ERAs have remained ugly. We think this is the year his results finally match the stuff, especially considering his declining walk rate.

Atlanta Braves: Julio Teheran has more wins than Tim Hudson.

[+] EnlargeRickie Weeks
AP Photo/David J. PhillipWith Prince Fielder gone to Detroit and Ryan Braun facing possible disciplinary action, Rickie Weeks could lead the Milwaukee Brewers in home runs in 2012.
Milwaukee Brewers: Rickie Weeks leads the team in home runs. He was fourth on the team last year, with 20. In front of him were Corey Hart with 26, Ryan Braun with 33, and Prince Fielder with 38. Fielder is gone, and for this prediction we'll assume Braun will miss a third of the year due to a suspension. It's not too bold to think Weeks could pass Hart in 2012.

St. Louis Cardinals: Carlos Beltran outproduces Albert Pujols from last year. Albert Pujols was great last year, but not quite best-player-of-his-generation Albert Pujols. If healthy, it's not absurd to think of Beltran outproducing Pujols' 5.1 WAR in 2011.

Chicago Cubs: Matt Garza isn't their best pitcher. It'll be Ryan Dempster, who had great peripherals but bad results last year.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Aaron Hill will be good again. He was great with them in limited time, and Arizona's park is quite hitter-friendly.

Los Angeles Dodgers: James Loney will be a top-three first baseman in the National League. Many thanks to Mike Scioscia's Tragic Illness for somewhat alerting us to this one. We just decided to take it semi-absurdly far.

San Francisco Giants: Madison Bumgarner is their best pitcher. In terms of ERA, he already wasn't very far behind Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, and his K/BB ratio eclipsed theirs by quite a bit.

Cleveland Indians: They'll have the best pitching in the American League Central. We're banking on Ubaldo Jimenez, making a major comeback to something closer to what he was in 2010, and the rest of the staff displaying the good that they did in 2011. We're also counting on the Tigers' starters not being very impressive behind Justin Verlander, which is bold but not quite insane, and the pitching of the White Sox, Twins and Royals not being able to keep up with Cleveland's.

Seattle Mariners: Jesus Montero catches 100-plus games. The Mariners probably aren't going to compete, so why not try and play him where he'll accrue the most value?

Miami Marlins: Despite all their new acquisitions and the hype, they still finish fourth in the NL East. When you think about it, this one isn't so crazy. If Josh Johnson isn't healthy and maybe even if he is their pitching still trails that of Philadelphia, Washington, and Atlanta; even with Heath Bell, we don't think their bullpen is as good, either. Their offense might be better than some of those teams', but the Marlins were quite a bit below league average offensively last year and we're not sure how much Jose Reyes is going to make up for that.

New York Mets: Mike Pelfrey is the worst starter in the NL. Pelfrey's been pretty terrible two of the past three years, and now they're moving the fences in at Citi Field. He was far better in his huge home stadium, but we're guessing with the moved-in walls he'll be significantly worse at Citi. Here at YCPB, we actually don't think the Mets are going to be quite as dire as many are saying, even if they do come in last place in the NL East - but Pelfrey won't be a bright spot.

Washington Nationals: Stephen Strasburg has a 17-strikeout game.

Baltimore Orioles: Matt Wieters is the best catcher in the AL. A lot of people are so obsessed with Wieters not matching the hype that they didn't notice he became a plus offensive performer last year, to go along with very good defense. His taking the next step isn't that bold as predictions go, especially if Joe Mauer has to move off catcher.

San Diego Padres: Luke Gregerson is a top-three closer in the NL.

Philadelphia Phillies: Cole Hamels is their best starter. And this isn't meant to be a slight to Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee, but considering their ages and the fact that Hamels is pretty darn good himself, plus a possible boost from a contract year...

Pittsburgh Pirates: Charlie Morton is their All-Star.

Texas Rangers: Yu Darvish isn't their best starter -- but he's still good. And we think he'll be pretty good, we just think Derek Holland will become more consistently good, or Matt Harrison will put up numbers like his 2011.

Tampa Bay Rays: James Shields will have no complete games. Predicting someone to have no complete games might not seem bold, but it is when it's a guy who was known as "Complete Game James" last season. Shields did have 11 complete games in 2011, an almost unheard-of number these days, but he had no complete games in 2009 or 2010.

[+] EnlargeJames Shields
Kim Klement/US PresswireAfter none in either 2009 or 10, James Shields pitched 11 complete games for Tampa Bay in 2011.
Boston Red Sox: No one hits 30 home runs. This might seem crazy when you consider their great offensive numbers last year, but only one player on their team hit 30 home runs and it was Jacoby Ellsbury with 32.

Cincinnati Reds: Brandon Phillips is the best second baseman in the NL.

Colorado Rockies: Jamie Moyer will have the best HR/9 on the staff.

Kansas City Royals: They reach .500. While their pitching won't be great, their offense will take a big step forward this year. Combined with the rest of their division being the Tigers and some dumpster fires, it's not that difficult to see it happening.

Detroit Tigers: They score fewer runs than they did in 2011. Yes, that’s even with Fielder. It's not improbable that Jhonny Peralta, Alex Avila and Delmon Young regress quite a bit from their numbers with Detroit last year, and that Prince Fielder's production "only" makes up for the offensive loss of Victor Martinez in 2012. They'll still have a very good offense, though.

Minnesota Twins: Joe Mauer hits 15 home runs.

Chicago White Sox: Robin Ventura gets ejected more times than Ozzie Guillen. Look at the state of the White Sox. We'd get ejected too.

New York Yankees: Hiroki Kuroda leads the team in ERA.

You Can't Predict Baseball is an affiliate of the SweetSpot network.

Cameron Maybin a good bet for Padres

November, 16, 2010
I read three different pieces about last week's Marlins-Padres deal -- for example, here and here -- without seeing a single mention of what I consider the primary driving force in the deal: Cameron Maybin's minor-league statistics.

To this point, Maybin has failed his major league trial. He hasn't failed it badly. In 2009, he was decent in his 54 games with the Marlins. In 2010, he was less than decent in his 82 games with the Marlins.

Maybin has 610 plate appearances in the majors, which is equivalent to roughly one full season (with a day off, here and there). His numbers include 172 strikeouts and a .313 on-base percentage, neither of which are really acceptable for a player without a great deal of power.

But that's not really the player the Padres traded for. The Padres traded for the player with (roughly) three full seasons in the minor leagues and a .393 on-base percentage, not to mention a .478 slugging percentage and a significantly lower strikeout rate.

Now, the majors are harder than the minors (one point to the Boy Wonder for obviousness!). But the majors aren't that much harder than Triple-A, and Maybin's Triple-A numbers are fantastic. For a fine defensive center fielder, anyway.

Of course the Padres already have one of those in young(ish) Tony Gwynn. The problem is that Gwynn isn't likely to hit much, ever. He's such a wonderful fielder that you can live with his hitting, but you would rather not.

Maybin might not hit. There are 610 plate appearances suggesting that he won't. But there are nearly three times as many plate appearances -- his time in the minors, and he's still only 23 -- suggesting that he will hit, if given the time.

If Maybin does hit, he'll be more than worth the two relief pitchers the Padres gave up to get him. If he doesn't? You live with a decision that didn't work out. If you're not willing to trade two relievers for a young every-day player with potential, you might as well get out of the baseball business and find a real job.

Padres' wings, prayers not quite enough

October, 3, 2010
Chris DenorfiaJed Jacobsohn/MLB Photos/Getty ImagesOutfielder Chris Denorfia and the Padres fell just short on Sunday.
SAN FRANCISCO -- There are games you analyze, and there are games you watch.

The game that decided the National League West and two postseason berths was the sort of game you just watch.

After 161 games, what was Bud Black supposed to do? His team hasn't been scoring lately, but then his team really hasn't scored much all season (or last season, or the season before that). The front office worked hard all summer and did add Ryan Ludwick and Miguel Tejada to the lineup.

But Ludwick didn't hit much and Tejada won his MVP Award a long, long time ago. Black spent all season cobbling together lineups -- and especially outfields -- from a menagerie of spare parts and Triple-A guys and other teams' rejects. The Padres rarely scored, and when they did score without Adrian Gonzalez' help it was usually a minor miracle.

So they had to pitch. And when it came to the first through the sixth innings, they had to pitch mostly with guys you'd never heard of. Jake Peavy? Gone. Chris Young? Hurt. They pitched with guys named Latos and Richard and Stauffer and LeBlanc and Correia. Talented young men, to be sure. But nobody's idea, six months ago, of a pennant-winning rotation.

From the seventh through the ninth, it was quite a bit easier. Most games, Black literally had seven guys in the bullpen who were really, really, really good. It's actually sort of phenomenal, to have that many relief pitchers with strikeout-to-walk ratios so many pitchers would die for. Edward Mujica, who hit a little rough patch in September and didn't get to pitch against the Giants this weekend, struck out 72 hitters this season and walked six. Ernesto Frieri (who did pitch against the Giants, briefly) struck out 41 batters in 32 innings. And those were the relievers Bud Black did not particularly trust.

So they had to pitch, and they had to pray. When you're picked to finish in last place and you've got one of the lowest payrolls in the National League, you've got to pray a little.

For most of the season, that recipe -- Adrian Gonzalez, pitching, prayer -- worked really well.

Beginning on the 26th of August, it stopped working. The Padres lost 10 straight games, and their lead in the West went from six-and-a-half games to one game. They eventually lost their lead, but stayed exceptionally close to the Giants until losing three of four games to the Cubs last week, in San Diego. In the three losses, they scored two runs.

That left them needing a miracle this weekend.

They almost got it. They broke through with six runs Friday and four runs Saturday, a 10-run gusher that represented the most runs they'd scored in consecutive wins in nearly three weeks. The Braves lost two games against the Phillies, who weren't even really trying to win. Sunday, another Atlanta loss would guarantee the Padres at least one more game.

Granted, that wouldn't have been a miracle, exactly. What would have been a miracle, almost, was the Braves blowing a six-run lead against those non-trying Phillies ... and it very nearly happened.

Not quite, though.

They didn't need a miracle to beat the Giants, and play another day. But in the first inning, they did receive a minor miracle when third-base umpire Mike Everitt ruled that leadoff man Andres Torres' drive down the left-field line dropped foul when, as replays suggested, it probably hit the line. Everitt's call probably cost the Giants a run.

There wouldn't be any more minor miracles for the Padres, though. Let alone the full-blown, drop-to-your-knees-and-beg-for-salvation sort. They did get somewhat lucky, as starter Mat Latos gave up a bunch of rockets to the Giant hitters but most of them were caught.

If you want to do a little analyzing, you can analyze Bud Black's decision, on the 7th of September, to let Latos throw a season-high 113 pitches in a game against the Dodgers. Maybe if Latos had thrown 93 pitches, he wouldn't have 0-4 with a 10.13 ERA in his next four starts.

But that was a close game, and Latos had thrown nearly 113 pitches a few times before, and maybe he would have been ineffective down the stretch regardless, considering that he'd never thrown even 125 innings before in one season. The Padres knew Latos might eventually tire, but given their situation they probably had to pitch him ... and pray.

And in Game No. 162, it really didn't matter how well Mat Latos pitched (and despite all those rockets, he gave up only two runs in six innings). Because the Padres didn't score.

Bud Black didn't use Tony Gwynn, Jr. He didn't use Jerry Hairston, Jr. He didn't use Matt Stairs, or Oscar Salazar, or Aaron Cunningham. He did (oddly) use Luis Durango. But I would challenge any of my brilliant friends to look at Bud Black's bench in Game 162 and come up with a combination of players that would have gotten him three or four runs against the Giants' bullpen.

You want to analyze the game? In the top of the seventh inning, Miguel Tejada batted against Ramon Ramirez, with two outs and two on base. Adrian Gonzalez lurked on deck. If Tejada could keep the rally alive, Gonzalez would have a chance to put a completely different spin on things.

Tejada struck out. Maybe Bud Black should have sent up a pinch-hitter for Tejada ... but you don't pinch-hit for your No. 3 hitter. Maybe you should, very occasionally. But you don't. Not in real baseball. Anyway, if Tejada had reached, Bruce Bochy would have gone to a left-hander to face Gonzalez. Which would have left the Padres hoping for another minor miracle.

The Padres just didn't play well enough to beat the Giants in this particular game, and it didn't have anything to do with the managers. The better team won the game, and the championship. In baseball, praying usually isn't enough.

Odds finally caught up with Padres

October, 3, 2010
SAN FRANCISCO -- In the end, it came down to San Francisco and San Diego. Which was fitting, because that's how it was for most of the season. As May dawned, those two were at the top of the National League West standings ...

May 1
Giants -1.5

This was a bit surprising, if only because I had the Padres finishing fifth and the Giants fourth. Still, it was early and maybe they would eventually make me look smart (hint: they didn't).

June 1
Giants -2.5

The Giants were in third place, with the second-place Dodgers two behind the Padres.

July 1
Giants -5.5

Very nearly the low point for the Giants, as they trailed not only the first-place Padres but also the Dodgers (-3) and the Rockies (-5). It wasn't that the Giants were obviously the fourth-best team in the division; their run differential was still second best in the division. But it's just not easy to pass three teams even when you're clearly better than them. Which the Giants were not.

August 1
Giants -1.5

July was the month that called the West's tune. The Giants went 20-8 to almost catch the Padres, who still played pretty well. But the Rockies went just 13-13 and the Dodgers were worse (11-15). That dropped them both seven games behind the Padres. Meanwhile, the Giants were still right there.

September 1
Giants -4.0

Rockies seven games out, Dodgers nine games out. The Rockies would make some noise in September, but not nearly enough. The Dodgers were irrelevant. The Giants did lose some ground, but making up four games in one month (and three days) is far from impossible. As we've just seen.

What else happened? Essentially, the Giants stopped allowing runs and the Padres didn't. From September 1 through the last day of the season, the Giants scored 106 runs and allowed 60, while the Padres allowed 119 runs and scored 91. The Giants won 19 games and the Padres won 14 games.

It was a close-run thing, and it could have gone either way. The Padres did blow a big lead -- for a moment in late August, they led the Giants by 6.5 games -- but their big lead was always something of a mirage, because they really weren't that good. If the season went long enough, they were going to lose it eventually.

And for the Padres, the season lasted just a few days too long.

Saturday's starters have much to prove

October, 2, 2010
SAN FRANCISCO -- We won't call it The Battle of the Busts, because that would be disrespectful.

Let's just say that if Barry Zito or Tim Stauffer wins Saturday afternoon, in the biggest game of the year (so far) for both teams, it should feel particular sweet. To them, to the men who signed them, and to the men who have been signing their checks.

Seven years ago, the Padres had the fourth pick in the draft and used it to select Stauffer, who had just turned 21 while starring for the University of Richmond.

Now, pitchers are unpredicable and There is No Such Thing as a Pitching Prospect" and all that, but Tim Stauffer has been particularly unpredictable and went from prospect to suspect with great skill.

Stauffer reached Triple-A in his first professional season, and pitched well. But in between occasionial trips to the majors -- as much for the morale of the front office as anything, I suspect -- Stauffer stalled out in Triple-A. He spent most of four seasons in Portland, which is at least three seasons too many for a No. 4 draft pick.

In 2008, the good news was that Stauffer didn't pitch in Triple-A. The bad news was that he didn't pitch at all, because he was sidelined all season with a shoulder injury.

And them, somehow, he came back in 2009 and was the pitcher the Padres had drafted six years earlier. He pitched better than he'd ever pitched for Portland, and then he pitched better than he'd ever pitched for San Diego.

Still, the Padres didn't trust him. Stauffer opened the season in the bullpen, and pitched brilliantly. The Padres let him start a game. He pitched five shutout innings, and immediately afterward hit the DL for two months. When he came back the Padres were understandably cautious. Stauffer kept pitching brilliantly.

Finally, on the 6th of September there was an emergency and Stauffer started again. He gave up one run in four innings. He's been in the Padres' rotation ever since; in five September starts, he's got a 2.25 ERA and hasn't allowed a single home run.

And that's really the story of Tim Stauffer's season. He doesn't throw all that hard, doesn't strikeout all that many hitters. But he's pitched 76 innings for the Padres this season, and he's given up exactly two home runs. If he beats the Giants in Game 161, that draft pick seven years ago is suddenly going to look pretty, pretty, pretty good. And if Stauffer keeps the ball in the yard, he can beat the Giants.

Now, Barry Zito ... Well, you probably know all about him already. This season began with such promise, but Zito enters his Biggest Game as a Giant with a 9-13 record and a 4.08 ERA ... almost exactly the same as his 2009 numbers. All told, Zito's now 29-43 as a Giant, which is somewhat less than they expected for their $43 million (so far).

Beating the Padres won't make everything go away. At the very least, that would require a few more wins this month. But it would be one hell of a start.

Bud Black's sixth inning not his best

October, 2, 2010
SAN FRANCISCO -- I'm absolutely sure that I'm missing some key piece of information, but from where I was sitting, Bud Black did not have a particularly good bottom of the sixth inning.

His starting pitcher, Clayton Richard, had given up just one run but escaped a few jams, gave up a number of well-struck blows, and never seemed to have any real grip on the proceedings. From the beginning, he seemed to just be hanging on until the cavalry arrived; anything more than five innings would be a real bonus for his manager.

Leading off the sixth against Richard, Buster Posey hit an easy grounder to shortstop. But Pat Burrell ripped a double into the left-field corner. Aaron Rowand, a strong (if little else) right-handed hitter was dispatched as a pinch-hitter. Bud Black's bullpen is absolutely loaded with right-handed relievers who eat hitters like Aaron Rowand like they're M&Ms.

Black stuck with Richard. Rowand hit a two-run homer.

Black took out Richard, and summoned one of those right-handed relievers. Not his best right-handed reliever. Not his second-best right-handed reliever. Or his third-best. Black called on Ryan Webb, a fine pitcher who is the Padres' fourth- or fifth-best right-handed reliever.

Hey, it's still just the sixth inning and Black obviously didn't want burn his best relievers so early in the game.

No, it's what happened next that I couldn't quite figure.

Well, not exactly next. What happened next is that Webb walked Juan Uribe (no easy chore, by the way), struck out Edgar Renteria, and gave up a double to Cody Ross.

All the while, super-situational lefty Joe Thatcher was heating up in the bullpen.

Why? I wondered.

Aubrey Huff was still a few batters away, and Huff is essentially the Giants' only dangerous left-handed hitter.

After Ross's double (his second in two innings), Black took out Webb and brought in Thatcher to face switch-hitting Andres Torres, who has a huge platoon split this season -- .223/.303/.346 against lefties, .288/.360/.537 ... but essentially no real split in his career. Maybe Torres is simply a different hitter now, or maybe Black was seduced by a small sample size. You decide.

Either way, Thatcher -- one of the great lefty relievers in the game, at least this season -- was used for exactly one batter. Torres reached base (and drove in a run) with a swinging bunt, and Black yanked Thatcher in favor of Luke Gregerson, who finally nailed down the third out.

But the Giants scored three runs in the inning, and Black won't have his best lefty if a scary situation should arise.

I just wonder if he would do exactly the same things, if he have the bottom of the sixth to do over again.

Stairs' homer makes manager look good

October, 1, 2010
SAN FRANCISCO -- Matt Stairs' line-drive homer in the fourth inning -- it spent about 17 nanoseconds in the air before landing in the right-field stands -- must have felt especially good for both Stairs and his manager, Bud Black.

Stairs, as you might recall if you're old, is old.

Well, not old. By most standards (if not mine), Stairs is middle-aged. But 42-year-old baseball players who can't pitch usually can't play. Not in the National League, anyway. Especially if they can't really hit.

And as recently as a month ago, it looked like old Matt Stairs couldn't really hit. As September dawned, Stairs had a .211 batting average. He'd shown some power, but that was essentially wiped out by the batting average.

But the Padres kept him around for five months, and with the rosters expanding they might as well have kept him around for one more.

So they did. And since then, Stairs has seven hits in 23 at-bats. Even better, three of those seven hits have been home runs. That is why you keep Matt Stairs around, for just one more month. And that is why Bud Black, so desperate for something, anything from his lineup, has actually given old, slow, Matt Stairs four starts in left field in the last eight games.

Hey, if it really works? They'll rename the Manager of the Year Award after Bud Black. And 42 will be the new 30.

Giants' bullpen nearly matches Padres'

October, 1, 2010
SAN FRANCISCO -- If Clayton Richard settles down the Giants dig themselves out of this four-run hole and this game turns into a battle of the bullpens, you'd probably figure the Padres have the edge.

And you might be right. But you might be wrong.

Yes, San Diego's relievers sport a 2.81 ERA, lowest in the National League. But the Giants aren't far behind, in third place with a 3.09 mark.

Let's look at their specific guys.

The Padres have Heath Bell (1.86 ERA, 86 strikeouts/27 walks), but the Giants have Brian Wilson (1.83, 92/26).

The Padres have Luke Gregerson (3.21, 88/18), but the Giants have Santiago Casilla (2.08, 53/26)

The Padres have Mike Adams (1.80, 71/23) , but the Giants have Sergio Romo (2.24, 68/14!).

Really, the Padres have just one real weapon the Giants don't: left-hander Joe Thatcher, who's been almost unbelievably brilliant in his 63 games -- and only 35 innings -- this season. If Bud Black needs to retire a lefty swinger in a key spot, he can bring Thatcher in and feel really confident.

As edges go, though, this one's particularly small tonight. Because the Giants have just one key left-handed hitter, Aubrey Huff. And I'll bet Joe Thatcher's thinking about Huff already.

Tale of the Tape: Cain vs. Richard

October, 1, 2010
SAN FRANCISCO -- Before the game starts, the only thing that really matters is who's pitching; everything else is just details.

Friday night's matchup -- oh, by the way I'm in San Francisco and I'll be writing as often as I can think of something worth writing -- features Birthday Boy Clayton Richard versus Matt Cain.

A mismatch, right?

Well, Richard's 13-9 and Cain is 13-10.

Advantage (however tiny): Richard.

But we all know that wins and losses are highly subject to fielders and seeing-eye grounders and gremlins (among other unexplainable creatures). Let's forget about wins and losses (as so many American League Cy Young voters are going to do on Monday) and instead look at ERA.

Cain's practically a full run better: 3.71 versus 2.95. Adjusting (granted, crudely) for their home ballparks, Cain's ERA is roughly 40 percent better than league-average. Richard? League-average. No better, no worse. He's a good pitcher, durable and effective and he nearly always keeps his team in the game. But he's no ace, ERA-wise.

The biggest difference between Richard and Cain, though?

One walk.

Exactly one walk every nine innings.

In 220 innings, Cain has given up 19 home runs and struck out 173 hitters.

In 196 innings, Richard has given up 15 homers and struck out 152 hitters.

Both have given up roughly 0.8 home runs and struck out 7.0 batters per nine innings.

The walks, though? That's the difference.

Cain has walked only 2.5 batters every nine innings. Richard has walked 3.5 per nine innings. Percentage-wise, that's a huge difference.

But of course, game-wise it's a tiny difference. Based on those numbers, we would expect Richard to issue one more walk than Cain Friday night. Except it's practically as likely that Cain will issue one more walk than Richard. All it would take is two or three errant pitches, either way.

The Giants do have everything going for them Friday. They have the better starting pitcher. They have the better hitters. They'll have 42,000 screaming fans on their side for three hours.

It's a funny game, though. You never know what might happen.

Padres' Latos great, but Cy-worthy?

September, 8, 2010
Tim Sullivan on the record-setting phenomenon named Mat Latos:
    Latos went back on the job a day behind schedule and made it look, for the most part, like child’s play. He struck out 10, walked none, and established a major-league record by limiting his opponent to two runs or less for a 15th straight start of at least five innings.

    If this kid is not part of the conversation for the Cy Young Award, it can only be because the voters place more emphasis on a man’s workload than on the quality of his work. If Colorado’s Ubaldo Jimenez , St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright and Philadelphia’s Roy Halladay have been more prolific than Latos, none of them have been more impressive.

    Consider: Latos leads both major leagues in earned-run average (2.21) and opponents’ batting average (.191). He has won 14 out of 19 decisions for a team that has scored the fewest runs in its division. He has done what aces do, and what 22-year-old kids rarely do, grabbing the game of baseball by the scruff of the neck and reminding it of who’s boss.

Less prosaically, but also in Latos' favor: He has not suffered at all when pitching away from his pitcher-friendly home. Latos' road stats are practically non-distinguishable from his home stats and 16 of his 26 starts have come on the road. His statistics this season are not a creation of Petco Park.

But you can't just wish away the innings. After going seven innings last night, Latos ranks 32nd in the National League with 163 innings pitched. Roy Halladay, with an ERA (2.36) just slightly higher, has thrown 221 innings.

Adam Wainwright -- who's 17-10, like Halladay -- also has an ERA (2.41) just slightly higher than Latos', and he's thrown 200 innings. Josh Johnson (2.30) and Tim Hudson (2.41) have ERAs just slightly higher, and they've thrown more innings, too.

When someone argues that a player should be "part of the conversation" for an award, I'm never sure exactly what that means. Might Latos, if he continues to pitch brilliantly, deserve to sneak on to a few Cy Young ballots, in the third-place slot?

Maybe. But he simply isn't going to pitch enough to innings to be considered a serious candidate to win the award. Innings matter, a lot.

Letter to a 43rd-round draft pick

September, 7, 2010
Dear Chadd Hartman:

You probably don't know me. In all honesty, Chadd, until a couple of days ago I'd never heard of you.

Saturday, I went to the Portland Beavers game. This was the Beavers' last weekend, ever. They're moving, probably to Southern California, and next year their home ballpark will host soccer games and football games but (alas) no more baseball.

I don't know that I've ever become a Beavers fan, exactly. But they became an important part of my life after I moved to Portland eight years ago. I've spent a few hundred hours in PGE Park, and I've been lucky enough to "work" on radio and TV broadcasts from time to time. I'm always going to have a little twinge of sentiment when Portland Beavers pops into a conversation (or into my head).

Anyway, when I arrived at the ballpark Saturday evening, I was probably in the mood to find a keepsake. I'll always have the memories and the scorebooks and the Jerry Mathers bobblehead. Maybe something else, though ...

Upon entering the stadium, I spotted a table loaded with actual Beavers jerseys, supposedly game-worn. Most of them were lower-quality road tops, or perhaps batting-practice jerseys. One member of my little party is something of a collector. He'd been there 24 hours earlier, and told me the selection had been quite a bit larger. Now, most of the pretty, cream-colored home jerseys were gone. But there were still a few left, and I was drawn to No. 37 ... my favorite number.

Why is 37 my favorite number? Because some years ago I noticed that it keeps turning up on TV whenever someone needs an interesting or funny number. I reveled upon turning 37 (unfortunately, that was seven years ago). I still make a note every time I'm watching something and I hear the number (and the list is always growing). Hey, I know it's a silly little thing. But everyone's got a favorite number and that's mine.

Anyway, it seemed of little consequence that the name on the back of the shirt -- HARTMAN -- didn't mean anything to me. In the absence of Kyle Blanks or Tim Stauffer or any other major leaguers (or future major leaguers), this Hartman fellow's jersey would do just fine. It even fit (not that I'm in the habit of wearing baseball jerseys around town, but still).

Of course, after the game I had to look up this Hartman fellow. I had to look up you. Here's what I found ... Chadd Hartman was drafted out of high school by the Indians in 2005, in the 43rd round. He didn't sign, and instead played baseball at the University of Central Florida. After his senior season, he was again drafted in the 43rd round, this time by San Diego.

This is probably where I should mention that his -- sorry, I mean your college careeer was not incredibly distinguished. It was consistent, though; your batting averages were .244, .247, .254, and .236. You hit five home runs and stole 14 bases in four seasons, and it looks like you weren't an every-game starter in your junior and senior seasons.

In all honesty, I'm surprised you were drafted. But that probably says more about my ignorance about the draft than anything.

Chadd, this is the point at which I should admit that I'm incredibly impressed by anyone who can play baseball with any sort of competence at any level. I played in an over-38 league for a couple of summers, and by any objective measure I was the worst player on my team and quite probably the worst in the league. We had players in their late 50s who did things that awed me. I have always had a great respect for talents greater than mine, whatever the field, but watching these old guys -- the best of them had topped out in the low minors, decades earlier -- only heightened my respect for men who do what they do.

Who do what you do. I would give five years of my life to hit .236 for Central Florida, and another five for a summer of professional baseball.

Which is what you had. One summer.

Well, less than that, really. You were drafted in June 2009, and shortly afterward you joined San Diego's Eugene farm club, in the Northwest League. In your second game -- and on my 43rd birthday -- you hit your first professional home run and scored a couple of runs. Oddly, after those first two games you were promoted to Fort Wayne in the Midwest League. Three games and four plate appearances later -- again, oddly -- it was back to Oregon.

Three weeks later -- and I'm just guessing here -- there was a bit of an emergency with the Padres' Triple-A franchise. Portland's game in Salt Lake City on Friday night was rained out. They would play a doubleheader Sunday, and they needed a body. Preferably a body who could play the outfield without stumbling around too much.

And Chadd, you were there. Barely a month into your professional career and carrying a .267 batting average in the short-season Northwest League, you were promoted to the second-highest level of professional baseball. And you played. Both games of the doubleheader. Sure, you did strike out three times. But you also picked up a single in the second game. That must have felt good. For two games, you were on the field with many former and future major leaguers.

I don't know. Maybe I'm projecting. But that seems like it would have been a pretty incredible experience.

It was fleeting, of course. You didn't play another game for the Beavers. Four days later you were back in Eugene's lineup. You finished the season with them, with an 0-for-2 in your last game knocking your average down to .196. Those last few weeks it must have felt like you couldn't buy a hit.

I don't know what you're doing this year. If you've been playing baseball, I can't find any evidence. I saw somewhere that you were a business major at Central Florida, so I'll guess that you've found a job that pays a living wage (unlike Class A baseball) or that you're working toward that.

Anyway, I have your jersey. I don't know if you ever wore it. It's a home jersey and you never played in a home game with the Beavers, but maybe you sat on the bench at PGE Park and fantasized about getting into a game (which is more than I ever did). I don't know if you even care about such things. Some guys don't.

But Chadd, you played with and against some of the best baseball players in the world. If you actually wore this jersey, I think the Beavers should have let you keep it. If you actually wore this jersey during those few days you spent playing Triple-A baseball, I feel a little uncomfortable having it.

For the shirt off your back, I paid the Beavers seventy-five dollars. But I'm not hard to get ahold of. If your No. 37 means something to you, just let me know.

You deserve it a lot more than I do.

Postscript: I've misplaced my scorecard, but I just realized that I saw you play in Eugene on the 3rd of September, in the Emeralds' last-ever game at ancient Civic Stadium. You started in left field. I saw your last professional hit.

Revisiting 'Gonzalez for MVP'

August, 30, 2010
More from the mailbag:
    Can't say I really understand your Adrian Gonzalez MVP article. He leads Pujols and Votto (indeed, all NL position players) in WAR. He is third in OPS+, obviously reflecting the fact that he plays in a much tougher hitters' park (and even tougher road hitters' parks, I suspect, given the unbalanced schedule and his games in SF and LA) yet still puts up comparable numbers to those two.

He destroys those two in TZR, which seems to conform with what I regularly hear (albeit filtered through the SD media) about him being as highly regarded a first baseman as there is in the National League.

Setting aside the unlikelihood of him actually winning the MVP while playing in San Diego during a year in which the other two are competing for the Triple Crown, how on earth do you come to the conclusion that he is not any more (or equally) worthy a candidate as Pujols or Votto, or that he is even comparable to the likes of Torres, Huff and Zimmerman?

- John (San Diego)Fair points, all.

Using Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is problematic, if only because there's not just one version in popular use. According to FanGraphs' WAR, Gonzalez ranks just seventh in the National League. But according to Baseball-Reference.com's WAR, Gonzalez does indeed rank first, just ahead of Pujols and well ahead of Votto.

I think it's safe to say that WAR won't gain wide acceptance until we come to some sort of agreement about what it means.

I think it's also safe to say that I shouldn't have dismissed Gonzalez, and neither should the actual MVP voters when that moment arrives. There are a number of solid candidates, and we should probably wait three more weeks before anointing anyone.

Is Padres' Gonzalez an MVP candidate?

August, 27, 2010
A Question from a Follower: "Shouldn't Adrian Gonzalez be in the MVP conversation? He's the only offense in the NL's best team. Reminds me of Kirk Gibson in '88?"

I don't believe in giving a hitter extra credit for being the best hitter on his team, even if he's essentially the only hitter on his team and his team is really good. For the moment, then, let's just look at Gonzalez's case in a sort of vacuum ...

[+] EnlargeAdrian Gonzalez
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesAdrian Gonzalez is hitting .299 with 70 walks and 95 strikeouts so far this season.
He was an excellent player from 2006 through 2008. Not a brilliant player, by any means; Gonzalez simply didn't get on base quite often enough for that. But in 2009, Gonzalez somehow changed his game. In 2007 and '08, he averaged 56 unintentional walks and 140 strikeouts per season. But in 2009, he drew 97 unintentional walks and struck out 109 times. Which made him one of the National League's three or four best hitters. And he's one of the league's three or four best hitters in 2010, too.

Does that mean he's a serious MVP candidate?

Well, only if you do give him credit for being the Padres' only productive hitter. As it happens, each of the other contending teams in the National League with one deserving Most Valuable Player candidate has two of them (or close). The Reds have Joey Votto and Scott Rolen. The Giants have Andres Torres and Aubrey Huff. The Cardinals have Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday.

Gonzalez probably is the best player on a good team who's carrying so much of the load by himself. I just don't think that's enough to push him past Votto or Pujols (or for that matter Ryan Zimmerman, who's not going to get any MVP attention but should). If Gonzalez were tied with those other first basemen? Maybe. But he's not.

Now, about Kirk Gibson in 1988 ... First, Gibson was really, really, really good that season. It wasn't really a hitters' year and Gibson didn't hit a lot of home runs. But he finished fourth in the league in OPS, second in runs scored, and first in Wins Above Replacement.

Still, as I'm sure you know, MVP voters in 1988 didn't spend a great deal of time thinking about OPS and WAR. They liked batting average and home runs and runs batted in, and Gibson didn't fare particularly well in any of those categories.

So the fact that he probably deserved to win doesn't really explain why he won.

Some of you remember why. Some of you don't, because you were six years old. Kirk Gibson won the Most Valuable Player Award in 1988 because in spring training he ripped his new Dodger teammates for their unprofessionalism. The media ate it up, the Dodgers won the division title, and Gibson also played well enough for the voters to justify supporting him.

But that part, you wouldn't know by just looking at the numbers. Most MVP and Cy Young winners, and Hall of Fame selections, can be "predicted" using statistical models. But some of them, the interesting ones, can't be. Which is why I believe the historical study of awards voting remains a rich vein for ambitious researchers.

Padres will survive loss of center fielder

August, 19, 2010
As bad news for a contender goes, this could be a lot worse:

    San Diego Padres center fielder Tony Gwynn went on the disabled list Thursday with a broken bone in his right hand.

    Gwynn suffered the injury while fouling off a pitch in Wednesday's game against the Chicago Cubs. The Padres thought he had a sprained wrist, but an examination by a Chicago doctor revealed the break.

Tony Gwynn can't hit. He can do almost everything else.*

* Which is ironic, considering that his father, at the end of his career anyway, really couldn't do anything but hit.

Gwynn did offer hope last season with stats that nearly made him a league-average hitter. But it was probably a mirage, as this season's .212/.313/.299 line tracks reasonably well with his career performance.

Will the Padres miss him? Gwynn had started only 21 games since June, suggesting that management figured his bat wasn't going to come around. But with outfielders Chris Denorfia, Scott Hairston, and Ryan Ludwick all being a) right-handed batters, and b) less than stellar defenders, the club could use a lefty-hitting outfielder ... which presumably is why they've just signed Jody Gerut to a minor-league contract.

Which isn't to suggest Gerut's the answer. He's hardly played this season and hasn't played well since 2008. But with a six-game lead over the second-place Giants, the Padres may be excused for merely tinkering around the edges. They're heading for October, and Gwynn wasn't going to play a significant role then, anyway.

Padres' surprises begin at home

August, 3, 2010
Surprise! The 2010 Padres are a hit at home!

For a team that was almost universally expected to finish last in its division to own the National League's best record in the first week of August, a lot has to go right. Such has been the case with the San Diego Padres in 2010.

The Padres entered the season with the second lowest payroll in the majors (ahead of only the Pirates) and were widely dismissed by experts before any games had been played. I pegged them to win 75 games and was accused of homerism for daring to suggest they might finish ahead of the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL West.

My best-case scenario had the Padres winning 85 games, but everything needed to go right for that to happen. They needed production out of:
  • No. 1 starter Chris Young (He's made one start)
  • left fielder Kyle Blanks (he hit .157/.283/.324 before blowing out his elbow), and
  • shortstop Everth Cabrera (he's hitting .195/.267/.270 and might get shipped back to Triple-A when David Eckstein returns from the disabled list).

  • As I said, a lot has gone right for this team.

Among other things, the Padres have a great bullpen (its collective 2.77 ERA is best in baseball, with MLB average being 4.04) and surprisingly strong starting pitching (3.56 ERA, third in MLB, and substantially better than last year's 4.78). Of course, the fact that Petco Park suppresses offense to an extreme degree helps.

That fact also makes another aspect of the Padres' season perhaps the most surprising. For the first time since they moved downtown in 2004, the Padres are hitting better and scoring more runs at home than they are on the road:

The Padres still aren't setting the world on fire, and part of their relative success at home is a function of decreased production away from Petco Park, but hitting coach Randy Ready has gotten these guys to do something they haven't done in a while: believe they can hit and score runs at their home ballpark. When you consider that the Padres had scored 515 fewer runs at Petco than away from it over its first six years of existence, that is no small accomplishment.

Sure, Adrian Gonzalez is expected to produce at home (even if most folks thought home would be somewhere else by now), but who could have foreseen the catching tandem of Nick Hundley (.279/.353/.481 at Petco Park) and Yorvit Torrealba (.354/.429/.434) faring so well? And how do we explain the fact that six of Jerry Hairston Jr.'s seven home runs this year have come at home?

This sort of thing isn't supposed to happen. Then again, the same can be said for most everything about the Padres this year.

Geoff Young writes regularly about the Padres at Ducksnorts, a member of ESPN.com's SweetSpot Network.