Saturday, July 31, 2010

Ryan Ludwick? Really?

The Padres have made another trade today, acquiring Ryan Ludwick from the Cardinals and sending two minor league players to Cleveland.  St Louis gets Indian pitcher Jake Westbrook.

I think we all know our outfield hasn't exactly lit the lamp with the bat this year.  Scott Hairston and Will Venable have been league average hitters; Tony Gwynn Jr OPS+ hovers at 82.  Ludwick addresses that need in a big way.  His OPS+ is 120; he'll be the best offensive outfielder on the club as soon as he's assigned a number.

My concern for the Padres, in making trades, was that they not upset their run prevention model.  That is why I am not completely sold on the Miguel Tejada deal.  I have no such reservations with this move.  Ludwick is enjoying his best defensive year (based on Dewan plus/minus; he is +5 defensively), which immediately makes him the second-best outfielder on the club behind Gwynn.  He can also play all three positions defensively, giving Bud Black tons of flexibility with the roster.

Ludwick became expendable in St Louis with the stellar play of Jon Jay.  Ludwick is making $5.45M this season, is arbitration eligible for the 2011 campaign, and becomes a free-agent in 2012.  It might be hard to believe, but the Cardinals dumped salary with this move. I don't know if this is a two-month rental or if the Padres will try to keep him for 2011.  The cynic in me says this is a 2-month rental.

No matter.  THIS is the bat the Padres needed to get, and THIS is the defender they need to bring in with that bat.  Great move by the Padres.

Welcome to San Diego, Ryan Ludwick.  You will like it here.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Intentionally walking Russell Martin

In real time I liked Bud Black's decision.  Let us take a deeper look.

To reset the situation:  top of the seventh inning of a scoreless game.  Jon Garland had retired the first two hitters, and was ahead of Blake DeWitt 0-2.  DeWitt singled softly to right.  Garrett Anderson, on the next pitch, singled through the hole between first and second, DeWitt to third.  Russell Martin is the next hitter, and pitcher Chad Billingsley is on deck.  Joe Thatcher is warm in the bullpen.  Garland had thrown 97 pitches.

What should Black do?  Martin is 4-11 (including a 1-2 in this game) with a walk and hit batsman against Garland career, and 1-4 with a hit batsman against Thatcher.  But looming on deck is Billingsley, who has retired 9 of the last 10 Padres he's faced, the lone exception being Yorvit Torrealba who he hit in the ribs with a fastball.

Black decides to walk Martin intentionally to force Torre's hand.  Torre says "OK", and sends Andre Ethier up to pinch hit.  Now Black could bring Thatcher in, but he decides to stay with Garland.  Just for argument's sake:

Ethier vs Garland:  3-8, 1 double, 1 walk.
Ethier vs Thatcher:  2-8, both doubles.

Of course, if Garland retires Ethier, this blog post isn't written and the game might have been different.  Actually they might still be playing.  But instead, Ethier takes a 1-1 pitch and hits a ground ball just out of Everth Cabrera's reach, driving in 2 runs and as it turns out winning the game.

There are many, many folks who despise the intentional walk in any situation.  I think there are times when the intentional walk is appropriate, and should be used.  To get past a hot hitter or a  good hitter, for instance.  Martin isn't hitting any better since the All-Star break than he did the first part of the season (.245/.346/.332 before, .269/.345/.346 since), so I definitely would not classify him as hot and, based on how he's hit since the end of the 2008 season, not a good hitter either.  There's a reason he's hitting eighth.

In hindsight, I don't like Bud Black's decision.  I think I pitch to Russell Martin.  I recognize that statement doesn't carry much weight since we know what the result of not pitching to him was.

Padres Acquire Nick Green

My God.  Has it really been two weeks?

Yes, it's the final Fiscal Year budget push.  I've been a little distracted by, you know, doing the things I'm SUPPOSED to be doing vice doing the things I want to do.  Sorry about that.

Since last seen, there's been two podcasts, and two Padres Recaps done.  So there's been some activity, just not much.  Since the last post, San Diego swept the Diamondbacks, lost 2 of three to Atlanta, and swept Pittsburgh.  Now they prepare for a six-game homestand with LA and Florida.  Let's hope the trend doesn't continue (which would mean they lose 2 of 3 to LA).  Although sweeping Florida would be OK.

Other than the normal comings and goings of the DL (Latos on, then off; Adams on; Eckstein on; Venable off), the Padres signed two interesting players.  On 19 July they signed Willy Mo Pena.  Saturday they signed Nick Green.

Willy Mo Pena.  Sounds like a country music star.  When he played for the Red Sox in 2006, it was said he hit the ball harder than anyone else on the roster - and that team boasted Manny Ramirez, and David Ortiz, two guys who can really hit.  It's an interesting signing.  Pena hasn't appeared in a game at the Major League level since 2008 with the Nationals, so it's completely risk-free.  Pena has power, but doesn't hit for average.  His career OPS+ is only 94, and he's struck out in 1/3 of his total at-bats at the major league level.  Not only that, but he's a liability with the glove, at least based on Fangraphs data.

On it's a face, this is an all upside move for a guy with a ton of power.  Realistically, he may surrender as many runs as he produces if he plays the outfield with regularity.  I do like the move - it's creative, it's low risk - but I don't think we'll see Willy Mo Pena on the club before September if he's able to play himself into a roster spot.

Saturday the Padres signed Nick Green to a minor-league contract.  San Diego has had a lot of injury trouble in the middle infield, and the aforementioned Eckstein is once again on the DL.  Jerry Hairston Jr has been servicable - 89 OPS+, plus defender around the infield wherever he has played (3 runs saved at second, 5 at short, according to Dewan), but the guy manning the other position has not brought much offense to the team.  Everth Cabrera - 59 OPS+.  Lance Zawadzki - 61 and Oscar Salazar - 78.  So there's a need for help in the middle infield.

Green is a decent defender - he saved 2 runs in limited action this year, and although his defense allowed 3 runs in 2009, that was the only season where he was not evaluated as a plus defender.  Green's bat, however, is nothing special, and is no better than Cabrera or Zawadzki (.236/.305/.348 career in 1131 plate appearances).

The Padres are being creative in trying to improve, and that's a good thing.  Each player offers something, be it a little better defense at second, or a little more dangerous bat in the outfield, with some risk (bad bat, below average glove). 

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Fabulous Floating Podcast

I'm in New England this week on business, so the Podcast will start at 7:30 Pacific Time THIS WEEK ONLY.

I'll primarily be discussing the All-Star Game and some prognostications for the second half.  I figured no one wanted to hear me trying to be coherent at 1 AM my local time - it would be funny, but probably wouldn't make for good radio.

See you then? Yes - see you then.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Home Field

Finally.  The NL wins again.

I only have three things to say:

  1. Thank God someone else's team boasts the loser.  After being saddled with three losses in the last 4 games, I had my fingers crossed.
  2. Home Field will mean more to the NL than the AL.  The top two home records at the break (Atlanta, Mets) are NL teams.  San Diego's home record is a not-too-shabby 27-19, and this team is built for this ballpark. It would be all kinds of awesome for the Padres to make the World Series, and host 4 of the 7 games.  Heck, they might even win the thing.
  3. Marlon Byrd should have been the MVP.  Brian McCann's double can't happen without Byrd's walk, and the AL has two on,one out, and a big ol' rally in progress without Byrd cutting down David Ortiz at second.

Friday, July 9, 2010

When will Latos take a break, and for how long?

I had an actual live caller and an actual participant in the chat room guest during last night's Podcast, which was all kinds of awesome.  Nothing like having more than one person to talk to to make a discussion flow better.  While we touched on a variety of topics (feel free to follow the above link to hear it all), the one I want to follow up on this morning is Mat Latos and his 'rest'.

To recap:  Padres GM Jed Hoyer is on record saying the team wants to cap Latos' innings pitched at 150 for 2010.

Interestingly, there is precedent for giving a young pitcher a break in the middle of the season.  Detroit promoted 20 year old phenom Rick Porcello to the majors last year.  They had the same concerns the Padres currently do about overworking this prized prospect too early in his career, so they did two things.  One, they limited his pitch count to less than 100 (which they stuck to until his 24th start on 28 August), and two, in an attempt to limit his innings they shut him down following his 5 July start for 15 days.  Because this break coincided with the All-Star break, Porcello ended up only missing one start.

Porcello's numbers pre and post break are interesting:

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Back to back rallies fall just short

As was mentioned last night on the broadcast, the Padres have pretty much had their way with Washington since the team moved to DC.  Going into this series, San Diego had won 12 of the 15 games in our Nation's capital.  So some of what we're seeing this week is surprising, and some may be simply the Nationals were due to start winning at home against San Diego.

That said, it is frustrating to play the bottom team in the NL East and lose two in a row.  What's more frustrating it the way they have been losing.

San Diego has leapt into first place by preventing runs through superior defense and a lock-down bullpen.  The pitching model really works when the team turns over a lead to the Gregerson/Adams/Bell cohort. Since their 23 June game in Florida, however, they've shown a disturbing trend to get behind early.  See for yourself:

  • 24 June (@ Tampa Bay):  Trailed 1-0 after one inning.  They came back with 3 in the second, but lost 5-3.
  • 25 June (@ Florida):  Shutout (Win).
  • 26 June (@ Florida):  Trailed 1-0 after 2 (came back to win).
  • 27 June (@ Florida):  Scored first; game tied 2-2 after 7 (Win)
  • 28 June (vs Colorado):  Trailed 2-0 after 1 (Loss).
  • 29 June (vs Colorado):  Trailed 1-0 after 4 and 4-0 after 6 1/2 (Loss).
  • 30 June (vs Colorado):  Scored first, tied 2-2 after 2 (Win).
  • 1 July (vs Houston):  Trailed 3-0 after 1 (Loss).
  • 2 July (vs Houston):  Shutout (Win).
  • 3 July (vs Houston):  Shutout (Win).
  • 4 July (vs Houston):  Trailed 1-0 after 1 (Win).
  • 6 July (@ Washington):  Scored first, trailed 3-1 after 1 (Loss).
  • 7 July (@ Washington):  Scored first, trailed 4-1 after 1 (Loss).
They've trailed early in 8 of their past 13 games, where early is defined as the fourth inning or before.  In 6 of those games they've given up at least a run in the first inning.  Additionally, in every game but the 3 shutouts the Padres have not held on to an early lead they got.

I know this is small sample size, being only 13 games and all.  I further realize the All-Star break starts after Sunday's games, which will give everyone a much-needed 3 days off.  But this trend seems - SEEMS - to indicate the pitching is starting to wear down a little bit.

Losing an early 2-run lead isn't that unusual in baseball, especially when teams average scoring around 4 runs a game.  I'd be much more worried if the Padres were blowing 4+ run leads (like the Cardinals have the last 2 nights in Colorado - thanks fellas).  It's the early runs allowed that's bothering me.  This team's offense simply isn't built to come from behind night after night.  Much like the US Men's National Soccer team (Hey! World Cup Reference!) , they don't have the firepower.

I'm quite sure Bud Black and Darren Balsley are scratching their heads and actively working on a solution to the first inning run problems.

Finally congratulations to Heath Bell on being added to the All-Star team.  He probably should have made the team out of the chute, but at least that wrong was addressed.

Monday, July 5, 2010

All Star Selections

First this was an amazing week.  Scott Hairston drove in 12 runs during the homestand.  Tony Gwynn Jr drove in a winning run, scored a winning run, and saved a run with a great catch, all in the Astro series.  Kevin Correia found his form, at least for one game.

And Mat Latos pitched, again, like an All-Star.

I try not to get too worked-up about the All Star roster.  Every team must be represented, so there are some artificial-ities inherent in the process.  Evan Meek is the only Pirate, and he's pitched well, so that's that.  I'm sure an argument could be made for either Luke Gregerson, Matt Adams, or Heath Bell over Arthur Rhodes, but I'm not going to make it today.

Even in my laid-back approach to the rosters, I cannot help but raise an eyebrow on 5 Cardinals making the roster but only 1 Padre.  Pujols and Molina got voted in, Holliday leads all NL outfielders in WAR according to this site, Adam Wainwright is one of the very best pitchers in baseball.  Chris Carpenter?  That's an interesting pick.

The Padres have the best pitching staff, statistically, in the league but do not have a pitcher on the roster.  Something seems amiss.  I submit Mat Latos deserved Chris Carpenter's spot.

To wit:

- Latos ERA:  2.62.  Carpenter:  3.16 (yes I know it was inflated by that gagger Saturday vs Milwaukee).
- Latos HR allowed:  9.  Carpenter:  14.
- Latos WHIP:  0.963 (lowest SP WHIP in NL).  Carpenter:  1.212
- Latos K/9:  8.2.  Carpenter:  7.9
- Latos K/BB ratio:  3.5.  Carpenter:  2.92
- Latos xFIP:  3.59.  Carpenter:   3.77
- Latos WAR:  1.8.  Carpenter:  1.4

I submit Mat Latos is better in every statistical category than Chris Carpenter.  Bud Black is an assistant coach for the NL - how is it Latos didn't get selected?

*Yes I'm aware of the irony that I suggested sending Latos down in April, only to argue he's an All-Star now.  Life is funny, isn't it?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Luis Suarez

I cannot imagine what it is like to stare down the end of your dream.  The end of something you have worked your whole life to try and achieve, and now you watch it unfold in front of you without a means to stop it.  What would you do?

ESPN shows replays of key moments in World Cup games from almost every possible angle.  Sometimes I half expect them to cut to the 'under the turf cam' to show us the pitch's perspective on a ball when struck.  Yet with all those camera angles, they have not yet put up a replay showing the foul which won Ghana the free kick in the 119th minute.  From my excellent perspective over half the world away it appeared the Ghanian player simply fell down.  Portuguese referee Olegario Benquerenca didn't see it that way, giving the Black Stars a chance to swing the ball in for a final shot on goal.

And swing it in they did.  Uruguayan goal Fernando Muslera went for the ball and missed.  A point blank shot found the legs of Suarez and bounced back into play.  Before one of five Uruguayan defenders could get to it, Dominic Adiyiah put a head on the ball and sent it towards the back of the net.

Urguay had fought for 120 minutes.  For large stretches of this game they were the better side, but in the last 10 minutes of extra time Ghana made a furious push to win.  Uruguay could have won the game in regulation if Muslera had not been badly fooled on a shot from Sulley Muntari on the final play of the FIRST half. In fairness, Ghanian keeper Kingson should have stopped Diego Forlan's free kick that equalized.  Now they were watching their dream slip away.

On the goal line, two Uruguayan players had set up shop: Jorge Fucile, and Luis Suarez.  Their job is to stop the ball.  As the header barreled towards them, it was headed between them.  It was too high to get a foot on and too far to get a head on.  In a final act of desperation, Suarez blocked the ball with his hands and Uruguay cleared it.  Touching the ball with a hand by anyone but the goalie is a major no-no.  Referee Benquerenca ejected Suarez from the game.

Why would Suarez commit a foul sure to send him off the field?  Because he didn't have any other option.  If the ball goes in, the game is lost.  If he blocks it with his hands, at least Ghana has to make a penalty shot to win.  He gives his keeper a chance to stop the shot.  It should be said that only about 22% of all penalty kicks are stopped by the goalkeeper.  So it comes down to a simple choice:  If I don't use my hands, we lose.  If I do use my hands, they get a penalty kick and we most likely lose.

I doubt very much Suarez processed that logical an argument in the split second he had to make a decision.  He wanted badly, desperately, hopelessly to keep that ball out of the net.  So he blocked the ball with the only weapon he had - an illegal one.

A lot will be written saying Suarez cheated.  If Asamoah Gyan had put his penalty shot in the back of the net instead of off the crossbar, none of those words are written.  But because Gyan missed the PK, everyone thinks Suarez stole this game from Ghana.  I don't think he did.  I think he just reacted to what he saw in front of him, driven by his fear of losing and his desire to win the game for his team and his country.

Only Suarez knows why he did what he did.  Before we vilify him, ask this question - if you were watching your dream die, what would you do?

As an aside, my wife played soccer through college.  She says she was always trained, in that situation, if using your hands was the only way to keep the ball out, do it; even though it also meant you would be sent off.