Tanking is such a dirty word. No one truly loses on purpose. At least, no one purposely tries to lose that we know of. However, it is difficult not to look at the Padres record (15-29 going into the weekend), their payroll, and the moves they’ve made and come to any conclusion other than they aren’t trying that hard to win. There is a subtle difference there and it can manifest itself in the fielding data we see.
People don’t usually pay attention to fielders in fantasy baseball and rightfully so. Obviously, offensive production is key and with pitchers you have the basic categories as well. However, fielding has so much to do with pitching and it has an indirect effect on offense as well. There’s no Miami to relocate to for this bunch, but they have a very Major League look to them. You haven’t heard of most of these guys and the ones you have heard of are way past their prime.
My hometown nine has been there and I’m sure most of you can say the same. So, I won’t judge too harshly. It means better days will be here again. To evaluate the fielding, we are using defensive runs saved from billjamesonline.com. We will cross-reference that with the defense efficiency ratings from baseball-reference.com. Hopefully, we will have some good news for the Padres fans out there.
Teams have reached multiple stages of enlightenment and the Padres are no different. The data here reveals two things about the Padres as an organization. First, they clearly changed strategies after 2014 to embark on this new scorched earth strategy. Secondly, they have taken advantage of the mountains of data available on where hitters hit the ball. Their shifting has transformed a bad defense into merely a below average one. There’s something to be said for getting the most out of what you have.
Still, in order to fulfill their strategy they must either use the young players available to them or the veterans that no one else really wants. Either way, there is not a ton of individual fielding talent available. You have to cut corners somewhere and they clearly have shown they can use extreme shifting to cover up some of their holes.
The Padres remade their outfield with some quality moves in recent seasons. Matt Kemp represented an effort to go for the brass ring in 2014 and by the time 2015 came they were suffering from the hangover of his huge contract. They essentially gave him away to the Braves in one of those “take my wife please” kind of trades. In this case we get addition by subtraction. Travis Jankowski has been plus nine runs in the past two seasons and permanently takes over in left field for the Padres.
Jankowski is not the hitter that Kemp, but they are smart enough to realize that replacing a dreadful defender with a positive one will benefit them in the long run overall. Jankowski has some potential to be a two-way player (power and speed) down the road and since he is a plus defender he will get plenty of opportunities to grow. He’s gotten off to an awful start so far, but when fans wonder what in the heck a guy is doing on the team they often overlook fielding.
Operating as the Padres have often creates cringe worthy decisions that have to be made. They lack talented shortstops in their system, so they could go with a younger journeyman and hope for the best (Luis Perdomo) or they could go to the scrap heap and add a veteran way past his prime (Erick Aybar). The Padres have chosen Aybar to this point. Coming into the season he had been minus 12 runs over the past three seasons.
Mind you, that’s not terrible. Going with the grizzled veteran gives you some baseline of performance offensively and defensively. Essentially, Aybar is a replacement level player holding the spot until something better comes along. Perdomo may have been worse If given 600 plate appearances. Also, with Aybar hitting around .200, this decision may not be final.
While many of the names remain the same, position switches have rendered Wil Myers as the only guy playing the same position he played last season on Opening Day. That being said, all of these guys have some experience to build on. Austin Hedges has played behind the dish in the past and has a stellar defensive reputation (plus five career runs) and that makes him a plus performer overall in spite of his shaky hitting.
The outfield alignment of Jankowski, Manuel Margot, and Hunter Renfroe could be solid offensively and defensively before it is all said and done. Right now, the results have been mixed as you might imagine. The key will be patience. The club isn’t going anywhere anyway, so you might as well throw them out there and see what happens.
The infield remains fairly intact with the notable exception of Aybar. Yangervis Solarte and Ryan Schimpf flipped between third base and second base, but they were both in the lineup for the majority of 2016. Both were negative impact fielders last season, but perhaps the position switch will benefit both of them.
In terms of fantasy talent, there is not a whole heck of a lot. Jhoulys Chacin is off to a perfectly mediocre start and he has a mediocre track record. His ground ball rate is close to the league average, so he is all around a mediocre guy. The one potential bright spot is Clayton Richard. The early results are not good, but he is healthy for the first time in years and carries a 63 percent ground ball rate over the past two seasons. If he proves to be healthy long-term they may flip him at the deadline to a spot where those ground balls would go to better use.
Jered Weaver came to the perfect spot to end his career. He has a 34 percent ground ball rate over the last three seasons. That is ludicrously low, but Petco Park is a good spot for fly ball pitchers and he will keep getting the ball every fifth day no matter how dreadful he is. At 0-5 with an ERA over 7.00, he’s pretty darn dreadful.