After all the buzz and excitement that the San Diego Padres’ offseason contained, the goal probably wasn’t staring up at the Cincinnati Reds’ ass on August 23rd. If you’re looking up at the Reds, by definition you’re mediocre or worse. But that’s where the Padres find themselves after losing their fourth out of five games yesterday to the Phillies. Their one win in that time came in the Manfred Experiment (extra innings). If we apply hockey terminology to it, the Padres have one win in regulation in their last 11, to go with two more in extras. They’re 19-25 since July 1st, and are now out of every playoff spot.
So how did this ship of hope and fun run aground so badly? The easy thing is to point to injuries. Fernando Tatis missed two weeks in that stretch, and he’s the lineup’s anchor. Three-fifths of the rotation is on the shelf, with Yu Darvish the latest to go into cold storage. Dinelson Lamet has been there since late June, and Chris Paddack since late July. At the moment, their Roster Resource page has just three starters listed as healthy, which is no way to go through life.
But it isn’t quite that simple. Joe Musgrove (he who pitched one of six solo no-hitters in baseball this season) went from All-Star-worthy in the season’s first two months to OK or good since. And it might not be anything structural or through methodology either, as Musgrove was carrying some pretty lucky BABIP numbers in the season’s first 60 days. Through the season’s first half, his BABIP against was .237, which is unsustainably miserly. It’s .317 in the second half, which is well above his career norms but could be categorized as that wicked goddess of “market correction.” There’s been no discernible change in the contact he’s giving up, it’s just finding more holes.
Darvish has been just about everything the Padres could have reasonably asked for. The problem would be if they were asking for the version of Darvish that didn’t give up home runs last year. Darvish’s HR/9 has more than doubled this year from last, but this year’s 1.44 is much more in line with his career numbers. He couldn’t stop giving up homers in July, over three per game, which saw his ERA go over 7.00 for the month. It’s over 6.00 in August before he hit the IL. Again, Darvish wasn’t seeing a huge change in the type and power of the contact against him, it just so happened that more of it was clearing fences for not much other reason than BASEBALL! The only thing to spot is that Darvish has thrown his four-seam fastball more often as the season has gone along, and it’s been getting hit harder and harder. But it hasn’t lost any velocity or movement. What it wasn’t doing was generating whiffs, as in the first four months of the season the whiff percentage on his fastball was 37 percent or above. In August it was 20 percent, which might be a reason he’s on the shelf.
Blake Snell has been the big disappointment after coming over from Tampa Bay in that late-December trade, but it could have been one that the Padres saw coming. Snell has been dining out on that 2018 Cy Young Award, but even that had a ton of air in it. That year with Tampa Bay, Snell carried a .241 BABIP and an 88 percent left-on-base rate, which are just not numbers one can repeat. Snell has never come close since, and this year he can’t find the plate as he has a walk percentage of 13.7. (all stats via FanGraphs)
Which is another problem the Padres have had. With the injuries and Snell’s walks and Darvish’s homer problem, they’re not getting innings from their starters. They’re dead-last in the league in innings by starters, and lead the NL in reliever innings. The only team to throw more innings out of the pen than the Padres is the Rays, who do it by design and spread it out. The Rays only have one reliever who has thrown more than 50 innings so far. The Padres have four. Having all the starters on the IL as they do has meant more bullpen games, and the wear is showing. The Padres’ relievers have an ERA in August a full run higher than it was before. And it’s not like they’re spring chickens out there, with every important San Diego reliever over 30.
Another factor, and one the first-place Giants key on, is that the Padres pitchers aren’t helped defensively, which could at least partially explain their pitchers’ ballooning BABIP numbers. The Padres, in terms of Defensive Runs Saved, are worst in the NL. The only spots where they have difference makers in the field are at third, with Manny Machado, and second, with Jake Cronenworth, and he’s going to be playing shortstop now with Fernando Tatis in the outfield. And speaking of the outfield, San Diego has been lacking there defensively, too, which is a bad thing to be when you have one of the bigger outfields, in terms of sheer volume, in the game. And Tatis Jr.’s trial by fire out there probably won’t help much.
And while the Padres were lauded for the trades they made in the winter in which they did not have to give up any of their most-prized prospects, pretty much none of those prospects have come to help this team. MacKenzie Gore has made six starts at Triple-A and gotten shelled. Reiss Knehr has made seven appearances for the big club, but he has Snell’s walk problem. Ryan Weathers is in the rotation basically on an emergency basis, and he’s been gasoline. That’s about it for the pitching help near the top of their system.
The Padres won’t be worrying about 2022 yet, but it will make for an interesting watch. Darvish and Snell are locked in, and it’s unlikely that either can be moved if the Padres so wished, as Darvish will be 35 with another injury-plagued year on his resume and Snell off his numbers. Musgrove is arbitration-eligible. They may get Mike Clevinger back, and maybe Lamet and Paddack can stay healthy. That’s a lot of ifs though.
In the season’s last five weeks it’s hard to see how the big problems get better. Snell isn’t going to provide innings even if he can remember where the plate is, and Darvish isn’t likely to provide innings coming off an injury either. There will be more bullpen games, which is kind of how they got here in the first place. And it’s only the Dodgers arriving in town this week.
This is not my beautiful house, indeed.
Updated on Aug. 23 at 1:35 p.m. EST: Soon after the posting of this column, the Padres announced they had fired pitching coach Larry Rothschild.