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San Diego Padres Show Improvement in 2019

The San Diego Padres came into 2019 with relatively low expectations. The team was not expected to contend, even after landing big-ticket free agent Manny Machado in the offseason. However, they entered the All-Star Break at 45-45, giving them an outside shot at making a playoff run. A rough 8-16 July put the Padres out of reach, and Monday night’s 5-1 loss to the Brewers mathematically eliminated the Padres from playoff contention. The team showed improvement from their 96-loss 2018 season and got to see some of their young pieces come up to the majors.

Positives

The Padres came into the year with one of the best farm systems in baseball. They had 10 guys in the top 100 prospects. They saw some of those big-name prospects make splashes at the big league level. Chris Paddack pitched very well and made good on the promise that was with him. He pitched to a 9-7 record with a 3.33 ERA. He also amassed a 0.98 WHIP and 153 strikeouts in 140.1 innings pitched. His season established him as the ace of a very young rotation that has no one over the age of 26. Additionally, the Padres called up Michel Baez. He has impressed a 2.82 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 22.1 innings pitched as a reliever.

Perhaps the biggest name that the Padres called up was Fernando Tatis Jr. Tatis came into the season as the top-ranked prospect in baseball on MLB.com’s top 100 prospect list, and he did nothing but impress. In 372 plate appearances, Tatis hit a scorching .317/.379/.590 (152 OPS+). He hit 22 homers, drove in 53 and had 16 steals. Unfortunately, Tatis’ season was cut short due to a stress reaction in his back, ending his chance of winning the NL Rookie of the Year.

The San Diego Padres gave Kirby Yates the closer role after trading Brad Hand last summer. Yates made good on that and was light-out in his first full season as closer. He appeared in 59 games and went a league best 41 for 44 in save opportunities with a 1.21 ERA, 1.30 FIP, 0.88 WHIP, and 100 strikeouts in 59.2 innings pitched (15.1 K/9). Yates earned his first career all-star appearance and was the team’s lone representative at this year’s Midsummer Classic.

Negatives –– Bad Free Agent Contracts

Over the past two off-seasons, the Padres made two splash acquisitions: Eric Hosmer and Manny Machado. When Hosmer signed his eight-year $144-million contract, many viewed the signing as a massive overpayment. After a disappointing 2018, Hosmer followed up with another subpar season this year. His batting line improved slightly to .275/.322/.468 (still league average at a 100 OPS+) with 21 homers and 96 RBI over 632 plate appearances.

However, Hosmer has struck out a career high 146 times, also giving him a career worst 23.1% strikeout rate. Additionally, his walk rate has plummeted from 9.2% in 2018 to 6.3% in 2019. His bWAR went from a 1.4 last year to a 0.1 this year, due in large part to a lackluster year in the field. He went from a career-best 8 DRS in 2018 to a disappointing -4 DRS in 2019. Despite a bit of an improvement offensively, Hosmer got worse in a lot of categories in 2019. He wasn’t the only big money guy to struggle, though.

When Machado signed his MLB record-breaking contract of 10 years and $300-million, a lot of people questioned whether he would be worth his contract. Machado had a red-hot month of June, in which he batted .314/.368/.695 with 11 homers and 29 RBI. However, that was the only month in which he played like a $300-million player. His overall batting line of .253/.332/.456 (107 OPS+) in 632 plate appearances is very disappointing considering his contract. While he’s hit 30 homers and 82 RBI, his .253 batting average is a career-low, and his 123 strikeouts are a career-high. Additionally, he’s hitting a horrid .140/.300/.263 in September. To make matters worse, Machado’s line-drive rate is down to 21%, the lowest it’s been for any full season he’s played.

Another Disappointing Year For Myers

Wil Myers, who inked a six-year $83-million extension before the 2017 season, had a second straight disappointing year. In 472 plate appearances, Myers hit just .239/.323/.419 (95 OPS+) with 18 homers and 53 RBI. Myers also struck out 162 times, raising his strikeout rate to a startlingly high 34.3%. As bad as his offense was, his defense may have been worse. In 128 games in the outfield, Myers had a career-worst -11 DRS, which effectively played himself out of the starting line up for much of July and August. He didn’t earn his spot back in the line up until Franmil Reyes was dealt to the Indians. Overall, Myers’ -0.1 bWAR this season is the lowest mark for any full season he’s played in the bigs.

Injury Woes

Tatis’ injury hurt the Padres a ton, but that wasn’t the only injury that did the team in. 23-year-old pitcher Jacob Nix was the first one to go down, tearing his UCL in Spring Training. Nix elected to undergo Tommy John Surgery and missed the whole season. Young outfielder Franchy Cordero only played in nine games due to a right elbow sprain. In addition to Cordero, hard-throwing reliever Robert Stock only appeared in 10 games before suffering a right biceps strain, ending his season. Aaron Loup, who the Padres signed to shore up their bullpen, pitched in only four games before suffering a left elbow strain. Loup then suffered a set back during his rehab assignment, ending his season.

Ian Kinsler, who the Padres signed to a one-year deal during the off-season, was struggling mightily when he went on the injured list on August 16. Kinsler was diagnosed with disc herniation in his neck, putting him on the shelf for the rest of the year. Carl Edwards Jr. only lasted two games with the club before joining the injured list with a right shoulder strain. Edwards’ injury also sidelined him for the rest of the season. Left-hander Jose Castillo pitched in only one game before going down with a torn tendon in his middle finger. Most of these injuries came while the Padres still had a chance. When the IL got crowded, any playoff hopes the team had were gone.

2020 Outlook

The Padres have plenty to look forward to in 2020. They should continue to see growth from their starting rotation of Paddack, Joey Lucchesi, Cal Quantrill, Dinelson Lamet and Eric Lauer. Their rotation could also include Garrett Richards if he stays healthy. Their offense will hopefully get a full season out of Fernando Tatis Jr. Young players such as Josh Naylor, Francisco Mejia, and Luis Urias should see more playing time, allowing them to continue to prosper. The line-up could be especially lethal if Hosmer and Machado step up and bounce back from disappointing seasons.

The team could call up big-name prospects Mackenzie Gore (MLB.com’s #4 prospect in baseball) and Luis Patiño (MLB.com #31). While neither have played above Double-A, both had very impressive seasons in the minors. Gore had a 1.69 ERA (albeit, 4.15 in 25 Double-A innings) and 135 strikeouts in 101 innings pitched across two levels. Patiño had a 2.57 ERA and 123 strikeouts in 94.2 innings pitched across the same two levels.

The San Diego Padres don’t have much to look for in the offseason, but they could shop Hunter Renfroe. The Padres shopped Renfroe at points during this season, and he could be attractive to teams as a power hitter who also plays great outfield defense. The other attractive trade chip the Friars have is Kirby Yates. Relievers nowadays can net huge hauls, and considering that Yates has been the best closer in baseball this season, the Padres could probably land some big pieces for him. The one contract the team should be looking to get rid of is Wil Myers, who could still have some value because of his past performance.

The San Diego Padres have a very young core, so don’t expect too many changes on the diamond. While it will always be hard to win the division with how strong the Dodgers are, expect the Padres to continue to improve in 2020. Within a few years, they could be one of the better teams in baseball.

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