All-Star Berth for Adrian?

Padres.com and XX Sports Radio personalities agree: Adrian Gonzalez belongs on the NL All-Star team this season. Now, one might argue that Gonzalez has only been the fourth most valuable National League first baseman by Runs Above Replacement (RAR), but last year’s squad had four first basemen so maybe he does belong.

(A lot of people disagree with choosing the team based on half a season’s worth of results and I respect that, but that’s how I’m going to be breaking down this year’s team today.)

Obviously, the starters will include one each of catcher, first baseman, second baseman, third baseman and shortstop as well as three “outfielders.” This years numbers suggest those spots ought to be occupied by the followng:

C Brian McCann, ATL

1B Lance Berkman, HOU

2B Dan Uggla, FLO

3B Chipper Jones, ATL

SS Hanley Ramirez, FLO

OF1 Nate McLouth, PIT

OF2 Jason Bay, PIT

OF3 Ryan Ludwick, SLN

Only McLouth and Ludwick appear out of place, but they’re both having fantastic years thus far.

When looking at the bench positions, I decided to use last year’s bench composition as a guideline. That manes one catcher, three first basemen, two second basemen, one third baseman, one shortstop and four “outfielders.” Using RAR, that gives us:

C Geovany Soto, CHN

1B1 Albert Pujols, SLN

1B2 Derrek Lee, CHN

1B3 Adrian Gonzalez, SDN

2B1 Chase Utley, PHI

2B2 Mark DeRosa, CHN

3B Aramis Ramirez, CHN

SS Rafael Furcal, LAN

OF1 Aaron Rowand, SFN

OF2 Pat Burrell, PHI

OF3 Matt Holliday, COL

OF4 Brian Giles, SDN

There are no real surprises save Mark DeRosa and Geovany Soto if you don’t follow minor league prospects. Now, one might argue that last year’s roster doesn’t apply to this year’s and that’s a fair point, so I also looked at it from the point of view of having eight back ups (one for each starter) and four floating best player not selected. That gives us a bench like this:

C1 Geovany Soto, CHN

C2 Russell Martin, LAN

1B1 Albert Pujols, SLN

1B2 Derrek Lee, CHN

2B Chase Utley, PHI

3B1 Aramis Ramirez, CHN

3B2 David Wright, NYN

SS Rafael Furcal, LAN

OF1 Aaron Rowand, SFN

OF2 Pat Burrell, PHI

OF3 Matt Holliday, COL

OF4 Brian Giles, SDN

As you can see David Wright and Russell Martin squeeze out Adrian Gonzalez and Mark DeRosa, which I think is damn near impossible to argue with. And hey, we still have a deserving Padre on the list, so that’s cool.

KT and Alderson on the Radio

Kevin Towers did an interview with the XX Sports Radio morning show on Tuesday. You can listen to it here. Here are some of the highlights:

Jake Peavy is getting better. We’ll re-evaluate in four or five days.

Chris Young will be out at least a month.

Clay Hensley’s velocity is coming back, his soreness is gone and we’ll likely see him, Carlos Guevara and Justin Hampson up with the big league club in the next few weeks.

Strikeouts are part of the game, the problem is when you’re striking out on pitchers’ pitches. The key thing is swinging at quality strikes.

Chase Headley will be up in June, possibly early June, probably before interleague play. A big part of holding off on calling him up has been an attempt to let Chase build his confidence at Triple A after a slow start in April.

Sandy Alderson conducted his weekly interview this afternoon and you can listen to it here. The highlights:

Tim Sullivan’s column was fair.  We are always balancing the now versus the future.  Alderson declined to speak about Headley specifically.  He asks, “If we have a guy who is one day away from qualifying for free agency one year early, would you expect the team to take that into account?”  As you move from that, he notes, it gets less black and white.  He also makes the point that regardless of what Player A might get paid, the Padres will spend the same amount on payroll calling it a zero sum game.  Money not spent on one particular player is spent on another, not invested outside the organization.  Payroll is set ahead of time, allocation amongst players is decided annually.

“Let’s back off the notion that Tim Sullivan or Nick Canepa or somebody else knows that Chase Headley is quote ready.”  Chase could flame out.  We need to be careful about assuming he’s going to be the next Ryan Braun or whoever.  Scott Hairston, Jody Gerut, etc. are involved in this equation, also.  We need to find out which if any of those guys are going to be in their plans going forward.

The team is careful with their money, but aren’t afraid to take a shot at somebody (Jim Edmonds) even if that doesn’t work out.  They are, however, unwilling to put themselves in a situation where a mistake could handicap them for seasons to come (Andruw Jones).

The comments about the right environment are with regard to an environment where Headley won’t be likely to alter his approach at the plate.  It’s not about chemistry in the clubhouse or anything of that nature.  They don’t want to have to send Headley down again.

We strike out too often.  We can tolerate 100 strikeouts if a guy has 100 walks.  Our K/BB ratio is horrendous.  With regard to a two strike approach, putting the ball into play is really no better than striking out at the Major League level.  Fielders are too good to not put the ball into play with authority and expect not to make an out.  The Padres stress walks less as an outcome than as evidence of a selective approach.

A lot of the team’s approach moving forward will depend upon health.

Random Thoughts

A somewhat common refrain from Padre fans is that the Padres had opportunities to better their outfield this off-season, but elected not to. This strikes me as an example of merely looking at the roster now and assuming no effort was made to field a different one. The Padres attempted to re-sign Milton Bradley and Mike Cameron and also made a run at Kosuke Fukudome. That they were outbid for their services means just that. It also means that guys like Edmonds and Hairston were not their first choices. Hairston was ticketed for a role as fourth outfielder and the Padres traded for Edmonds as their fourth choice. I refuse to believe anyone honestly believes the front office’s Plan A was to start the season with Jim Edmonds and Scott Hairston as their starters in center and left field.

I’ve also heard people complaining about Kouzmanoff and some even going so far as to hope he can “bounce back next year.” Really? Through 48 games this year Kouzmanoff is hitting .274/.303/.398, which granted is not what you’d like to see, but through 48 games last year he was hitting .212/.285/.364. He finished with a line of .275/.329/.457 by hitting .303/.350/.498 over his final 97 games. Given that he had such a drastic split last season, can’t we all agree it’s a little ridiculous to write off this season when he’s actually performing better to this point than he was last season?

Another thing I keep seeing that I don’t get is crowing about wasting Headley’s bat by moving him from third base to left field. The positional adjustment from third to left is roughly five runs over a full 700 PA season. It’s not exactly moving from Catcher to Designated Hitter (which is more like a 25 run adjustment). Speaking of Headley, though, am I the only one bothered by his peripherals this year? The drop off in XBH% isn’t particularly troubling because it’s still solid, but the fact that his walk rate has basically collapsed while his strikeout rate has held steady is worrisome. I suppose it’s only 41 games, but his great AA campaign was only 121 games.

I’ve also heard calls for a new plan, one that won’t lead to 17-31 records. I think it’s worth noting that this same “plan” led to 89 wins last season and back-to-back division titles prior to that. Maybe it’s not so much the “plan” as this year’s execution of it.

I’ll post the full list tomorrow, but I wanted to mention it now.  I went through a list of all the players that have played in the Majors this year (through I believe Tuesday) and found which team drafted or signed them as amateurs.  The Padres were responsible for the fewest players and it wasn’t close as they accounted for only 16 while no other club fell below 20.

The Alderson Report

Sandy Alderson, as I imagine most of you know, does a weekly interview with XX Sports Radio’s Too Much Show.  This week’s can be found here.  For those who don’t feel like listening to the entire interview right now, I’ll summarize some of the key points.

Asked about Kevin Towers’ comments on Monday, Alderson said he by and large agreed with them and was pleased Towers made them.  He did try to clarify, though, that despite the team only having a handful of All-Star caliber players that this team has had recent success with many of the players currently on the roster and that collectively we are not that deficient in talent.

Asked if there was a need to reevaluate the way they evaluate players, Alderson basically said there was not.  He said that they must learn from both successes and failures, but that there was no reason to think their fundamental approach is flawed based on a month and a half of poor play.

The hosts then pointed to home runs being down and asked if this meant it was time to discount home runs when evaluating players.  Alderson made the rather obvious point that increased scarcity of home runs makes them more valuable if anything.

The hosts followed up by asking about strikeouts and wanted to know why they were up.  A greater emphasis on power and walks was suggested by Alderson as a possibility.  He also went off on a bit of a tangent saying that the Padres’ lineup has six guys with OBP below .300 and that you can’t score runs like that.

It was then asked why those players were on the team.  Alderson called that a good point, but reminded everyone that some of those players have historically had higher OBP or been productive despite low OBP.

This of course returned the conversation to Towers’ comments about wholesale changes, which Alderson seemed to acknowledge as likely if the current players don’t improve.

There was more, but I feel that was the meat of it.

Replacement Players Follow-Up

Through tonight’s game the Padres are now carrying only four sub-replacement level performers having cut ties with Callix Crabbe, Colt Morton and Jim Edmonds. Their replacements, Edgar Gonzalez, Luke Carlin and Jody Gerut are all out-performing their predecessors thus far.

Relative to replacement level, Gonzalez has been worth 2.4 runs more than Crabbe was, Carlin 3.0 more than Morton and Gerut 4.8 more than Edmonds.

The four sub-replacement level players still on the active roster are Josh Bard, Justin Huber, Khalil Greene and Tony Clark all of whom are within one run of replacement level.  Huber and Clark have both only had about a week’s worth of PA’s.  Greene has shown substantial improvement recently and Bard had caught far too many games without rest.  Things are certainly looking up.

Replacement Players

The Padres this season have carried at one time or another fifteen different position players. Eight of them have performed below replacement level offensively.

I suppose the first reaction from those inclined to defend the Padres would be to point to the park, but note that I’m basing my assertion on a statistic that is adjusted for both park and position. A more reasonable point of contention might be that the sample for many of these players is quite small (all in fact). Well, that’s true but my point is how well they have performed thus far, not how well they’re likely to perform in the future or what have you.

Callix Crabbe (39 PA), Colt Morton (18), Jim Edmonds (103), Jody Gerut (6), Justin Huber (34), Khalil Greene (144), Scott Hairston (111) and Tony Clark (31) have all failed to play at a level one would expect from the type of player theoretically readily available to be plucked from the minors or off the waiver wire at any particular time. By my count, that’s five off-season acquisitions and three starters.

Somewhat disturbingly, Morton who currently has a .129 wOBA is actually out-performing his Weighted Mean Pecota projection. The rest, I think somewhat obviously, are all under-performing. Though, in some cases, not by as much as you might expect (or hope, even).

The Crabbe, Clark, Huber and (especially) Gerut lines can be partially forgiven because of the lack of opportunity, but the fact that three of the Padres’ starting eight can’t manage a Replacement Level performance over more than 100 plate appearances is pathetic.

Nobody else in the organization can play shortstop, so short of a trade Khalil is the best we can do there. Edmonds is just an absolute black hole at nearly half a win below replacement just considering his lackluster offensive not even including his less than adequate fielding.

Hairston’s performance is very nearly exactly replacement level and were he playing center rather than left, it would be above it. However, his play in centerfield statistically speaking has actually been worse than Edmonds’. Paul McAnulty who presumably could replace and sometimes has replaced Hairston in left is actually performing above league average with the bat, but his fielding is abysmal. Also worth considering is that Hairston has some degree of potential. I personally wouldn’t mind seeing if his bat heats up with the weather.

Hopefully the Padres can find a way to get improved performances from these trouble spots and given that replacement level would be an improvement, I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

And in case anyone’s interested, here’s the most recent Sandy Alderson interview on XX Sports Radio.

On Eric Sogard

Eric Sogard, last year’s 81st pick in the MLB amateur draft, is off to one hell of a start with Hi-A Lake Elsinore.  Granted, at 21 going on 22 Sogard is a little old for the level, but it’s only his second year of pro ball.  And he appears to be making serious strides.  His pro debut was nothing to write home about, but he made the adjustment to wooden bats by hitting around if a little below league average.

Through roughly 130 PA this season having been bumped up a level from Low to High Single A, Sogard is doing basically everything better than he did last year.  He has seen an increase in his isolated power, walk rate and line drive rate while simultaneously cutting his strikeout rate significantly.  And while there may be no such thing as a doubles hitter, Sogard is at least doing a fine impression of one by hitting a double in 15% of his at-bats.

His overall line of .388/.496/.553 is well above impressive, but it is also not sustainable primarily thanks to a ridiculous .430 BABIP.  A .430 BABIP is what you’d expect from a line drive rate over 30%, not Sogard’s 17% which suggests something closer to a .300 BABIP perhaps higher given the lower quality of fielding faced in Single A.  And of course, 130 PA isn’t much to go on, but Sogard was a high draft pick and has a mature plate approach, so he’s definitely someone to keep an eye on.