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A weblog covering the San Diego Padres.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Fish = Pads??

The New York Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks, and San Francisco Giants have several things in common. For starters, they’ve all been to the World Series in the past 3 seasons. They all have payrolls well above the league average. And they all have seemingly nothing in common with the San Diego Padres.

But fear not Padre fans. These four aforementioned teams also have nothing in common with the reigning World Series champion Florida Marlins. World Series champion Florida Marlins?? Sounds funny, or at the very least, improbable, which it certainly was if you use traditional statistical measures. But given some careful analysis, the Marlins’ success makes some sense after all.

Glancing over the Florida ’03 roster, the first thing that jumps out is the age column. Lots of young up and comers combined with a handful of veterans in key positions. Derrick Lee, Juan Pierre, Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis, and Josh Beckett, all in their early to mid twenties, were joined by veterans Pudge Rodriguez, Mike Lowell, and Mark Redman.

A core of quality young players will not always jump out on paper, especially when using measures that often underrate improvement from year to year, such as SABR. It is not possible to project a player’s numbers simply by flopping his OPS from the previous year over to the next year. The improvement shown by the Marlins young core clearly exceeded the expectations of these statistical estimations.

Take Juan Pierre, for example. He played in Coors in ’02, so one would think his stats would soar for a year, then return to sea level when he…well, returned to sea level. His ’02 numbers broke down like this:

Avg.: .287
OBP: .332
SLG: .343
OPS: .675
With 90 runs, 31 walks, and 47 stolen bases

In ’03, his numbers exploded to:

Avg.: .305
OBP: .361
SLG: .373
OPS: .734
With 100 runs, 55 walks, and 65 stolen bases

This is a kid who was 25 years old. Shouldn’t such a progression be expected as he comes into his prime? Especially when considering a player like Pierre, who’s biggest asset is his speed, it only makes sense that as he developed a firmer sense of plate discipline and became a more experienced base runner, he would develop into a very effective player.

Pierre was joined by Miguel Cabrera, Derrick Lee, and Mike Lowell, who really seemed to hit his stride before getting injured, as position players who far outperformed many statistical estimations. However, even given all these vast improvements, perhaps the biggest boost for the Marlins came from the production of their young pitchers.

Dontrelle Willis became a legitimate top of the rotation guy, dominating the opposition in stretches last year. Josh Beckett had the capability of shutting a team down, and veteran Mark Redman quietly had a great rebound year after a tough stint in Detroit, lowering his ’02 ERA by .62 and decreasing his opponents batting average allowed by nearly 30 points.

A young rotation, some up and coming hitters, and some solid veterans…sounds like a good, and strikingly familiar, combination.

Lee, Cabrera, Pierre…Burroughs, Greene, Hernandez…Willis, Beckett…Peavy, Eaton, Lawrence…Pudge, Lowell…Nevin, Giles…hmmmm…

Now granted, the Marlins had a different KIND of young hitters than the Padres do currently, but the idea remains that the Padres have a standout core of young players that can be counted on to IMPROVE their numbers this season. Whether they will improve to the extent that the Marlins did remains to be seen.

It can be argued that the group of Padres veterans surrounding the youth insurgence is in fact even stronger that the Marlins’ veterans were last year. Giles, Nevin, Payton, Wells, Klesko, and Loretta is an extremely solid, if not spectacular, group. This means that the Padres’ young hitters should be counted on to do less than the Marlins’ young guns were.

This isn’t to say that the ’04 Padres will enjoy the same level of success as the ’03 Marlins, it is merely pointing out the similarities that exist within the core of the two teams.

Unlike the Yankees and Red Sox, teams like the Padres and Marlins have to rely on the improvement of their young players if they wish to make a run at the playoffs. The Padres were in a bit of a unique situation this year as they were able to add some fairly significant payroll and make some key acquisitions with the unveiling of Petco. But even with the spending increase, they are still nowhere near Steinbrenner/Henry levels. Consider this fact: The Yankees have two #2 overall draft picks BACKING UP Jason Giambi at first base this year in Travis Lee and Tony Clark.

If you can’t outspend ‘em, you gotta out scout ‘em and out draft ‘em. The Padres have had some very solid drafts in the past several years and have made several key trades to aid in their quest to return to the top of the NL West. The “Kevin Towers, Sludge Merchant Extraordinaire” theory really comes into play when you consider the Andy Ashby deal with the Phillies several years back. He managed to spin an aging hurler coming to the end of his career (4-7 with a 5.68 era and a big ol’ salary for the Phillies) into Adam Eaton, who now looks poised to become on of the anchors of a young and promising Padres pitching staff.

Then consider some of the late round draft picks the Padres have had. Jake Peavy was a 15th rounder, undrafted free agent Oliver Perez and Jason Bay helped land Brian Giles, and Brian Lawrence went in the 17th round. Throw in the success of top picks Burroughs and Greene, and you have the makings of a couple solid drafts in a row. Add to that Josh Barfield, Tim Stauffer, and the rest of the promising minor leaguers, and it appears the Padres have in fact had some scouting coups, which is exactly what they need in order to compete.

There will always be lean years for low budget teams, but the Padres appear to be in the midst of an upswing. Padres management should now have a few additional dollars to throw at a key midseason acquisition or two should the young players improve and keep the Padres in the thick of things in the NL West. A core of improving youth surrounded by key veterans…it’s worked before, let’s hope it works again.

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