The Attendance Issue

Discussion of the Padres home attendance is starting to heat up; it has been disappointingly low. Here’s a chart of the San Diego Padres home attendance in the Petco era, data courtesy of Baseball Reference:

Year Attendance
2004 37,244
2005 35,429
2006 32,837
2007 34,445
2008 29,970
2009 23,699
2010 22,059

There’s a falloff there after the opening of a new ballpark that is to be expected. What is not necessarily expected is the drop off that is occurring this year, especially after a 17-11 start. Last year, the 75 win team had a better average attendance.

One of the important things to consider about attendance is that there are a lot of variables that impact it: performance, time of season, opponents, promotions, even pitching matchups. Let’s take a quick look at some of the potential factors.

First, time of season. Attendance generally heats up in the summer months, as school gets out and the weather gets nicer. This year through 16 home dates, the Padres home attendance sits at 22,059, as shown above. Last year after 16 home dates, the home attendance was 26,293. Last year’s team, with a worse early season record and future outlook, had better early season attendance by about 4,000.

Bill Center (linked above) makes the claim that the Dodgers are the reason to blame for this season’s low figures. Is that the case? The Padres averaged 31,735 in the series against LA, a series that included the Padres home opener (and season opener). Even if we eliminate these four games, last year’s early season attendance would be 24,481, still more than this year. The Dodgers make a difference, but not enough to offset the gap entirely.

As RJ’s Fro mentions, the Padres played a few more home games on the weekend last year, and a few more on weekdays so far this year. That also, undoubtedly, accounts for some of the difference.

The overall point, for me anyway, is that attendance is slightly down, even compared to a season last year that saw the Padres draw their lowest home attendance since the mid-1990s. We can quibble about the difference, about what explains the slight decrease of a few thousand people per game. In the end, however, what is more concerning is that this year’s figures are even close to last season’s. A hot start, some good, young players, Adrian Gonzalez, a couple extended winning streaks, sole possession of first place, and so on, should all contribute to increased attendance and overall excitement about the team’s prospects.

There is plenty of time to turn things around; plenty of time for fans to buy into the New Regime and the players on the field. But if the early returns tell us anything, it is that the Padres front office has a lot of work to do in rebuilding the confidence of the fans. Hopefully, continued success on the field will do that, or the Padres will have to resort to other tactics.

Kyle Blanks and strikeouts

One of the tenets of sabermetrics is that strikeouts, for hitters, are not as detrimental to an offensive attack as many think. The idea is that a strikeout, while easily the least desirable outcome for the hitter (except, of course, for the double play), is not really that much worse than any other out. Any type of out is, on average, not going to help your ball club. Over the long haul, striking out more than another player with similar offensive stats is not going to hurt a player’s overall value too much.

With that said, the strikeout can become dangerous for the hitter when it happens too frequently. Enter Kyle Blanks. So far this season he’s leading all of the majors, amongst qualifiers, with a 45% K rate. In fact, nobody is really close to him (Justin Upton is second at 37%). Last year, Diamondback Mark Reynolds led the league with a 39% K rate – only he and Jack Cust were over 35%. For additional context, Adam Dunn’s career strikeout rate is about 32% and he’s never had a season above 35%. The 40% range and upwards is rarified air.

However, a hitter can function, productively even, with a ridiculously high amount of strikeouts. Take Dunn, for example, who has been a tremendous offensive force his entire career. With the strikeouts, Dunn has  provided a lot of patience (17% BB rate) and power (22% HR/FB). Mark Reynolds, MLB’s current strikeout king, is also a productive hitter. Despite whiffing 37% of the time, he’s put up a .256/.340/.504 line, thanks to power similar to Dunn’s and a great BABiP.

Blanks so far has struck out in 40% of his major league at bats (222 of them). What is encouraging is that his body of work, at the major league level, is not even half a season. His K rate should go down, due to regression to the mean alone. However, strikeouts are definitely more stable than, say, average on balls in play, so the concern is real.

Blanks has been a relatively productive player, putting up a .350 wOBA in his brief major league career. He’s done it with a lot of power, a decent enough average on balls in play, and an acceptable walk rate. He has shown that he can be a productive major leaguer with the high strikeout totals. The million dollar question, of course, is can he keep it up? His numbers have already fallen off this year, with the increased strikeouts. It is possible that he could be okay while striking out in 40% of his abs, but it is definitely unlikely. And it severely limits his upside and his long-term ability to remain a starter in the majors.

I don’t want to make too much out of too little here early in the season. It is never too wise to get too excited either way about such a relatively small amount of data. That said, Kyle Blanks’ K rate is alarmingly high enough to warrant some early concern. Hopefully, Blanks will work hard to make more contact, while at the same time becoming more patient and continuing to provide good pop. If everything comes together, he has a chance to become a staple in the Padres lineup.

Examining Wade LeBlanc's Change-Up

Since replacing injured pitcher Chris Young in the starting rotation, Wade LeBlanc has been lights out for the San Diego Padres.  In 23 innings he has a 1.16 ERA, a 2.15 FIP, and a 3.61 xFIP.  LeBlanc is unlikely to sustain such excellence for the entire season, but based on his performance thus far, there is no reason to think he cannot be a league average pitcher going forward.

LeBlanc’s best pitch is his change-up.  He throws it 25 percent of the time, and according to Fangraphs, it has been 5.73 runs above average per 100 pitches so far in 2010.  LeBlanc throws his change-up at 77 mph, 10 mph slower than his fastball.

Because his change-up is so solid, I wanted to see how it compared to some of the major league’s best change-ups according to pitch f/x.

I sorted by the 2009 leaders in change-up runs above average (total, not per-100), and selected the top three lefties for comparison.  The players with the best lefty change-ups in 2009 were: CC Sabathia, Cole Hamels, and Mark Buehrle.

The following table notes how often each pitcher threw his change-up, as well as some speed statistics:

Pitcher

% Change

Fast Vel.

Change Vel.

Diff.

Wade LeBlanc

25%

87 mph

77 mph

10 mph

CC Sabathia

20%

93 mph

80 mph

13 mph

Cole Hamels

24%

90 mph

81 mph

9 mph

Mark Buehrle

25%

85 mph

79 mph

6 mph

The speed difference between LeBlanc’s fastball and change-up is a bit less than Sabathia, but compares favorably with Hamels and Buehrle.

This table highlights each pitcher’s horizontal and vertical movement on his change-up;

Pitcher

Horizontal Movement

Vertical Movement

Wade LeBlanc

7.8

6.8

CC Sabathia

8.6

7.5

Cole Hamels

7.8

7.4

Mark Buehrle

7.0

3.6

Sabathia gets the most horizontal movement on his change-up, but it stays up a bit more than the others’. Buehrle’s change-up has by far the most sink.  The movement on LeBlanc’s change-up is pretty similar to Hamels’.

Finally, lets take a look at the pitch flight charts.  The charts were created using data from Brooks Baseball, and are pitch flights for each pitcher’s most recent start:

There are slight differences between each of the pitcher’s change-ups, but frankly, they are pretty similar. For LeBlanc, this is a good thing.  His change-up is pretty comparable from a “stuff” perspective to Sabathia, Hamels, and Buehrle, three of the top change-up pitchers in baseball.  LeBlanc is unlikely to ever be as good as those three because there is a lot more to pitching than just having a good change-up, but it is certainly a start.

Week 4 Power Rankings

This week I had the San Diego Padres ranked eighth.  Exactly where the team ranked in the overall Yardbarker rankings.  However, as I mentioned yesterday on Twitter, “I’m a bit uncomfortable ranking [the Padres] that high.”  Its not that I don’t think the Padres are a decent team, its just that I feel the American League is so much better than the National League that some of the A.L. teams with lower winning percentages could be amongst the better teams in the N.L.

Here’s how I ranked the NL West, with the Yardbarker rank in parentheses.

7. Colorado Rockies (13): Losing Jorge De La Rosa for an extended period of time will hurt the Rockies more than many people realize.

8. San Diego Padres (8): This Padres team just keeps winning.

9. San Francisco Giants (6): Barry Zito is nowhere near as good as his 1.53 ERA suggests, but he is pitching well, and is a nice early-season story.

15. Los Angeles Dodgers (20): The Dodger’s starting rotation is way too thin for this team to seriously compete.

22. Arizona Diamondbacks (23): Not a single pitcher (starter or reliever) has an ERA under 4.

Other Notes:

  • I know the Rays are playing great ball, but I still have the Yankees ranked first.  New York is playing great as well.
  • Yardbarker has the A’s ranked 10th, I have them at 19.  I’m not sure what the other voters see in this 13-14 team.
  • The 7-19 Orioles are a much better team than the Pirates and Astros, both of whom play in a much easier division than Baltimore.  Ranking the Orioles 30th last week was silly, and an overreaction to their terrible record.  Doing so again this week after they swept the Red Sox reeks of laziness by the voters.
  • The Nationals are ranked 19th in the Yardbarker list.  I have Washington at 27.  Their pitching is not good enough to be in the top 20.
  • The Pirates with a -89 run differential are really, really bad.

How good are these Padres?

The San Diego Padres, as you may have heard, have started the season 16-9 and are atop the NL West. Arguably just as impressively, they have got there by outscoring their opponents by a 36 run (Pythagorusly-correct) margin. Performance wise, you could not ask for much more from a team that was expected, by most experts, to finish near the cellar of the NL West, if not the entire National League.

Of course, one of the most difficult things for us as fans, and arm-chair analysts of the game, to determine is just what this means in the long run. A 16-9 run by a .450 team in the middle of the season is oftentimes simply written off as a hot streak and quickly forgotten. But when a team starts the season in this fashion, naturally, our first inclination is to think that a good year is ahead. And why wouldn’t we? It’s really all we have to go by.

Or is it? Well, we also have performance in previous seasons, not to mention the projections of all the players on the roster. Sometimes, actually many times, these projections are off by a bit, but usually they give us at least a pretty decent guide to the season ahead. What is hard to separate, then, is actual performance vs true talent level. It is one of the most important issues in sabermetrics, without question. Daniel, just a week ago, looked at it from a mathematical perspective and concluded that the hot start should not change our preseason projections too much. Since then the Padres have went 5-2, further improving on their surprising start.

Undoubtedly, the Padres are playing well above their heads – so is just about any other team that starts a season winning 64% of their games. However, the longer the Padres sustain these winning ways, the more we have to believe that they are indeed better than our preseason expectations, and that the playoffs are a distinct possibility.

The Padres only need to play .500 ball the rest of the way to reach 85 wins, and put themselves in the middle of the playoff hunt. It is, of course, quite possible — likely, even – that they aren’t a true .500 club, even considering the good start. But, how likely is it that a .480, even a .450 team, plays .500 baseball over a 137 game stretch? It certainly is not that improbable.

Regardless of the math, the hot start has at least sparked some early interest in the team on the field, and not just on potential trades, the Adrian Gonzalez Saga, or the new ownership. As baseball fans, what more can we ask for?

The Padres Have Been an Excellent Fielding Team

A primary reason for the San Diego Padres’ success this season has been the strength of the team’s fielding.

The Padres rank first in the majors in UZR/150 and third in Dewan’s Defensive Runs Saved.

Leading the charge has been the centerfield tandem of Tony Gwynn and Scott Hairston who have combined for approximately 7 runs above average according to both metrics.

Because of the severe sample size issues associated with fielding statistics, I do not want to discuss any more individual performances, but collectively the Padres have played 1620 defensive innings (180 9-inning individual games).  That is a somewhat more meaningful sample, and provides some reason to be optimistic about the Padres’ fielding going forward.

The bullpen is good (fourth in reliever’s RAR).  The fielding appears to be a strength.  If the team could get a bit more production out of their starting pitchers (currently ranked 23rd in starter’s RAR), the Padres could be one of the major league’s best run prevention teams.  And that’s not even considering the impact of Petco Park.

Week 3 Power Rankings: The Proof Daniel Is A Padres Fan Edition

In recent weeks, I have published a number of articles that have cautioned against overly raising expectations for this Padres team.  Although I have consistently stated that the San Diego Padres are probably around a 0.500 team (which is nothing to be ashamed of), such talk has elicited murmurs that I might not even be a Padres fan!

In this week’s Yardbarker Power Rankings, I did my best to put aside all questions about my Padres fanhood. Despite my belief that the Padres are a 0.500ish team going forward, I ranked the Padres 12th!

Okay, I guess 12th isn’t that high.   The Padres’ overall rank in the standings was tenth–suggesting that I, a Padres fan, am a tad more pessimistic about the team than the average voter.  There are thirty major league teams, so a team with 0.500 talent should probably be placed somewhere between ten and twenty, but hey, twelfth is a start, and a serious jump from the 21 spot that I had the team in last week.

Here was how I ranked the NL West (Yardbarker rank in parentheses):

7. Colorado Rockies (8): Miguel Olivo would be pretty darn good if he ever learned to take a walk.

8. Los Angeles Dodgers (15): Billingsley has a 5.40 ERA, but a 3.79 FIP that is consistent with his career numbers. He will be fine.

12. San Diego Padres (10): The Padres have one of the best records in the National League, but this is a 0.500 team at best.

13. San Francisco Giants (7): Jonathan Sanchez and Sergio Romo combined to hold San Diego to one hit–a single–on April 20. But it wasn’t good enough for the win, as the Padres became only the 15th team since 1920 to win a game with a mere single.

21. Arizona Diamondbacks (22): Thanks to a ridiculously unsustainable HR/FB rate (37%), Kelly Johnson has 7 home runs. Johnson is a solid enough hitter, but his fantasy owners should enjoy this while it lasts.

Other Thoughts…

  • The Red Sox still rank 14th?  Um, yeah….
  • The NL West has four teams in both the Yardbarker top 15, as well as my personal top 15.  Its something that doesn’t sound right, but is not completely ridiculous.  The NL West has a lot of average to slightly above average teams, and those teams get to play each other a lot.  The NL West is deep, it just doesn’t have a great team.
  • The Orioles, at 3-16, are the last ranked team in the Yardbarker rankings.  I cannot blame the other voters for ranking the Orioles last because their record is that bad.  But Baltimore is not really the worst team in the league.  They have played a brutal schedule.
  • The Rays are first, and the Yankees second in the Yardbarker rankings.  I have those two teams flipped. The difference is not significant, but it does highlight my belief that we should weight our pre-season predictions heavier than actual on-field performance at this point in the season.  I felt the Yankees were the best team prior to the season, and with only one more loss than the Rays so far, I see no reason to change my mind.

The Padres Are Who We Thought They Were

As of this writing, the San Diego Padres are tied for the best record in the National League at 11-7.  The Padres’ nice start has generated a good amount of optimism amongst fans.  The Padres are a decent enough team, but nothing about their start should surprise people.  That a team we expected to win between 75-80 games has started 11-7 should not significantly change our expectations for the team going forward.

Last year, Sky Andrecheck outlined a simple method for updating pre-season predictions.  Essentially Andrecheck proposed comparing the pre-season win probability distribution with the in-season probability distribution.  The two distributions are then multiplied to determine our updated expectations.

Prior to the season, I predicted the Padres would win 80 games in 2010, a winning percentage of 0.493. Using Andrecheck’s method, we would expect the Padres to play 0.500 ball the rest of the season, and finish with 82.5 wins.

This chart shows just how little the updated distribution differs from the pre-season distribution…

If you expected the Padres to win only 75 games (a 0.463 win percentage) prior to the season, you would expect them to go 0.470 the rest of the way…

The Padres are off to a nice start, but it is nothing out of the ordinary for a team expected to compete at a slightly below 0.500 level.  The Padres are still the same team we thought they were prior to the season. They just happen to temporarily be occupying first place.

*Note: This type of analysis is somewhat sensitive to the level of variance surrounding each of the distributions.  However, I tested to ensure my results were robust to different standard deviations.  They were.

Padres Get One Hit and Win

The San Diego Padres defeated the San Francisco Giants this evening in a game in which they only recorded one hit.

According to Baseball-Reference’s play index, 36 teams have won a game with only one hit since 1920.

14 of those teams accomplished the feat with a single.

3 teams accomplished the feat exactly like the Padres: one single, three walks.

2 teams did it with one single and less than three walks.

1 team, the 2002 Seattle Mariners did it with one single and one walk.

Yup, the play-index is fun!

Padres Minor League News and Notes

After only twelve games it is hard to make many assumptions or judgments as to the fate of the 2010 San Diego Padres’ farm teams. One thing I can say is that at this early point in the season the pitchers are well ahead of the hitters. That said, here is a look at some positives, negatives, and other observations twelve games into the season.

Portland Beavers (5-7); 3rd place (1 GB)

Positives- Batting: Craig Cooper didn’t even make the opening day lineup. Since then has hit .375/.405/.650 while leading the team in RBI (10) and 2nd in RS (7). Too bad he is a 1B… Denorfria and Mike Baxter have also gotten off to hot starts each hitting over .370…Durango has been on base 16 times this season and has 9 SB.

Pitching: Carrillo (9.2 IP, 0.93 ERA, 1.03 WHIP) and Inman (10 IP, 2.70 ERA, 1.00 WHIP 9 K) are beginning to put themselves back on the prospect map while anchoring the rotation…The Beavers have 4 relievers Frieri, Webb, Worrell, and Burke each with WHIP’s under 1.00, while all having at least an 8 K/9 IP average.

Negatives- Offense: Lance Zawadzki was/is competing for a job in SD has only hit .205/.286/.227 thus far with 3 E and 15 K (44 AB). ..Cunningham and Durango have not been terrible but have not come close to the hype they deservedly received during ST. Both are hitting around .260 with a .300 OBP...Barfield was only 3-18 before being put on the DL.

Pitching: No real negatives outside of the ERAs of Leblanc (7.20) and Russel (11.57). Of course both have come to SD and been lights out.

Notes: The team is sorely missing Antonelli, as the 2B spot has not produced much of anything this year. 8 of the 12 games have been decided by the bullpen (4-4), Beavers are also 2-4 in games decided by 1 run.

Continue reading

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.