Ludwick!

The San Diego Padres got a much needed extra innings win against the Atlanta Braves thanks in large part to Ryan Ludwick. The Padres left fielder deposited a hanging slider (just) over the left field fence in the 13th inning of a 3-3 game.

If you had been watching the game – or the Padres at all of late – you were probably assuming Braves left fielder Martin Prado would catch that ball at the warning track. Amazingly, he didn’t, as it reached the first row just beyond his outstretched glove.

The walk-off blast was Ludwick’s second home run of the game (fourth of the season); he’s really starting to swing the bat well.

If you’ve been following this Website, you know we’ve been supporters of Ludwick so far in his Padres tenure – we would like to take this portion of cyberspace to gloat obnoxiously.

In all seriousness, Ludwick’s hopeful rejuvenation is critical for this Padres offense. I projected Ludwick for a .255/.335/.430 line before the season. He continues his gradual climb to respectability and now sits at .195/.290/.378 for the year

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Chris Denorfia also made an awesome play in the top of the 13th, robbing Martin Prado of a potential go-ahead hit. Denorfia took a great route to Prado’s fly ball before leaving the ground to catch it right around the right field foul line.

Perhaps even more impressively, Denorfia was able to hang on to the ball, which sat in the palm of his glove, after hitting the ground. To cap it off, he threw out the runner at first base to complete an inning ending double play.

Ryan Howard spoils offensive outburst

The San Diego Padres finally got on the board, scoring twice against Joe Blanton and the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday night.

Ryan Howard went 1-5 with a golden sombrero – four strikeouts. Yet, his WPA was a game-high +2.95. That was made possible in the 11th inning when Bud Black decided to walk Jimmy Rollins with first base open to allow young lefty Corey Luebke to face Howard in a tie game.

If this was five years ago (when Rollins was a really good hitter) *and* you had a filthy lefty, maybe this is a defendable move. This is never a good idea. Since 2008, Jimmy Rollins has hit .258/.320/.412. He just isn’t a particularly good hitter at this point in his career. In that same time period, Ryan Howard has hit .269/.350/.540. I mean, you can’t even really make the argument that Rollins is more likely to just make contact and get a single, really.

Howard does struggle against lefties (.233/.316/.451), but even considering that he’s more dangerous than Rollins right now, especially against Luebke.

Sure, there’s the fact that Howard was having an awful night, with the four whiffs. Then again, do you really expect five? You give a great hitter chance after chance, eventually they’ll make you pay.

Howard did by driving a Luebke offering to deep left field. Ryan Ludwick tried to track it down – a good left fielder probably would have – but it fell in for a two run double and the Phillies grabbed a 4-2 lead (and eventual win).

Ludwick made some fine plays in the field last night, including a diving catch and a few nice running grabs.  Tracking down Howard’s blast would not have been an easy play, but there was  time to find the wall and get under it.

On the positive side, Tim Stauffer was very good on the hill. Cameron Maybin, Jason Bartlett, and Ludwick all had solid nights at the plate. Bartlett also made a few great plays at short, including a charging bare-hand play on a slow roller.

Brad Hawpe went 0-5 with a strikeout, good for a position-player low –2.35 WPA. He did drive one deep to left field on the game’s final at bat, nearly tying things up. Hopefully, things will start to turn around for him.

Another day, another shutout

On Thursday night, the San Diego Padres were shutout 3-0 by the Philadelphia Phillies. Roy Oswalt pitched six one-hit innings, keeping the Padres off balance throughout.

For the Padres, Mat Latos had good stuff, striking out seven in four and a third. His control was off all night, however, and he walked five while giving up two home runs.

Brad Hawpe stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth, with two on and two outs. It was an ideal opportunity for Hawpe to break out of his slump and hit a dramatic game-tying blast. More predictably, though, Hawpe awkwardly struck out. He was clearly looking for the walk.

On Friday night the Padres fell 2-0 to the Phils, despite another good outing from the pitching staff. Clayton Richard worked into the eighth, giving up only two runs thanks to a roped triple into deep right center from Ryan Howard.

Cole Hamels silenced the Padres bats again, striking out eight and allowing four hits in eight innings of work. Ryan Madson pitched an unblemished ninth.

Offensively, there just isn’t much you can say. The Padres aren’t hitting. They’ve been shutout six times now. The Padres get a break in the Phillies rotation tomorrow in Joe Blanton. Maybe they can score a run.

Brad Hawpe’s struggles continue

The San Diego Padres split a doubleheader in Wrigley, losing the first game 2-1 in extras and winning the second 5-4.

Ryan Ludwick had a breakout day, going 2-4 with a walk in game one and 3-4 with a homer and two doubles in game two. On the season his numbers are slowly approaching respectability — .200/.314/.350.

Brad Hawpe’s struggles continued, however, as he went 0-5 in game one with three strikeouts. He didn’t play the second game. Hawpe is in a 1-19 slump (wrapped inside a season long slump); he’s k’ed nine times during that stretch while mustering just two walks and no extra base hits.

As we’ve discussed recently, Ludwick, despite his struggles, has shown plenty of positive signs. Hawpe has not. We must, of course, remember a couple of things. One, we’re still talking about a ridiculously small sample (45 plate appearances). Two, we’re also talking about a ridiculously bad performance.

Hawpe hasn’t just struggled, he’s been completely overmatched. He’s struck out 40 percent of the time, walked seven percent of the time, reached base at a .174 clip, and registered one extra base hit all season.

At the plate, he hasn’t looked good, swinging at pitches out of the zone, taking hittable pitches, and rarely making good contact. According to FanGraphs, Hawpe has swung at 29 percent of pitches outside of the zone (career: 22 percent) and 65 percent of pitches inside the zone (career: 74 percent).

The stathead in me says we simply need to ride it out with Hawpe. He’ll start to hit. I mean, it can’t get any worse (can it?). 45 plate appearances is hardly enough to evaluate a hitter.

That said, something else says that he just doesn’t have it. Not here, not now. When he’ll get it back, who knows, but the Padres can’t wait around to find out, if viable options present themselves (Kyle Blanks, perhaps).

Jim Edmonds completely fell apart upon joining the Padres in 2008, hitting .178/.265/.233 in just over 100 plate appearances. He signed with the Cubs after being released by the Padres, and morphed back into Jim Edmonds, 2005 edition, hitting .256/.369/.568 the rest of the way.

We’ll see what happens with Brad Hawpe.

Let’s play two in Chicago

The San Diego Padres were rained out last night; they’ll play two against the Chicago Cubs today in Wrigley, much to the delight of Ernie Banks.

Since we last chatted, the Padres took two of three in Houston, including an 8-6 offensive outburst on Sunday. On Monday they lost to the Cubs 1-0, whiffing 13 times against Carlos Zambrano and company.

The Padres have been shutout four times in their first 16 games (including two 1-0 losses). They’ve yet to pitch a shutout of their own, though they have held opponents to two runs or less in seven games.

Last season the Padres were 6-4 in 1-0 games (1-2 vs.Cubs).

Offensive start

The Padres are 5-7 through 12 April games. They’ve scored 39 runs (3.5 per game) and allowed 40 (3.6/g).

The slow start with the bats combined with good pitching is not foreign to Padres fans, as we’ve seen numerous stretches like this before. Here are the early returns:

Player PA BA OBP SLG BB K
Hundley 42 .316 .442 .639 5 10
Hudson 51 .326 .423 .395 8 10
Maybin 45 .244 .311 .488 4 13
Headley 48 .256 .396 .395 9 10
Ludwick 48 .103 .271 .205 7 10
Venable 36 .139 .256 .157 6 10
Hawpe 33 .129 .176 .161 2 13
Bartlett 38 .118 .211 .118 4 7

We’re big believers that you need a substantial amount of data to evaluate a player. We certainly haven’t reached that point yet (it’s a continuum, really, and more is better), but it doesn’t hurt to take a quick peek at the numbers either.

Nick Hundley has been tremendous so far. Hudson has also been great – he’s also six for six on steals. Maybin’s play has been excellent as well. He’s strike out prone – as expected – but he’s also hitting for good power and playing solid defense.

Ludwick’s struggles have continued into this season. His Batting Average on Balls in Play is a laughable .103. Part bad luck, part bad contact. On the positive side, his walk rate is up and his strike out rate is down. There’s signs of life here.

Brad Hawpe has really struggled too, but unlike Ludwick his peripherals are ugly. No power, no walks, and a ton of strike outs (39% of PAs) is rarely a good recipe for tolerable hitting. Hawpe has plenty of time to turn it around, but until then the pressure is only going to increase. If he doesn’t start hitting sooner than later, the Padres may be forced to look elsewhere.

Observations from an 8-2 loss

The San Diego Padres fell to the Cincinnati Reds 8-2 on Tuesday night. It was obviously much closer than the final score, as the game went into extra innings.

The Reds exploded for six runs in the 11th, thanks in large part  to a go-ahead double by Ryan Hanigan and a three-run blast to center field by Drew Stubbs.

Here are some random observations from the game:

  • Chase Headley had a terrible game. He went 0-5 with three strikeouts: –.393 WPA for the game. In the ninth inning he fouled out on a sacrifice bunt attempt with no outs, trying to advance Orlando Hudson to third base (-.111 WPA). In the 1oth he struck out with the bases loaded and one down (-.175 WPA). The game was tied in both situations.
  • Speaking of that sac bunt attempt, I didn’t really like it. It’s one thing to bunt with a guy who has experience – real game-time experience bunting in high-pressure situations. Headley certainly doesn’t. While I don’t know how good of a bunter he truly is, asking a bad bunter (and pretty good hitter) to bunt there is probably not a good move.
  • Clayton Richard pitched well, but he struggled throwing the ball to second base. In the 5th inning, Richard fielded a potential double play ball, but his throw to second was way off the mark. Orlando Hudson made a terrific play just to keep it in the infield (more on this in the next bullet). In the 8th Richard also had trouble with a throw to second, but Alberto Gonzalez bailed him out with a nice pick to record the out.
  • On that 5th inning play at second – a crucial play, which led to the go-ahead run – there appeared to be some confusion over who was covering the bag. It’s basically always the shortstop’s ball there, as his momentum is already headed toward second base (and thereby first base) and he can see the play better. In my second base playing days, I always tried to angle out more toward the outfield and stay clear of the pitcher’s vision on plays like that, to avoid any confusion (while still backing up the play). I thought Hudson was a little close to second there.
  • Oh yeah, Gonzalez at short, he’s pretty smooth. I mentioned that he’s probably a good defender when the Padres picked him up, as he definitely hasn’t stuck around the major leagues due to his bat. He’s made a number of very nice plays in the field and you can tell that he has a lot of confidence out there. He’s fun to watch. He’s hitting too, and we should probably enjoy that while it lasts.

The Padres had legitimate chances to win this one in the 8th, 9th, 10th innings, and couldn’t come through. It’s frustrating. Strike outs, failed bunt attempts, near home runs, great defensive work by the Reds, you name it. Anything to prevent that run from scoring. The Padres will have a chance to take one against the Reds tomorrow, before heading to Houston for a weekend series.

Latos strong in 2011 debut; Padres fall to Reds

Mat Latos made his first start of the season against the Cincinnati Reds on Monday night, coming off the DL from a sore right shoulder.

Latos was solid in six innings of work, striking out seven, walking two, and allowing two (big) home runs.

Jonny Gomes took a hanging breaking ball and deposited it into the left field stands in the fourth, cutting the Padres lead to 2-1. In the following inning, Chris Heisey turned on a high fastball that landed in the same proximity as Gomes’ big fly, giving the Reds a 3-2 lead they would not relinquish.

Other than those two pitches, Latos was his usual dominant self (as was his counterpart, Edinson Volquez). His pitch location, at times anyway, was not quite in mid-season form, but coming off the DL and making his first start of the year, you can’t expect that. It’s called mid-season form for a reason.

According to PITCHf/x, his four-seam fastball velocity was 93.1 miles per hour, just one MPH off last year’s average (FanGraphs).

Latos v reds

The above graph shows Latos pitch types, classified by MLB Gameday, with horizontal and vertical movement.

The Padres had their best chance to tie game in the eighth inning, when Alberto Gonzalez lined a lead off double just inside the left field foul line. With the tying run on second, Chris Denorfia attempted to sacrifice Gonzalez over to third.

Denorfia placed his bunt in the one spot you don’t want it – right in front of home plate. Reds catcher Ramon Hernandez’s throw to third was low and to the wrong side of the bag, but Scott Rolen picked it and put down a quick tag, getting a generous out call from the third base umpire.

Gonzalez looked safe, quite clearly, though in real-time it was a bang-bang play. Still, Denorfia has to do a better job of getting the bunt down – anywhere else on the diamond probably gets the runner to third.

Instead of a man on third, one out (or first and third, no outs), the Padres were left with Denorfia on first with one down. Jorge Cantu had a very nice at-bat following that debacle, but ended up striking out (Denorfia was thrown out at second on the whiff, adding to the frustration).

The Padres had a chance in the ninth, as Orlando Hudson led off with a walk, but  nothing materialized. On the positive side, Latos did have a nice outing. I don’t think this team has a chance without a healthy and effective Latos, and it’s definitely good to have him back already.

Padres salvage finale against Dodgers

I’m quite sure that strange start times, Mother Nature, and the MLB Extra Innings overlords are conspiring to make sure I don’t see a single San Diego Padres game all year.

I tuned in Friday night to watch the series opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers, only to find that I was really watching a rain delay with some baseball mixed in. The Padres ended up losing that game – on Saturday – 4-2 in 11 innings.

Tony Gwynn had two hits, including the go-ahead single in the 11th. On the positive side Corey Luebke threw four very solid rain-soaked innings, allowing just one run while striking out five.

The Dodgers won 4-0 in Saturday’s contest (full-game edition). Gwynn continued to annoy Padres fans, going 2-5 with a double, two runs scored, and two stolen bases. Gwynn hit just .204/.304/.287 last season with the Padres. Daniel quite nicely described Saturday’s (mostly) dull affair. 

The Padres bats woke up on Sunday and they rolled 7-2 behind another good performance from Aaron Harang on the mound. Harang went six innings, surrendering just two runs on three hits. The Padres received usual shutdown relief from Luke Gregerson, Mike Adams, and Pat Neshek.

On the offensive side, Ryan Ludwick showed signs of life with a fourth inning home run – I still have faith in Ludwick, for what it’s worth. Nick Hundley, who is off to a blazing start, also homered. Cameron Maybin went 2-2 with a triple and a home run, and he didn’t enter the game until the 7th inning.

Quantifying The Emotion of a Game

It is rare for me to get overly excited when watching regular season baseball.  The season is 162 games, and over that long season, there are some ups, and there are some downs, and I know that generally speaking, things smooth themselves out by September.  The good teams make the playoffs, and the bad teams finish with mediocre records. I realize that individual plays, the type that generate excitement in other sports(this is particularly true in football), just do not have the same impact on a team’s likelihood of making the playoffs in baseball.

Last night I had the opportunity to watch my first San Diego Padres’ game of the year.  For most of the evening I watched the Padres struggle to get on base, and listened to Vin Scully’s fascination with Rob Johnson’s home state of Montana.  Scully’s soothing style, the lack of action in the game itself, and my personal tendency to not get too emotional while watching baseball contributed to an incredibly relaxing, yet somewhat dull evening.  Until the bottom of the seventh inning.

Trailing 0-3, with nine outs to go, the Padres had only an approximately a 10 percent chance of winning the ballgame.  However, when Jason Bartlett started the inning with a walk, and Brad Hawpe and Chase Headley soon followed with singles to load the bases with only one out, I started to perk up a little bit.  Sure the Padres still had a win expectancy under 25 percent, but the optimist in me estimated their chances of winning at a much higher rate.

That optimism was short-lived.  Chris Denorfia grounded into an inning ending double play, and in a rare emotional outburst, I smacked the cushion of my couch, let fly a few choice words, consulted my Fangraphs iPhone app, and saw that the Padres win expectancy had plummeted to about 5 percent.

Win Probability Added (WPA) is a stat that I feel is misused all too often.  It doesn’t really tell us who the best players are (although cumulative WPA totals do tend to be correlated with WAR), and frankly, I don’t love its use in supporting MVP candidacies.  That said, it does have its place.  It is a stat that tells a story.  It does a great job quantifying the emotion of games on the daily level.

Denorfia’s double play reduced the Padres chances of winning by about 18 percentage points.  By WPA, it was the single most impactful moment of the game, and somewhat justifies the emotion I felt at the time.

A frequent complaint by people less familiar with the complete array of new baseball statistics is that stats are taking over the game.  That somehow the stats are removing the human element from the game, and reducing baseball to an emotionless matrix of numbers.

I beg to differ.

For me, the stats tell the story of what happened during the games and what transpired over the course of a season, or even multiple seasons.  Many of the newer stats simply tell those stories more accurately and more completely than some of the traditional statistics.

Last night, the existence of Win Probability Added did not suck the emotion out of the game.  It simply helped me describe the emotion I felt.

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