Padres links: 4/6

The San Diego Padres are off to a good start, winning three of their first four. They took two of three in an opening series in St. Louis, outscoring the Cardinals 14-6.

Yesterday, the Padres won their home opening against the San Francisco Giants 3-1, behind an excellent debut from starter Aaron Harang (6 IP, 6 K’s, 1 R) and a three run third inning.

Starting off 3-1 – against good clubs, too – probably shouldn’t change your opinion of the 2011 Padres much, if at all. Still, there’s not much more you could have asked for so far, and hopefully the Padres can ride a hot start to another big year.

Onto the links ….

Geoff Young talks about Cameron Maybin’s very exciting Padres debut.

Ray covers the Padres opening series at Friarhood.

Mat Latos threw a 70-pitch simulated game on Monday. “All the reports are good,” according to Bud Black. The Padres pitching has been sharp so far, but they could use a healthy Latos as soon as possible (as could 29 other teams).

Trevor Hoffman returned to San Diego Tuesday, making a familiar entrance from the bullpen to throw out the first pitch. You might remember, Hoffman was the Padres closer before Heath Bell.

Forbes says Padres made $37 million in 2010, sort of

The Forbes MLB team valuations came out recently. The San Diego Padres ranked first in operating income, which has caused some buzz.

It’s not surprising that the Padres made a solid profit last year – they spent only $51 million on player contracts, according to Forbes, and managed to win 90 games.

However, as Tim Sullivan has noted, the operating income number reported by Forbes is actually EBITDA – earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization. This figure, then, is excluding some important factors, like stadium debt.

Further taking into account that the figures are estimates by Forbes, it’s tough to get too riled up, positively or negatively, about what the numbers say.

Dex is upset that some fans look at the Forbes numbers – or the payroll in general – and think the Padres are being cheap, attempting to throw a good-but-not-great product on the field and make as much profit as possible. I agree with Dex, for the most park.

However, had the Padres spent a little more last year – and spent it wisely, as they usually do – they probably could have reached the playoffs. And if they had reached the playoffs, they would have made more money, both in the short and long-term, depending on how deep they played into October.

Spending money wildly is silly, of course. But if the Padres can build a winner with $50 million in player expenses, it makes you wonder what they could do spending $60 or $70 million. With a front office arguably even better than the previous Sandy Alderson/Kevin Towers regime, it’s exciting to think about what the Padres could do with a higher payroll.

The challenge for the Padres is deciding just how much they should spend, not only to maximize profits but also success on the field (they generally correlate). While a spending spree is unnecessarily, if impossible, there are certain times when spending the extra dollar is the best decision, on and off the field.

Follow Friar Forecast on Twitter

If you’re not following us already @FriarForecast, check it out. We’ll tweet most of our new content here, link to other relevant articles around the internet, and also get involved in some Padres-centric discussion.

Also, we’ve added a re-tweet icon to the top of our new posts here, which should allow you to easily re-tweet our content if you wish.

Previewing the Padres: Wrap-up edition

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve covered the prospects for the 2011 San Diego Padres – the infield, the outfield, the starting rotation, and the bullpen.

The Padres had a busy offseason – I covered it in-depth at The Hardball Times – culminating in the trade of first basemen Adrian Gonzalez to the Boston Red Sox.

After losing Gonzalez, easily the team’s best player, it’s not hard to write the Padres off in 2011. After all, even with Gonzalez, they couldn’t reach the playoffs in 2010. Not to mention, last year’s 90 win campaign was looked at as a fluke to begin with.

Rather than blowing things up and building for the future, the Padres front office took kind of a hybrid approach. They dealt Gonzalez for prospects that will (hopefully) help in the future, but they also built a very solid ball club for the short-term – adding the likes of Orlando Hudson, Cameron Maybin, Jason Bartlett, Aaron Harang, Brad Hawpe, and so on.

It’s not unreasonable to argue that the Padres are a better team now than they were last year. Of course, they’ll have to show that on the field, and a lot of things will have to break right for this club to win 90+ games and make the playoffs.

The front office has managed to at least build an interesting roster, one that certainly has a chance to come together and make some noise in October. Still, the Padres aren’t getting much respect heading into the season. In The Hardball Times staff predictions, the Padres were picked fourth or fifth in the National League West on 18 of 22 ballots. They didn’t receive a single playoff nod.

Baseball Prospectus has the Padres at 79 wins, fourth in the NL West. In a Diamond Mind projection using five different projections systems, the Padres come in at 79 wins and a fourth place finish.

These are not unreasonable projections. The Padres have some potential major holes (the starting rotation), and these other teams have their strong points.

The San Francisco Giants won a World Series last year or something. The Dodgers have a deep rotation with Kershaw, Billingsley, Lilly, Kuroda, and Garland. The Rockies have a young team led by Troy Tulowitzki and Ubaldo Jimenez. Even the Diamondbacks can be dangerous with guys like Justin Upton, Stephen Drew, and Chris Young.

That said, I happen to like the Padres a little better than the projection systems.The lineup is quite solid, without a real hole anywhere on the diamond. There aren’t any standouts either, without Gonalez, but if a few guys have breakout years this could be a well-above average offense. The defense should be solid, too.

The bullpen is as good and deep as always, anchored by Heath Bell, Luke Gregerson, and Mike Adams. The starting rotation is the real concern. After Mat Latos (even he’s a risk, starting the year on the DL), there isn’t a single guy you can truly rely on.

Pecto seems to have a positive impact on pitchers, beyond what it can do to would-be home runs. This rotation will probably need all the help it can get, and guys like Clayton Richard, Tim Stauffer, and Aaron Harang are going to have to step up, especially if Latos declines in performance or innings.

Without further ado, my 2011 NL West projection/WAG:

Colorado Rockies: 88-74
San Diego Padres: 85-77
San Francisco Giants: 85-77
Los Angeles Dodgers: 82-80
Arizona Diamondbacks: 75-87

I like the Rockies young core of Tulo/Gonzalez/Jimenez/Chacin. They could be tough. The Giants are good, but they’re also pretty old and I think they’ll suffer a bit from the World Series Hangover (aka regression to the mean). If they go far, that rotation will carry them.

I can see the Dodgers winning the division and I can also see them finishing in last. I’ll go with 82 wins. Like the Rockies, the D’backs have a good young core, but they’re lacking in quality arms.

The Padres will take the field today in St. Louis. Let’s play ball!!!!

Padres trade Allan Dykstra to Mets

The San Diego Padres have traded first basemen Allan Dystra to the New York Mets for RHP Eddie Kunz.

Dykstra was selected in the first round (23rd overall) of the 2008 draft by the Padres. The Dykstra selection was a somewhat controversial one from the get go (which first round selection isn’t?). I didn’t really mind the pick. Ben wasn’t a big fan.

The pick really kind of spiraled downward as it was revealed that Dykstra had a chronic back hip issue and major swing problems. In the minor leagues, Dykstra didn’t deliver at the plate, at least not to high expectations.

He hit .226/.397/.375 in 537 PAs at Single-A Fort Wayne in 2009, his first full season of professional ball. He displayed great patience (perhaps too much), but also a penchant for striking out. He showed relatively little power for a first basemen.

Last season in High-A Lake Elsinore, Dykstra hit .241/.372/.438. He whiffed 26 percent of the time, but did show better power (partly thanks to a better hitting environment).

Dykstra will be 24 this season, and he still has a chance to turn things around. He certainly hasn’t been a complete bust, and it’s still to-be-determined whether he can truly handle quality pitching.

The Padres dealt him to the Mets, who have some people very familiar with Dykstra – namely Sandy Alderson and Paul DePodesta. For the rights to Dykstra, the Padres get a former first rounder (supplemental, 42nd overall) of their own in the form of Eddie Kunz.

Primarily a reliever in the minors, Kunz’s struggles tell us one of two things. Either the Padres got hosed here, or Allan Dykstra’s prospect status has really dropped. The ground ball specialist Kunz has thrown 238.3 innings in the minors, striking out 157, walking 134, and allowing 17 home runs (4.87 ERA).

This probably isn’t a deal that’s going to make or break an organization (to say the least), but I can’t say I like it from the Padres perspective. Dykstra has his issues, but there appears to be a chance that he could still develop into a useful major league player. I don’t really see that with Kunz, especially in a bullpen as deep as the Padres.

Dealing Dykstra probably came in part because of a bit of a logjam that has developed at first base/DH in the minors (think Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Blanks, Matt Clark, etc.). That likely being the case, it’s not hard to see why the Padres may have been shopping Dykstra. Still, you would like to think they could have got a better chip in return.

Padres acquire Alberto Gonzalez

The San Diego Padres have acquired infielder Alberto Gonzalez from the Washington Nationals for RHP Erik Davis.

Gonzalez is known for his defensive attributes, and that’s not surprising because in 641 major league plate appearances he’s hit .253/.292/.331. The combination of low average, little patience, and no power is not a particularly good skill-set for a hitter.

There’s not much room for optimism offensively, as his minor league track record isn’t too impressive. Outside of solid campaigns way back in 2005 and 2006, Gonzalez hasn’t hit much in the minors either. His career line is .277/.330/.382 in just over 2,000 PAs.

As mentioned ,Gonzalez has been highly regarded as a defender for a long time. In 2007, Baseball America rated Gonzalez as the 13th best prospect in the Arizona Diamondback’s organization. On his defense, they said:

Gonzalez is the best defensive player in the organization, regardless of position, and his pure shortstop actions rate an 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale …. He has a strong arm and great range to both sides.

That was a long time ago, but obviously Gonzalez has retained a good deal of his fielding prowess, holding down a MLB job with that .620 OPS and all. The advanced metrics located on FanGraphs have Gonzalez right around average at short and second, and well above at third. Small sample there.

Adding to the plusses, Gonzalez has played over 500 innings at both short and second, and 250 at third. In short, he’s essentially Kevin Frandsen at the plate, but likely quite a bit better, and truly versatile, in the field.

The Padres also sent SS Everth Cabrera to Triple-A Tucson, where he can make up for some missed developmental time. Cabrera made the jump from Single-A to the majors in 2009, after being selected by the Padres in the Rule 5 draft from the Colorado Rockies.

The Padres dealt Erik Davis, a 6-4 righty they drafted in the 13th round in 2008. The 24 year old has been solid in the minors, posting a 3.49 ERA in 293.7 innings. He’s fanned 8.5 per nine, walking three, and allowing .4 HR/9. Probably not that significant to his prospect status, but noteworthy nonetheless, he’s put up an impressive 32-9 W/L record.

Previewing the Padres: The bullpen

We’ve already looked at the infield, the outfield, and the starting rotation.

Heath Bell

Heath Bell has taken over Trevor Hoffman’s closer role about as seamlessly as one could hope for. Acquired in late 2006 from the Mets (with Royce Ring, for Ben Johnson and Jon Adkins), last year was arguably Bell’s finest season to date.

His strikeout rate rose to a career-high 11.1 per nine, while he surrendered just one home run in 70 innings of work. Bell’s career strikeout-to-walk ratio is just over three, which is terrific, but his greatest asset may be home runs allowed.

In his Padres career, Bell has allowed just 12 homers in 311.3 innings. Bell gets a grounder nearly 50% of the time and when he does allow a fly ball it only leaves the park eight percent of the time.

Bell wants to stay in San Diego long-term, and potentially at a discount. It’ll always be a bit dangerous locking up a mid-thirties reliever to a lengthy, high priced deal. But if the price is right, there’s no reason the Padres won’t extend Bell.

Heath Bell projection: 65 innings, 2.86 ERA

Luke Gregerson

I profiled Luke Gregerson last year at The Hardball Times using PITCHf/x data. The guy is flat-out nasty. Using a devastating slider over 50 percent of the time, Gregerson could probably step into the closer’s role at any time.

Gregerson’s put up a 3.23 ERA so far in San Diego. That’s fine, but  for a reliever in Petco Park it’s not anything astronomical. The encouraging thing, though, is that Gregerson has been much better than that.

He’s struckout nearly 11 per nine, walked just three, and allowed just 11 homers in 153.3 innings. Gregerson’s career FIP is 2.68, his career xFIP is 2.92, and his career tERA is 2.50. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Gregerson’s ERA fall this season even if his peripheral numbers stay the same (or drop slightly).

Luke Gregerson projection: 75 innings, 2.50 ERA

Mike Adams

While Luke Gregerson has been great, Mike Adams has been arguably just as good. In 169 innings for the Padres, Adams has K’ed 192 while walking 50 and giving up just 10 home runs. Adams has had a minuscule 1.81 ERA with the Padres.

You may be noticing a trend in the back-end of this bullpen – all these guys have great strikeout, walk, and home runs rates. Those are three pretty important aspects of pitching, and a big reason why the Pads bullpen has been so strong of late.

I wouldn’t be surprised if, unlike Gregerson, Adams’ ERA – and overall effectiveness – comes back to Earth a little in 2011. Still, there’s a lot of room for regression before becoming ordinary when you’re talking about a guy whose ERA hovers below two.

Mike Adams projection: 60 innings, 2.60 ERA

Ernesto Frieri

Ernesto Frieri turned heads last season with some electric stuff, striking out 41 batters in 31.7 innings. The Padres toyed with Frieri a bit in the minors, switching him between starter and reliever a few times. He wasn’t bad as a starter, but it looks like the pen may be where he ends up.

Frieri’s walk rate worries you a bit, though. He walked 3.6 per nine in his minor league career, including a 4.3 BB/9 last year in Portland. Combined with walk issues last year in the big league call-up – he walked 17 in 31.7 inn. – you could justifiably be a little concerned.

That said, Frieri shouldn’t carry too much weight on his shoulders in this pen, and he can continue to develop himself in the middle innings. If he can harness his control and continue to make bats miss, he’ll be able to step into a late innings role when needed.

Ernesto Frieri projection: 50 innings, 3.23 ERA

Joe Thatcher

Take away a horrendous 25.7 innings in 2008 (Thatcher had a 8.42 ERA that season, allowing 42 hits) and Joe Thatcher has been quite dominant for the Padres. In 35 innings of work last season, he put up a 6.42 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

While the left-handed Thatcher has been tough on lefties (.223/.282/.376), he’s been almost just as good against righties (.255/.330/.324). He’s much more likely to strike out a lefty, but interestingly righties have hit him for less power (small samples, beware).

Thatcher will be a go-to guy against tough left-handers, but it’s nice to know that if a righty comes up it doesn’t equal an automatic hook. Thatcher has had some shoulder issues this spring and could start the season on the DL.

Joe Thatcher projection: 40 innings, 2.90 ERA

Chad Qualls

Chad Qualls struggled mightily last year, splitting time between Arizona and Tampa Bay and posting a 7.32 ERA in 59 innings. Before last season, Qualls had been a highly effective reliever, with a K/BB ratio just over three and a 3.32 ERA.

While there must be concerns about Qualls future after such a horrible year, there are reasons for optimism. His peripherals really weren’t all that bad last season – 7.5 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9. A drop-off from his previous totals, yes, but certainly not worthy of an ERA above seven. In fact, Qualls’ FIP was a respectable 4.13 last season.

What hurt Qualls last season was a BABiP that rose to .386 (career, .303) and a left-on-base percentage of 53 percent (career, 72 percent). Some of that is probably attributable to Qualls declining performance, but a good portion is probably good ol’ randomness, and those numbers should come back toward average this season.

Chad Qualls projection: 50 innings, 3.50 ERA

The rest of the bullpen will likely be filled out by candidates who perform well, either at the major or minor league level. Pat Neshek, who we profiled recently, should get a good look in the pen. Dustin Moseley and Corey Luebke, who we discussed in the starting rotation preview, may also find themselves in the bullpen. Other candidates include Aaron Poreda and Evan Scribner.

Kevin Frandsen is who we thought he was

If you “read” my piece on spring training stats, you might understand my amusement to the fact that Kevin Frandsen, he of the 0-18 spring training start, ended up hitting better this spring (.202/.302/.378) than he has in his MLB career (.243/.303/.335).

Spring training provides teams with a great opportunity to evaluate their players prior to the actual season’s debut. That said, spring is not a great time to look at someone’s numbers and use them to come to meaningful conclusions, for a variety of reasons.

Mostly importantly, of course, is sample size. Players don’t get that many plate appearances or innings in spring training. Frandsen’s only got 41 PAs. Everth Cabrera has received the most for the Padres, just over 50 – or like one twelfth of a regular season.

Further, the spring features different ballparks with different scoring environments, combined with many players that aren’t even major league ready or are simply working out the kinks. Learning a new pitch, adjusting swing mechanics, working on jumps at first base are all things that probably take precedent to winning baseball games.

I didn’t see much of Frandsen this spring, so I can’t really comment on how bad he looked. But unless he was simply lost, I can’t imagine his performance this spring really changing one’s evaluation on him.

He’s a versatile enough guy who can play just about anywhere on the diamond in a pinch. Offensively, he puts the ball in play without much power or patience. You could argue he isn’t a viable option off the bench for various reasons, but his play this spring training probably shouldn’t be one of them.

Padres links: 3/24

You know, we haven’t done this in a while. 

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