322 Feet: Prose from the Petco Porch

That’s a nice hole you’re digging there.
May 18, 2008, 8:42 am
Filed under: Blind Optimism, Random Crap

Now that school is out for the summer, I can focus on important things like baseball. Unfortunately, with the way the year has started for the Padres, that suddenly sounds a lot less palatable than it did in April. The Pads’ 16-28 record gives them the dubious distinction of being the worst team in baseball. Were it September, I’d be a lot more disappointed. However, it is only May 18, which means there’s still a chance to dig out of this hole. Right?

Before the season, KT, DePo and the front office group figured that this team should win 90 games this year. At this point, to hit that number, the padres would have to play .627 ball the rest of the way (74-44). Is it doable? Not if the club stays on their current track. But if these guys start hitting a little, the ship could turn very quickly.

I started thinking about the Padres’ predicament in a historical context and wondered whether any team had come back to make the playoffs after such a lousy start. Looking back at the last 25 years, there have been 62 teams that have had a winning percentage of .364 or below on May 18; I understand that some teams have played more or less games than our club at this date, but this was the easiest way for me to calculate everything, and I reserve my right as a blogger to cherrypick stats for the purposes of furthering my argument. 🙂

Of the 62 teams that were as bad as the Padres, 58 finished with a record under .500 and 25 finished with a record under .400. That means that based on data from the last 25 years, the Padres have a 6.4% chance of hitting .500 by the end of the season. This is a very arbitrary way of looking at things, but I’m not looking for an accurate estimation of this team’s chances; I’m just trying to cheer myself up by looking at what past teams have done. It isn’t working.

Finally, and more to the point, has any team started as poorly as the Friars in 2008 and still made the playoffs? Yes. The 1989 Toronto Blue Jays stumbled out of the gate to a 14-25 start (.359); that team, led by 17-game winner Dave Stieb and not-yet-former Padre Fred McGriff, finished at 89-73, two games better than the second-place Orioles.

It’s happened before. These Padres don’t make me confident it can be done again. But it can be done.


Trying (and failing) to ignore Roger Clemens
February 13, 2008, 2:48 pm
Filed under: Random Crap | Tags: , ,

I had to work and go to class this morning, so I missed the Clemens-McNamee showdown.  Instead of watching this, I got to sleep through 2 hours of meetings, sleep through a class and waste an hour driving home.  From what I’ve heard, it sounds like Clemens made an ass of himself, but McNamee didn’t make things all shiny and clear either.  It sounds like this is going to get really ugly; we’re going to see an investigation, and someone’s getting tried for perjury.  My money says it’s Clemens; he has a lot to lose by telling the truth and he’s showing a lot of the same signs of shadiness that we saw from Bonds years ago.

It’s really a shame, what with spring training starting tomorrow and everything; it’s a shame that the eyes of this sport are focused on a guy who seemingly did things the wrong way and is now getting burned for it.  One of the greatest right-handers in the history of the game should have been lauded on his way out the door, but he got selfish.  He couldn’t be satisfied with being great; he needed to be immortal.  Now, in all likelihood, his legacy is gone, and many of the other things he holds dear (namely, his family and money) could be soon to follow.  I really hope people take a lesson from this, but I doubt it; people will always look for a way to get ahead, regardless of the ethical repercussions.  It’s a sad fact of human nature, and it’s why we see people like Clemens go down in a fiery tailspin.

Rugby, Tequila and Tony Clark

A friend of mine scored some tickets to day 2 of the USA Sevens rugby tournament down at Petco last Sunday. I was all excited to go, except for one problem: I woke up at 7 AM Sunday with the most raging hangover of my life. A ballpark with 20,000 people flying around probably isn’t the best place to recover from that, but I sucked it up and went anyway…it was actually really cool. Watching the games, it’s abundantly clear that the game was the precursor of American football, but there are some major differences: continuous clock, 7 players, no pads, scores are worth 5 points & conversions are worth 2, etc. The game moves really fast as long as they are actually playing; there are weird pauses in the action sometimes for setting up kicks and throw-ins which break up the action and mainly serve to confuse those of us who don’t understand the sport well.

The USA even played a couple of matches, and both ended in dramatic fashion; they beat France on a try and conversion as time expired, and they lost to Wales in the consolation final when a player shanked the conversion kick after scoring a try with no time left to pull the team within 2. The crowd was pretty docile all day unless the US was playing; they actually got pretty loud for the local boys, which was cool to see. All in all, it was a cool event, and we’ll definitely make a point to get back down for it next year.

You know what the best part of the tournament was, though? Being able to spend a day at the ballpark! It was my first time in the park since the 4th-to-last home game last year, and it got me all pumped up to get back down there and watch the Pads. I can’t even express how ready I am for baseball season. Pitchers and catchers report Thursday (I think), and the first spring games can’t get here soon enough.

With that in mind, let’s take a quick look at the Pads’ latest acquisition: 1B/DH/pinch hitter extraordinaire Tony Clark. On the surface, he doesn’t really look like he’ll get a lot of playing time, since Adrian is so entrenched at first base; I really don’t see Clark getting more than 10 starts at first this year. So, this means he’s going to pinch hit. A lot. Clark is a .232/.308/.442 pinch hitter for his career. Though not impressive on the surface, one must remember that pinch-hitters usually succeed far less than the average hitter simply due to the inherent difficulty in coming in cold to face major league pitching. For reference, Padres pinch hitters last year hit .188/.293/.284. Assuming that Clark will get most of his work off the bench, I’d expect his line to end up closer to his career PH numbers than his .249/.310/.511 performance in Arizona last year. Still, a .450 SLG from your primary pinch hitter can’t be a bad thing; having a threat like that off the bench will be a valuable weapon in the Padres always important bench arsenal. My only concern is that this could take away a roster spot for a guy like Headley if it comes down to it, although I think Headley will do well enough in March to force the Pads to make room. Especially given the cost, this seems like a pretty decent move for the Friars.

Let the countdown begin
February 3, 2008, 7:56 pm
Filed under: Random Crap | Tags:

Finally, that’s all done and over with.  Surprising finish, but the first 45 minutes put me to sleep.  I’m bitter that Eli basically was right about not being able to win in San Diego, but that’s all of little consequence now.

Why is that?  Well, it lets us focus on the most important stuff.  Like the fact that pitchers and catchers report in 11 days.

And counting.  🙂

Everybody else is doing it…
January 31, 2008, 2:17 pm
Filed under: Stats & Analysis | Tags: , , ,

Seems like everyone and their mom is talking about Khalil lately and whether it’s a good value proposition to keep him around through the end of his contract. This is especially relevant since the likelihood of him signing an extension is seemingly low and the chatter about him being trade bait seems to get louder daily. Friar Forecast (Greene acres), Ducksnorts (The Khalil Conundrum) and The Sac Bunt (The kase against KT) have chimed in, among others. MB’s piece at Friar Forecast got me thinking about the types of balls Khalil hits and whether that might have something to do with all this.

Let’s first look at Khalil’s line-drive percentages, both in Petco Park and on the road. It’s been said that line-drive percentage can be a decent predictor of average and power. In 2007, Khalil posted a .197 ISO (SLG-AVG) at home; however, in doing so, he hit .215 in the process. On the road, his ISO jumped to .231, while his average jumped to .288; the average is significantly different, but I would argue that the power difference could be nothing more than the elevation change. So, do the line-drive percentages give us any clues as to why Khalil’s splits are so funky? To a point, yes, but I think that this might be a spurious correlation. At home, 15% of Khalil’s hits were line drives; on the road, 24% were liners. At a glance, this would seem to indicate that either the Petco environment or the perception of that in Khalil’s head lead him to get less solid contact at home. However, when we look at the 2006 numbers, it appears that this might not be the answer; his percentages were 22% at home and 24% on the road with similar ancillary splits (.210 AVG/.136 ISO at home, .280/.227 on the road). For reference, the league average line-drive percentage was 19.1% in 2007, while the league hit .271 with a .152 ISO. This probably merits a more in-depth look, but I don’t think there’s much here.

However, this does lead me to believe that another percentage might hold the key to this. When we take Khalil’s line-drive and ground-ball percentages and subtract them from 100%, we get the percentage of balls that Khalil hit in the air. At home in ’07, this number came out to 48%; in 2006, the number was 49%. On the road, 41% of the balls Khalil hits were in the air.

Now we’re getting somewhere. Though the sample is kind of small, it’s clear that Khalil hits the ball in the air a little more at home than on the road. This leads me to believe that since Khalil hits the ball more in the air at Petco, there’s something either in the environment or in Khalil’s head that makes the ball hang up a little longer in Petco. Maybe it’s the big gaps, maybe it’s the climate, maybe it’s psychological…I’m not going to pretend to have the answer. However, I think this may indicate something about Khalil’s game that is not adaptable to Petco Park. The secondary numbers seem to back up this premonition; his BABIP at home over the last 2 years is .250, while it’s .302 on the road.  Further, those 2 averages over the last 2 years have only varied by 1 point, which indicates that this might not be a fluke. The small sample size makes me a little skeptical, however.

Anybody think there’s anything to this?

Back from the…something.

Wow, it’s like I died and went to work or something.

Winter break got really crazy; I spent a lot of time working and a lot of time doing absolutely nothing. Nonetheless, I am back with more worthless commentary on the Friars.

Let’s begin 2008 with another gem from Baseball Reference’s Play Index. This tool is unbelievable if you like to fiddle around with obscure stats as I do; definitely worth $5 to try it for a month. Anywho, I was watching highlights from the Pads’ 1-0 win over LA back on June 5, not realizing that we won that game with 2 hits. I remembered at least one other game that we won with 2 hits this year, so I got to wondering: what team in the last 50 years had the most 2-hit wins in one season?

The answer:

The 2007 Padres are one of three teams that have won 3 games with only 2 hits in the same season, joining the 1971 Giants and the 1965 world champion L.A. Dodgers. Kind of cool that no team outside of the NL West has ever turned the trick.

Only 24 teams over that period have won 2 games in the same season with just 2 hits. One of those teams was the 1978 edition of the Pads, led by Cy Young winner Gaylord Perry.

Not that it means anything, but I thought it was cool to think about. Good to be back.

The Center Field Hole, Part 3B: More Trade Candidates

Now coming down the pipe: Randy Wolf will sign a 1-year deal with the Pads. I like this move; I got to watch Wolf pitch a little bit this year (again, I live in Dodgers’ TV territory) and he’s got underrated stuff. Not a terribly hard thrower (88-90 on the fastball), but he has a sharp, slow (~68 MPH) curveball and will get his share of strikeouts. Plus, he’s a lefty, and he’s not named David Wells. Without getting into the numbers of the deal, my gut says this is a good deal for the Friars.

As promised, here’s the remainder of the trade candidates for center field.

Jeremy Reed
Reed came up full-time in 2005, starting for the Mariners in center for most of the year. Over 144 games, he hit .254/.322/.352. However, in 2006, he dipped to .217 before an injury ended his season; in 2007, he fell off the radar, playing just 13 games in the bigs and being passed in the organization by Adam Jones. Reed did hit .298/.349/.451 in Tacoma last year, showing considerably more power than he did with the club in 2005 (although the hitter-friendly PCL probably had something to do with that). For me, he’s probably about a .260 hitter at best, although I’ve heard he’s a pretty good defensive player; he’d probably be very cheap, since he has little value to the mariners at this point in time. Might be another name to throw in the hat…

Jim Edmonds
Edmonds makes his second home on the disabled list, so he’s definitely an injury risk. He battled groin issues last year and underwent two surgeries after the 2006 season. His OPS has declined each of the last 4 years, starting at 1.061 before falling all the way to .727 last year. Some of the drop in power could be attributed to his injuries, so if he’s healthy, he might show a little more pop in 2008; however, the more likely scenario is that age is finally taking its toll on Edmonds. Looking at range factor, he still shows slightly above-average range in center, although he clearly is not the player he once was. He is also a little expensive, as he is due to make $8M in 2008. He might be able to recapture a little of the old magic, but the chances of that happening are slim. Bringing Edmonds in would be a needless risk, in my opinion.

Tony Gwynn Jr.
Ah, the hometown favorite. Gwynn raised his profile by beating Trevor Hoffman for a game-tying triple on the final weekend of the season with the Pads one pitch away from clinching a playoff berth. He’s currently blocked by Bill Hall in Milwaukee, so he would likely be available for the right price. In fact, Towers tried to get Gwynn in the deal that brought Joe Thatcher over for Scott Linebrink. Gwynn served mostly off the bench for the Brewers in 2007, hitting .260 over 123 at-bats; he’s a career .272 minor league hitter. As far as a major league comparison, I’d say Gwynn looks like a poor man’s Reggie Willits; pretty good average & OBP, no power, good speed, good defense, lousy arm. Good enough for the Pads? Only as a fallback if nothing else pans out.

Johnny Damon
The Yankees seem desperate to pawn off Damon on anyone who will pay a part of his substantial 2008 salary. Melky Cabrera has supplanted Damon in center field for the Yanks, and they do not have room for him in the outfield anymore. For all the whining out of New York, Damon still had a pretty decent 2007; he hit .270/.351/.396 in 141 games. For his career, he’s a .288/.353/.433 hitter with an OPS+ of 102. Those are pretty good numbers for a center fielder, especially in the power department; his numbers dipped last year, at least partly due to an abdominal problem that dogged him in the second half. The perception in the media is that Damon does not have legs to play center anymore; however, his range factor has been above league average each of the last five years, and he still shows good speed on the basepaths (27 SB in 2007). If he’s healthy and still fast enough to play center, he’d probably be a very good fit here; rangy, nice OBP, shows a little gap power. He’s still under contract through 2009 at a problematic $13M per, though, so that could be an issue in trade talks.

Ryan Church
Oops. Looks like we’re a little late on this one. He was traded to New York on Friday.