As in any season, there are many interesting narratives. This season we have the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros outperforming the competition; the (so far) quiet trade-deadline; Pablo Sandoval finally being DFA’d; the David Price vs. Dennis Eckersley debacle.
But I want to take your eyes from these mainstream narratives for a second to focus on a team that nobody has talked about since AJ Preller went all Jerry DiPoto on the league: the San Diego Padres.
We know the Padres are lousy. They’re fourth in the NL West with a .439 Win Percentage, 13 games behind the second wild card spot, spotting a -132 run differential and, for those keeping score, 50 games from elimination.
Before the Pads’ massive implosion, it seemed this year might be a good time to be a Padres fan, yet this season has been an unmitigated disaster. While checking this season’s stats, I found that the Padres are one of the weirdest teams.
For starters, given Petco’s ballpark dimensions, their home field is a pitcher-friendly park, so it shouldn’t matter whether they employ groundball inducing specialists or players who are prone to giving up flyballs (unless you’re trying to desperately kill of teams with plenty of power hitters). However, out of 24 pitchers used this season, 3 have a flyball percentage north of 50.0 (though, granted, these are relief pitchers who have thrown less than 40 innings this season). This means that most pitchers employed by the Padres are more inclined to produce groundballs.
San Diego Padres Batted Ball Distribution
If we check the team leaderboards over at Fangraphs, San Diego is indeed the team that has allowed the least flyballs across the majors. But here comes the weird part: they’re first in home runs per flyballs percentage. The Padres collectively allow the fewest amount of flyballs, yet the flyballs they do allow are more prone to becoming home runs. This coming from a team that plays in a pitcher friendly park.
I looked at the past 15 seasons to check two things: first, to see if this is an anomaly for the Padres; and, second, to see if this is an anomaly in the league.
Well, there you have it. Over the past seasons, the Padres have been actively shifting towards more ground ball pitchers; yet, this tendency has not been working out as opposing batters have been hitting more home runs when they put the ball in the air.
How do the 2017 Padres rank when compared to the rest of the league over the past fifteen years? Well, let’s take a look:
See that little yellow spot in the upper left corner? That’s the San Diego Padres with a 0.15 FB% - HR/FB%; the worse in the past fifteen years. The best? The 2010 San Francisco Giants with 0.33 FB% - HR/FB% in the lower right corner. Whatever the Padres were aiming at, they got it all backwards.
Keeping in line with their high groundball-low flyball percentages, how bad is the San Diego defense? For a team that relies heavily on groundballs (first in the league this season), San Diego is surprisingly bad defensively. Over the 98 games played so far, San Diego ranks third-worst in both UZR/150 and DRS with -5.8 and -31, respectively.
Bottom 10 MLB Defense
This is just weird. I would assume that if you have a team which heavily relies on producing groundballs, then you would play to that strength and either work with an infield which prides itself on it’s defense (or has at least an acceptable one) or uses the shift to their advantage — Padres rank 15th in using the shift with 17.5 percent of batters faced.
The Padres, however, league the lead in groundball percentage with 50 percent. But it’s confounding that their defense ranks 3rd from the bottom. Granted, this also factors in outfield defense, but outfielders also field grounders in some instances.
Finally, the weirdest of the stats I found was related to how often the Padres get on base and they’re Base Running. The Padres are the worst team at getting on base with a .300 OBP. Furthermore, they’re second-worst in wOBA and wRC+ with .299 and 84, respectively.
Yet, when it comes to Base Running — which tells us how good a team has been at stealing bases, taking the extra base, and other base running exploits — the Padres are the fourth best team.
Again, I looked at the past fifteen seasons to see where on the spectrum the 2017 Padres rank when compared to other teams.
While lousy at getting runners on, once they reach base, the Padres make the most out of their opportunities. By taking the number of runs they’ve scored, and divided them by hits, walks, and hits by pitch; 34.4 percent of the Padres base runners have scored. Ironically, this is the fourth-worse rate in the league, leading the Giants by 6 percentage points — the Astros have the highest rate at 42.6 percent.
Historically speaking, this Padres team is not that terrible. The worst team by this measure are the 2014 San Diego Padres, who had an OBP of .292 and a BsR of -8.4. The best team? The 2010 Tampa Bay Rays with a .333 OBP and a 37.6 BsR — although an argument could be made for either the 2007 New York Yankees (.366 OBP, 11.9 BsR) or 2007 Philadelphia Phillies (.354 OBP, 20.6 BsR).
Yes, the Padres are an uninteresting team, and talking about them takes away time from talking from other more interesting events. But the awesome thing about baseball is that we always find these statistical juxtapositions, were a team is good at one part of the game but terrible at another related part of it.
The Padres, in this case, are an awesome team when it comes to allowing groundballs, reducing flyballs, and base running. It’s ironic that they’re terrible at defending ground balls, allowing home runs, and reaching base.
*Stats updated through July 23rd, 2017
Martin Alonso writes for Beyond the Box Score and BP Bronx and is constantly geeking out over baseball and Star Wars. You can find him on Twitter at @martnar.