Super Bowl XLV ended the NFL season, crowning the Green Bay Packers champions of the league.
But for those with diamonds in their mind and the smell of cut grass in their nose, yesterday's big game signified but one thing. Baseball is right around the corner.
The San Diego Padres first full workout is scheduled for Feb. 19th. But the universally accepted "start" of Spring Training happens this Sunday, Feb. 13th, when pitchers and catchers will report to Peoria, AZ to share parking and locker rooms with their arch-enemies, the Seattle Mariners! (ok, seriously, is there a more forced "rivalry" then Mariners vs Padres?) No. No there isn't.)
So, with Spring Training less than a week away, today we look at 5 thoughts/questions/ramblings on the 2011 Padres season.
1) Can this team compete for NL West again?
In a word, yes. Of course they can. Let's take a trip back for a second to February 2010. No publication, journalist, blogger, or talking E-Trade baby believed the Padres could do any better than last in the NL West. Even through my rose colored, homer glasses, I only aspired to a .500 season and perhaps a 3rd place finish. Now, we all know how those prognosticators predictions turned out.
Now, here we are in February 2011 and the same talking heads and scribes are picking a similar fate to the 2011 Padres. Dead last or 4th in the NL West. According to sports gambling site Sportsbook.com, the Padres have the same odds of winning the NL West as the Diamondbacks, at 12/1 (Giants favored at less than 2/1). But why? Because of turnover? The loss of Adrian Gonzalez? Miguel Tejada?
Obviously, the loss of Adrian Gonzalez is a hit. No way around that. But this isn't the NBA. One player does not a team make. I am no sabrematician (is that a term?). For a more in-depth analysis of Adrian's value, I would direct you to http://thesacrificebunt.com/ However, AGon's WAR (Wins Above Replacement Player) was 6.3). Let's now add in Eckstein and Tejada, arguably the two largest departures not named Adrian Gonzalez.
Tejada: 1.8 (this number represents only his time in San Diego)
So, in three players the Padres loss 8.5 wins. The three key replacements? Orlando Hudson, Jason Barlett, and Cameron Maybin (obviously I realize Hawpe was brought in to play 1st with potentially having Jorge Cantu sharing time at 1st, more on that in a second).
Orlando Hudson: 0.4 (ok, not great but not terrible)
Jason Bartlett: 1.5
Cameron Maybin: 0.3
Hawpe/Cantu were both 0.0
That totals 2.2 wins. So, basically, the Padres are looking at losing, simply on statistics and on paper, 6 wins from 2010. Equalling 84 wins which was good enough for 3rd place in the NL West.
What do all these numbers mean? I'm not sure, I kind of got lost halfway through. But, my point is, while there has been substantial turnover, that turnover resulted in equal to or better players at key positions, 1st base notwithstanding. And I don't know about you, but in the course of 162 games, there are at least 6 games that turn on bizarro, weird, plays that can only be classified as luck. Denorfia's inside the park ground ball anyone?
What the Padres haven't lost is what was key to them winning 90 games in 2010. Pitching (in my mind, the starting rotation is better than a year ago, more on that soon) and defense, also better with the additions of Maybin, Barlett and O-Dog.
So to make a long story short (too late!), can they match their win total from a year ago? Yes, of course they can.
2) Can Mat Latos hold up for an entire season?
Mat Latos was on his way to what appeared to be a Cy Young type season. In the first half of 2010, Latos went 10-4 with a 2.45 ERA, and 0.96 WHIP. He had also already pitched 106 innings by the All-Star Break. This number already eclipsing the prediction that Fangraphs.com had of 87 IP for Latos. And it had been clear in Spring Training that Latos was going to limited in pitches in 2010, less he become the next Mark Prior. All of which would have been fine had the Padres been cellar dwelling as predicted by the All-Star Game. Which of course they weren't.
Thus, Latos was pushed to be the ace of the staff before he was ready or the team wanted him to be. And his second half numbers reflected that of a pitcher who's previous season high for IP was 122. Latos went 4-6 in the second half of the season, posting a 3.58 ERA with a 1.244 WHIP while increasing his SO/9 from 8.4 to 10.4 (read: more pitches), including losses in his final 5 starts (and yes, his run support was less than stellar during that stretch).
This was a natural and, dare I say with 20/20 vision, a predictable fall-off considering his increase in innings from his previous high of 122. He finished 2010 184 IP.
But now he's done it. Now, he's arm has had the experience of pitching 180+ innings in high stress games. And history is on his side (Mark Prior notwithstanding). Lincecum went from 146 IP and a 4.00 ERA to 227 IP the next year and a 2.62 ERA. Felix Hernandez went from 190 IP in 2007 to 238 IP in 2009, posting a 2.49 ERA.
Small sample size? Sure. But, provided Mat Latos stays healthy, there appears to be no ceiling to his potential and all the reason to believe that the 1st half of 2010 can be carried over to an entire season in 2011.
3) What will the starting rotation look like by September?
2010 Projected Starting Rotation, in March
1) Chris Young
2) Jon Garland
3) Kevin Correia
4) Clayton Richard
5) Mat Latos
2010 Starting Rotation, in September
1) Mat Latos
2) Jon Garland
3) Tim Stauffer
4) Corey Luebke
5) Chris Young (newly off the DL)
The point. It hardly matters what the starting rotation looks like in March. It won't be the same by the end of the year. Injuries, slumps, trades. Any variety of things can mix up the rotation. Perhaps that is no more true then for a team like the Padres, who have so many young pitchers. The Padres added Aaron Harang (a pitcher with a down year but upside who I think will have a rebound year in Petco) and Dustin Moseley. This, coupled with Tim Stauffer, who is finally blossoming into the 1st round draft pick the Padres believed him to be and Clayton Richard (how good does that Peavy trade look now?), and the Padres rotation looks solid.
But what if Richard regresses ala Correia? This is where I believe the strength of the Padres to be. Pitching depth. Last year we got a taste of Luebke and I think we all liked what we saw. And of course, a bit down the road, Casey Kelly is waiting in the wings.
With any luck, the Padres starting rotation by September will include Luebke at minimum. Beyond that, who knows?
4) How many pounds of Garlic Fries will I consume in 2011?
The over/under is at 20.5. Take the over. Way over.
5) Can someone give Chase Headley a day off?
Chase Headley played in 160 games in 2010. There are 162 games in a season. The positive. Tremendous health and and consistently from a key infield position. But this overwork can clearly led to a fall off in production.
Or did it?
He had a tough September, though that could be said for the entire team. But in July and August he hit .300 and .286. This while being bounced around the lineup with no clear natural position in the lineup. Chase Headley will never be the power threat from the 3rd base position that is stereotypical. But if you want power, well friend, you follow the wrong team in the wrong park.
So can he get a day off? The addition of Cantu would seem to indicate that, yes, Buddy Black will not let Headley play 160 games again, keeping him fresh for what we hope is another September run.
Spring is right around the corner. And spring brings about it optimism. Until I see tangible evidence to the contrary, I choose to be optimistic about the 2011 Padres.