The San Diego Padres scored 13 runs today on 23 hits.
Let me say that again.
The 2011, shutout 8 times, San Diego Padres scored 13 runs on 23 hits.
It should come as no surprise that they were on the road when this happened, playing in Miller Park, a far more favorable offensive setting.
The 23 hits were the most for the Padres since 08/12/03 vs Atlanta. It was the first 20 hit game for the Padres since getting 22 hits vs Milwaukee on 08/11/09.
It was a good day.
And now they travel to Colorado, as hitter friendly a park as there is. Players appear, using nothing more than my own observations, appear to be hitting the ball better, harder, and with just a bit more confidence (most notably Ludwick and Hawpe who have been much maligned to start this season).
This kind of offensive output on the road lead many today to the obvious questions/complaints about Petco Park. There is a loud, though I argue still minority opinion that Petco Park should be modified in some way to lend itself to more offense. This argument was given a local media voice in the form of Darren Smith of XX1090 when he posted on Facebook "Padres scored 22 runs in three games at Miller...21 in their six-game home stand. Nope, PETCO doesn't matter." This was followed by a lengthy discussion in which the common refrain from those in favor of modification point to the lack of "excitement" in games played at Petco Park.
This argument really got started in force on Saturday night, where, after being shut out by the Diamondbacks (the Padres 8th shut out of the season thus far), Chase Headley was quoted in the San Diego Union Tribune “I don’t care who you bring into this ballpark, it’s not going to be an offensive club, it’s not. So we as an organization understand what type of team we have to have to win and it’s always going to be based around pitching and defense. So I don’t necessarily think it’s a personnel problem.”
I've personally had this argument more than once and, since the issue is complicated and getting all my points across in 140 characters was proving to be impossible, allow this to be the case for keeping Petco Park as it is.
1) The Petco Park Advantage
Petco Park opened in 2004 marking this the 8th season in the park. In 7 complete seasons in Petco, the Padres have 2 NL Western Division titles. In their entire franchise history prior to moving to Petco they had 3 ('84, '96, '98). They accomplished this despite never having a team salary higher than $73 million (2008).
If you judge success not by division titles but purely by wins, then keep in mind that the Padres 90 win 2010 was the 4th highest win total in franchise history, despite a paltry $45 million payroll. (It's worth noting that the worst year for the Padres came in 2008 where they won 63 games while spending $73 million).
So was it coincidence that the most successful stretch in Padres history coincided with the opening of Petco Park? I seriously doubt that. The Padres have committed to a strategy as a franchise to build teams around good pitching and defense and a focus on small ball and speed. To that end, the Padres are consistently near the top of MLB in team ERA and, more recently, SB's. Petco has turned average pitchers into league leaders and saw only the 4th Cy Young in franchise history in 2006 with Jake Peavy. Pitching and defense. That's Padres and Petco baseball. And it has, for the most part, proved to be successful.
2) The Money Game
Let's live in the real world. The Padres will never be one of the biggest spenders in baseball. Jed Hoyer has said publicly that, eventually, the Padres eventually will operate around $70-75 million a year. For reference, this year a payroll of $75 million would put the Padres 20th in MLB in team payroll.
Furthermore, of the top 10 player salaries in MLB this year, only 2 of those players (CC Sabathia, Roy Halladay) are pitchers. The point? Offense cost money. Money the Padres don't have and won't have anytime soon (thanks John Moores!).
So, maintaing Petco Park as a pitchers park allows the Padres to continue to utilize the pitching and defense strategy while being able to work within the financial reality in which they operate. Ryan Howard cost money. Aaron Harang? Considerably less.
3) Atmospheric Conditions
The jewel of downtown San Diego is Petco Park. It was the catalyst for one of the most successful neighborhood renovation projects in the United States. It's aesthetically pleasing being located in the Gaslamp Quarter and near the San Diego Bay. Beautiful and quintessentially San Diego. The location could not have been better.
Except that it is probably the primary culprit for the lack of offense in Petco Park.
It's not a surprise nor a secret that Petco plays less as a pitchers park during the day time. What's missing during the day? Marine layer. Thick sea air that moves in each night and essentially acts as quicksand to fly balls. As a piece of purely anecdotal example, last year, Adrian Gonzalez did not hit one homerun at home aft 8:00pm. That's not coincidence.
So unless you are willing to move Petco Park to La Mesa or move the fences in 100 ft, it may not much matter.
4) Winning Breeds Excitement
Finally, there is the argument that Padres baseball = boring baseball. This is obviously a more subjective point. But, dare I say, that offense doesn't make a team exciting. Winning does. The Padres play, more often than not, close games. A byproduct of low scoring games no doubt. Which would seem to translate to games that are often up in the air until the 9th inning. Which would seem to translate to excitement. But, beyond the brand of baseball the Padres play, I would argue that winning, no matter the score, is exciting. Last year the Padres were near dead last in team BA yet won 90 games and was one of the more enjoyable seasons in recent memory (from a personal level).
Considering the Padres are 7-14 at home, no argument that this year's Padres, to this point (today's game being the obvious exception) have been boring. But I argue that they are boring because they are losing. Call me crazy, but I'll take 2-1 wins over 13-12 losses everyday.
I beg to differ with Chase Headley. This year, it is the personnel. Doesn't mean this team can't turn it around. As a team they are hitting far below average and it stands to reason that a course correction is coming (if not already here based on the series in Milwaukee). But when every everyday player other than one (Bartlett) is on pace for 100k's, you can put that team in any park from Coors to Williamsburg and it won't much matter.
So I say, keep the fences where they are. Adapt to the park, don't make the park adapt to the team.