The San Diego Padres got off to a pretty rough start in 2012. Actually, it was more than just their start; they played like horse meat for almost the whole first half of the season. When July dawned, their 29-50 record was very nearly the worst in the major leagues, just a few scant percentage points better than the Cubs' 28-49 mark.
But from July 1 through the end of the season, the Padres were a completely different sort of team. They went 47-36 in that stretch, behind only five National League teams ... the five teams that wound up in the playoffs. Choosing the Padres' best player is not difficult. Third baseman Chase Headley played in 161 games, drove in 115 runs, and deserves real attention from the Most Valuable Player voters. I'm not saying he'll get it. But he deserves it. Considering that Headley entered 2012 with 36 career home runs and hit 31 during the season, it was an astounding performance.
Which doesn't mean Headley is our Player of the Year. As well as they played in the second half, the Padres still finished at 76-86. Chase Headley was too good.
If you were just Joe Baseball Fan, you probably would think that the Padres pitched pretty well -- in fact, pitch pretty well every season! -- but with the exception of Mr. Headley, just can't hit. After all, Headley and Carlos Quentin were the only Padres who managed double figures in home runs, and overall the club scored almost exactly as many runs as the Pirates and the Mets. Granted, that figure was good enough for 10th in the league. But it was below the league average and (again) Headley alone accounted for a large percentage of those runs.
The San Diego Padres, more than anything else, need more and better hitters, right?
Well, no. Not really. They actually have (or had) some pretty good hitters. They've also got a bunch of young hitters. Of the 12 Padres with at least 225 plate appearances this season, six were 25 or younger.
But the Padres' hitting always looks worse than it is, of course, because of Petco Park, where hitting statistics go to die. So we have to give the Padres' hitters a little bump in our minds, to account for that.
There's a corollary, though. If we credit the Padres' hitters for doing half their hitting at Petco, we have to discredit the Padres' pitchers for doing half their pitching at Petco.
Even on its face, San Diego's pitching wasn't good this season; their 4.01 team ERA ranked 10th in the league, and was a few points higher than the league average (3.95). But really, it was worse than that. On the road, Padre pitchers compiled a 4.73 ERA, which was 14th in the league; only the terrible Cubs and the terribler Astros were worse.
Only four Padres started more than 15 games, and the best of them -- Clayton Richard -- finished 14-14 with a 3.99 ERA.
Ah (you might be saying) but that looks pretty good to me. He won 14 games and a 3.99 ERA isn't bad at all.
No, it's not bad. But a 3.99 ERA for a Padre isn't good, either. And as I said, Richard was the best of the group; his 91 ERA+ (which is adjusted for context) is significantly worse than league average (100), but nobody on the club with at least 15 starts was better.
In fairness to Richard, the schedule did not treat him kindly. Just due to the (bad) luck of the draw, he started 19 games on the road and only 14 at home. In those 14 home starts, he gave up 10 homers and posted a fine 3.02 ERA. But in those 19 road starts, he gave up 21 home runs with a 4.74 ERA ... which matched almost exactly, ERA-wise, what his teammates did in road games.
The Padres haven't had any problems finding pitchers who can thrive at Petco Park. No team would. The trick is finding pitchers who can post good numbers everywhere else. They had one of those guys, in Mat Latos. They traded him. If they're going to compete in the tough National League West, they need to find two or three more.
In case you missed any previous entries in this EXCITING SERIES, here's the archive.