Isn't winning fun? I sure think it is, and I bet most of you do too. It's made even better when the Padres are the ones doing it, like they have the last six games in a row. While watching these games, I started to think, "Is this any different than last year, when they raced out to a 9-3 record, and then just went downhill from there?" So I decided to take a look and see if there are any signs that their current good play is a function of luck, and which Padre players are either over-performing or under-performing. I'll start by looking at the regular, everyday position players. Then in Part Two, I'll look at the starting rotation and the main bullpen arms. Read on!
Chase Headley, 3B: As we all know, this was a big year for the Savior. A highly touted prospect a couple years ago, he failed to impress his first couple years in the bigs. Much was made of his move back to his natural position of third base this off-season, with many hoping it would improve his results at the plate. So how's he doing?
2009 season: .262 avg, .342 OBP, .392 SLG, 10.1 BB%, 24.5 K%
Current 2010: .368 avg, .429 OBP, .509 SLG, 9.5 BB%, 12.3 K%
Savior is humming along quite nicely. Many of us hoped he would break out this year, and his early returns are very, very promising. He is almost certainly over-performing to a certain extent--he won't keep hitting .368 and his strikeouts will probably go up, but his peripheral numbers indicate he's actually an improved player. He's making contact with more pitches then before (which helps keep him from striking out) and when he does make contact he's hitting the ball well--his line drive % is significantly higher than in the past (it's not going to stay at 28%, but a drop down to the low 20s would be a big improvement on 2009). So yes, Chase is over-performing to a certain extent, but he's also showing good progress from 2009 to 2010.
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B: Fresh off a freakishly good 2009, Adrian looks to solidify his status as one of the best position players in all of baseball. His numbers in 2009 were nearly twice as good as 2008, and many questioned whether he'd be able to repeat that performance.
2009 season: .277 avg, .407 OBP, .551 SLG, 17.5 BB%, 19.7 K%
Current 2010: .314 avg, .446 OBP, .569 SLG, 18.5 BB%, 23.5 K%
Adrian is off to a very good start. Right now he's over-performing to a certain extent and those numbers will cool off, but he shows every sign of being the same player as he was last year.
David Eckstein, 2B: Perhaps the most controversial of Padres players, David hopes to show he still has something left and can contribute in a meaningful way.
2009 season: .260 avg, .323 OBP, .334 SLG, 6.9 BB%, 9.1 K%
Current 2010: .255 avg, .309 OBP, .373 SLG, 5.5 BB%, 2.0 K%
Eck isn't doing very well. Though he's only struck out once so far, he isn't walking much and isn't getting on base. One could say he's under-performing, and in terms of his career numbers they'd be correct. But given the fact that he's 35 and wasn't a great hitter to begin with, it's safe to say this is the kind of offensive production we can expect from David this season.
Everth Cabrera, SS: One of the most exciting young players the Padres have had in some time, Everth surprised many by becoming the Padres' starting shortstop in 2009 despite having never before played above A-ball. He surprised even more by hitting at a league-average level in his first ever taste of major league pitching. One of the biggest questions going into this year would be Everth's development--would he regress, or improve?
2009 season: .255 avg, .342 OBP, .361 SLG, 10.5 BB%, 23.3 K%
Current 2010: .214 avg, .279 OBP, .304 SLG, 7.9 BB%, 28.6 K%
Everth is clearly having difficulty early into his second season. Bad luck is playing a bit of a role (2009 BABIP of .325, 2010 BABIP of .300), but it's not the only culprit. A rising strikeout rate and falling walk rate shows that he's having difficulty recognizing which pitches to swing at and which ones to take, and it's lead to a significant reduction in his production at the plate. Obviously, Everth is a young player and at 23 years old will probably struggle a fair amount. So Cabrera is under-performing, though how much more we can expect from him this season is an open question.
Nick Hundley, C: Nick was exactly average in 2009. He missed big chunks of time due to injury, and when he did play he posted a wRC+ of 100, which is precisely league average. That was an improvement on 2008, though, where he was below average. Hundley isn't seen by many as having high-upside, so it's unfair to expect him to be more than a league-average catcher at the plate.
2009 season: .238 avg, .313 OBP, .406 SLG, 9.7 BB%, 29.7 K%
Current 2010: .265 avg, .390 OBP, .441 SLG, 17.1 BB%, 23.5 K%
Nick has done all right for himself so far this season. Hundley is almost certainly over-performing and won't be able to keep up this kind of offensive performance. The weird thing is that there isn't a lot of indication this is a fluke--his BABIP is actually lower than last year, as is is overall contact %. Still, expect Nick's performance to cool off and for him to approach his 2009 numbers.
Will Venable, OF: Will is a difficult player to look at, because he took an unusual path into baseball. This means he's older than most players with his level of experience, and it more trouble to project. He did pretty good in a half-season's worth of time in 2009, showing above-average production at the plate and above-average defense in right field.
2009 season: .256 avg, .323 OBP, .440 SLG, 7.7 BB%, 30.4 K%
Current 2010: .235 avg, .273 OBP, .510 SLG, 5.5 BB%, 19.6 K%
Will is having trouble getting on base. When you watch him at the plate he's having a lot of difficulty laying off breaking balls and taking a walk. When he does make contact, though, there's a good chance he'll hit the ball really hard, as his .510 SLG and .275 isolated power indicates. Overall, his offensive performance this year (119 wRC+) comes out as slightly better than last year's (113 wRC+). Despite that, given what he was able to do in the minors and what we've seen him do before I think it's fair to say he's under-performing a bit.
Tony Gwynn, Jr, OF: Despite his name and pedigree, Junior just isn't the hitter that his father was. In 2009 he managed to put up decent platoon numbers against righties, though he struggled mightily against lefties. His saving grace was stellar defense in center field.
2009 season: .270 avg, .350 OBP, .344 SLG, 10.6 BB%, 16.5 K%
Current 2010: .133 avg, .278 OBP, .200 SLG, 16.7 BB%, 20.0 K%
On the surface it looks like little Tony is having a horrible time this year. In terms of actual results that's true, he is. But the fact that he's walking even more than he did last year and making better contact when he does swing shows us it's not his approach at the plate that's the problem. Junior's issue so far in 2010 is massively bad luck. His career BABIP is .305, and his 2009 BABIP was .316. In 2010, his BABIP has been .167. That's absurdly low, and isn't a function of anything but bad luck--he just happens to be hitting balls right at fielders. So Tony Jr. is hugely under-performing, and when his luck turns he should approach or exceed the player he was last year. Buddy should return him to the lineup as a regular so he has a chance for his luck to turn, and for his excellent defense.
Kyle Blanks, OF: The over-sized outfielder and young player impressed everyone in limited time last year, showing good patience at the plate and massive power. And, at the ripe young age of 23, has tons of room to grow.
2009 season: .250 avg, .355 OBP, .514 SLG, 10.5 BB%, 37.2 K%
Current 2010: .217 avg, .345 OBP, .457 SLG, 12.7 BB%, 34.8 K%
A glance at the numbers shows that Kyle suffers from a bit of the same problem as Tony Gwynn Jr., though not on the same scale. Blanks is walking more and striking out less than in 2009, but the balls that he puts into play are finding gloves at a significantly higher rate than they did in 2009. Last year, he had a BABIP of .325, and so far in 2010 it's .286. That, coupled with the fact that he's very young and showed so much ability in the minors, tells us that Kyle is significantly under-performing. As his luck evens out and as he improves as a player, his offensive production will increase.
With the caveat that while the year is still very young and sample sizes are small Padres hitters are, for the most part, either under-performing or show good potential for growth. A few players are over-performing, but on the whole the lineup should get better as the season progresses. Young players will (hopefully) improve, and players experiencing bad luck should regress to the mean.
Unlike what fueled the Giants' hot start to the season, the Padres' current winning ways are not due to their hitters far outplaying their abilities. Whether or not it's due to the pitchers outperforming their abilities is another question that will be addressed in the second half of this article.