What if the Padres had started with what they finished with?

Justin Edmonds - Getty Images

The Padres of the second half of the year were decidedly not anything like the Padres of the first half of the year. A guest post from Sports MBA candidate Brandon Korody explores this a bit further.

What would the Padres have been like if only....? That's the question that is being posed in today's guest post from Brandon Kardoy, currently an MBA candidate in SDSU's Sports MBA program.

Padres "What If"

What if? It's a question often asked, especially by sports fans. What if certain players had stayed healthy for the entire season, how would the team have performed?

When I moved to San Diego from Michigan earlier this year to enroll in the Sports Business Management MBA program at San Diego State University, I decided I would root for the Padres while I was here. They had Cameron Maybin, who I remembered from his days as the top prospect in the Tigers farm system, and Clayton Richard, a backup quarterback at the University of Michigan during my undergrad. The Michigan connection, along with their promising youth movement, was enough to grab my attention. Their farm system had just been rated #1 by several baseball writers, and there was a belief that they would at least be exciting to watch, if not competitive.

Knowing all of this, I was on board with the Padres. I just had one minor request, as I'm sure many hardcore fans did: get rid of Jason Bartlett and Orlando Hudson in favor of a youth movement. Both players were solid ball players for several years, but their best days were clearly behind them. It made no sense to me that the Padres would play them when they had such promising young talent waiting in the minor leagues.

As we all know by now, Bartlett and Hudson started the season with the Padres, as the team struggled out of the gate, with one of the league's worst records early in the season. Thankfully, the Padres finally removed Bartlett from the lineup after about a month, with Hudson following him just a week or so later. Everth Cabrera took over for Bartlett at shortstop, and Logan Forsythe took over for Hudson at second base. Finally, the Padres were interesting again. Oddly enough, they also started to win games at an improved rate.

Since the Padres seemed to have improved greatly following the removal of Bartlett and Hudson from the lineup, I thought it would be interesting to investigate the following question: What if the Padres had started the season with Everth Cabrera and Logan Forsythe in the lineup instead of Jason Bartlett and Orlando Hudson?

First, I had to decide which statistic would best answer this question. After some research, I landed on weighted runs above average, or wRAA. This is essentially a measure of how many more runs a player contributes to his team than would an average player (Fangraphs). This allowed me to determine how many more runs the Padres would have scored had Cabrera and Forsythe been the starters from Opening Day. The wRAA of the four players in question can be seen in Table 1 below.

Table 1. Summary of Data Used to Evaluate Players

Bartlett

Cabrera

Hudson

Forsythe

wRAA

-8.60

-1.70

-6.80

6.10

Projected wRAA

-0.48

2.60

As you can see, there is a significant difference in wRAA between the players. However, I could not simply take the difference between the two numbers. I had to break it down and determine what the wRAA would have been for Cabrera and Forsythe if they had taken the at bats for Bartlett and Hudson.

In order to do this, I simply found a per plate appearance wRAA for the players and then multiplied that by the number of extra plate appearances they could have had in place of Bartlett and Hudson (see Table 1). From there, I took the difference of the wRAA of Cabrera and Forsythe for those extra plate appearances and the wRAA of Bartlett and Hudson. This provided me with the amount of additional runs the Padres would have scored had Cabrera and Forsythe been starting from Opening Day.

However, wins are what matters, not runs scored. Thankfully, the PythagenPat (explanation) equation utilizes runs scored in order to predict wins (relatively accurately). The Padres currently have a 74-80 won-loss record. Using the actual runs scored and runs allowed for the Padres, the PythagenPat predicts that the Padres would win 75.56 games this year. Plugging in the projected runs scored had Cabrera and Forsythe been starting from Opening Day, the equation predicts that the Padres would win 77.62 games this season. Surprisingly, the removal of Bartlett and Hudson from the Opening Day lineup would have only resulted in about 2 more wins this season. Perhaps they weren't the problem after all.

Table 2. Projected Wins with Cabrera and Forsythe using PythagenPat

Runs Scored

Runs Allowed

Win%

Win% (PAT)

Expected Wins (Season)

Actual

619.00

666.00

0.46

0.47

75.56

Possible

636.53

666.00

0.48

0.48

77.62

This finding led to a little more research, and through that, I believe I identified the major issue for the Padres this season: Nick Hundley. I did not include him in the original research because, unlike Bartlett and Hudson, he was a solid starter who was expected to have a good season. These expectations, along with his new contract, allowed him to stick around a bit longer than the other two, meaning he had an even greater impact on the season.

A quick glance at his wRAA compared to his eventual replacement's wRAA shows just how poor of a season Hundley was having.(figure 2) Now, let's evaluate the Padres potential season once more, this time including Yasmani Grandal in the lineup instead of Nick Hundley. Using the same analysis from earlier, we find that the Padres would have been predicted to win 82.07 games this season, instead of 75.56. This means that Hundley's performance cost the team around 4 wins this year.

Table 3. Projected Wins with Cabrera, Forsythe, and Hundley using PythagenPat

Runs Scored

Runs

Allowed

Win%

Win%

(PAT)

Expected Wins (Season)

Actual

619.00

666.00

0.46

0.47

75.56

Possible

675.50

666.00

0.51

0.51

82.07

Clearly, the Padres have the potential to be an above .500 team. However, they were held back a bit this year by starting veterans in place of younger players. Obviously, there are other factors that could be researched. What if Carlos Quentin had been healthy all year? What if the starting rotation had remained healthy? These injuries surely had an impact on the season, but how great? I challenge you to determine this yourself, using either my methodology, or your own. I would love to see what you come up with.

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