Do the Padres Need Another Slugger?

USA TODAY Sports

With the Padres and their fanbase in offseason evaluation mode the persistent calls for the addition of a "big bat" are reaching critical mass. Where does the Padres current power level rank among big league clubs and what do they stand to gain by adding another power hitter? Could they just start drinking protein shakes?

In his column on October 5, the UT's veteran Padres writer Bill Center argued that the team should consider packaging some combination of Will Venable, Chris Denorfia, Yonder Alonso, and perhaps some minor-league arms for a true middle-of-the-order slugger.  Why?

In the last decade the Padres have inadvertently built a team identity as a squad that can keep games close with solid pitching and low run-totals.  In recent years the pitching has dropped off for a variety of reasons, but the Jed Hoyer-sourced squads were built around the philosophy of extreme run prevention, with plus defenders and pitchers that allow the ball to be put in play.  The only true power threats were Adrian Gonzalez and (allegedly) Ryan Ludwick.

Let's focus on the isolated power metric, since it most accurately measures a batter's ability to generate extra base hits, weighing home runs more heavily than triples, and triples more heavily than doubles.  Think of it like a slugging percentage sans singles, as a high batting average can inflate slugging percentage a bit.  For example, Carlos Quentin, who projects to be the club's cleanup hitter in 2014, has a career ISO of .236.  In the Hoyer years only Gonzalez and folk hero Matt Stairs posted isolated power numbers above .200.  This philosophy did generate a club that won 90 games in 2010 before stuff happened that my therapist and I have agreed I shouldn't talk about.  Let's instead take a moment to appreciate the beauty of Matt Stairs

What about the other successful Padres teams in recent memory?  The team's last three division wins were in '98, '05, and '06.  Let's split up the mid-aughts and the '98 teams as they were in different offensive eras.  It sure was nice to have Vaughn and Caminiti combine for almost 80 dingers, but during the height of the steroid-era, this was the de facto standard for competitive teams.  On the whole, the Padres were in the middle of the pack, ranking 14th in ISO, relying heavily on table setters, patience, and classical NL-style station-to-station baseball.  Thank you based Gwynn.

Snapshot_20121026_1_medium

"You're welcome" he whispers with his soulful eyes

The '05 and '06 teams only had three regulars (Cameron, Piazza, Gonzalez) with ISOs above .196.  The trio combined for just 68 home runs in over 1700 Abs.  In fact, nobody on the '05 team hit more than 15 home runs (BRING IN THE FENCES!).  "Maybe that's why they didn't make any noise in the playoffs!" says hypothetical Hacksaw caller.  And to be fair, the offensive environment in 2013 is different still than the mid-2000s.  Since offense is down a bit lets relax the standard just a tad.  Let's look at the 2013 playoff teams and their number of middle-of-the-order bats, as defined by players who appeared in more than 80 games and had an ISO of over .195 in 2013.

Team # of Sluggers
Braves 3
Dodgers 2
Cardinals 2
Pirates 1
Tigers 1*
Athletics 3
Red Sox 4
Rays 1

* 20120929_jel_aj5_149


Only three of the eight teams that made the playoffs this year can say they had legitimate power in the important 3-4-5 spots in the lineup.  Guess middle-of-the-order power isn't needed anymore to field a playoff team in today's MLB.  So where does that leave the Padres? They actually fielded three regulars with ISOs above .195 last season (Quentin, Venable, Gyorko), not to mention Chase Headley who is just one year removed from a season where he hit 31 homers and had an ISO of .212.  It appears the lineup has enough "oomph" that a lack of power isn't going to prevent the team from winning games, especially when Andrew Cashner is on the hill:

0727_cashner_homer_1_medium

But the Padres did rank 22nd in overall team ISO (though they were ahead of all division rivals but the Coors-juiced Rockies lineup).  However, it's important to understand that power is not the same as other skills that hitters can possess.  Patience for example is equally valuable to any hitter in any lineup spot, regardless of role.  Unless the bases are loaded a walk is usually worth about the same in conceptual value.  Power is obviously different because extra base hits can generate different numbers of runs based on who is on base.  That's why you typically see the guys with the most extra base power hitting in the heart of the order.  That's why ISO isn't necessarily as important as a team metric.  Nobody really cares that Alex Gonzalez hit 20 home runs in 2003 because everybody knew he was a #8 hitter.  I'm sure the Cubs would have been just as happy if he hit 10 home runs and walked more or cut down on the strikeouts.  Then again, I just saw a documentary detailing the Cubs scouting procedures, so I'm not sure what selection criteria they even have anymore.

So MAYBE the Padres don't need another slugger.... And MAYBE the pieces Bill Center mentioned are more valuable to the Padres than they are on the open market.  Trade Venable and Denorfia? Padres corner outfielders combined for 4th best and 5th best fWAR output in the entire league (Right Field and Left Field respectively).  Not only that, but when Venable and Denorfia are allowed to form a true platoon, Bud Black is able to capitalize on their strengths and shield the team from their weaknesses.  Venable has posted a career .262/.327/.449 slash line against righties, whereas Denorfia hits .308/.374/.459 against lefties.  League and park adjusted, they generate 14% and 34% more runs than the average hitter, while also contributing above average defense and baserunning.  Is it really good policy to try to shop these guys (along with a package of prospects) for a talented but injury-prone, unpredictable, and potentially expensive player like Giancarlo Stanton? Yonder Alonso is not yet established enough to net a solid return, and the "excess" pitching prospects the team has could quickly become necessary MLB-level pieces if anything goes wrong with the half-dozen pitchers on the current roster that are either in recovery or current injury risks.

Power is not only a rare commodity in today's game, but it is one that many would say is incredibly overvalued on the open market.  After all CHICKS DIG THE LONG BALL BRING IN THE FENCES DO YOU WANT TO KNOW THE HORRIFYING TRUTH OR SEE ME SLUG SOME DINGERS?!? We live in a world where Adam Dunn is being paid $15m a year through his mid-30s.  For those unfamiliar with Adam Dunn, he has exactly three impeccable talents:  drawing walks, crushing fastballs, and spinning artisanal clay pottery [citation needed].  Unrelated, but we also live in a world that has so many Fast and Furious sequels that we have run out of cheeky names for them.  Welcome to Obama's America.

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