(NOTE FROM GREY: Last week I sent out feelers to the top baseball team blogs to see if they would be generous enough to write a quick preview for their favorite team. So over the course of the next two weeks, mixed in with your daily fantasy info, you will get some of the most astute, in-depth coverage of teams around the major leagues for the upcoming 2008 season from the people that know these teams best. Each post will include a link to their site, please take time to visit these bloggers’ sites, because these posts are truly the tip of the iceberg for their team knowledge. Now enjoy the 2008 San Diego Padres preview.)
When evaluating Padres players in terms of fantasy value, itâ€™s important to consider their home park. The Padres play half their games in an environment that stifles offense, particularly home runs. This means that their pitchers tend to perform better than might otherwise be expected, while hitters tend to perform worse. Each individual is different, of course, but this is a good thing to remember in general.
What follows is a position-by-position look at the 2008 Padres. Iâ€™ve also included a few (hopefully useful) tips at the end. Enjoy!
Josh Bard is an above-average hitter at his position. The downside, from a fantasy perspective, is that his 2006 power surge appears to have been a fluke. Bard hits a lot of doubles and draws a lot of walks, both of which are more useful in real life than to your fantasy team.
Michael Barrett was a train wreck after coming to San Diego in 2007. He looked lost at the plate last season, but heâ€™s only 31 years old and he was a top-shelf offensive catcher from 2004 to 2006, so he could rebound. Barrettâ€™s playing time is uncertain, though, and Petco Park is a tough place to re-establish oneâ€™s offensive game.
- First Base
Although Adrian Gonzalez probably is a better hitter than, say, Brad Hawpe, fantasy owners must temper their expectations. If Gonzalez played half his games in Milwaukee or Philadelphia, heâ€™d be an instant MVP candidate. But he doesnâ€™t play in either of those places, so donâ€™t pay him like he does.
- Second Base
The Keystone corner canâ€™t get much worse for the Padres than it was in 2007, when Marcus Giles and Geoff Blum manned the position. Newcomer Tadahito Iguchiâ€™s numbers appeared to be in decline last year. Then he moved to the Phillies late in the season and got to experience the joy of hitting at Citizens Bank Park. He wonâ€™t have that advantage in 2008. Like Bard, Iguchi provides greater value to his team than to yours.
- Third Base
Kevin Kouzmanoff is a nice little secret. His overall numbers as a rookie were depressed by a miserable start, but from May 7 onward, he hit .309/.362/.511. Kouzmanoff is a good bet to hit .300 or knock 25 home runs in 2008 â€“ possibly both.
Petco Park is tough on all hitters, but it destroys Khalil Greene. If he played all his games on the road, heâ€™d be Alfonso Soriano at shortstop. But he doesnâ€™t, and he isnâ€™t. His lack of plate discipline wonâ€™t hurt you as much as it will hurt the Padres. Greene is good for 20-25 homers, maybe more, but his batting average seems to be stuck in the .250s. If he can get one more hit a week, Greene will vault into the elite shortstop category. If not, heâ€™ll remain what he is â€“ pretty good, but not great.
- Left Field
Scott Hairston hit everything thrown his way after coming to the Padres late last summer. The question with Hairston is whether he can sustain that over a full season. Heâ€™s never been given the chance, but he once was a top prospect and heâ€™s still only 28. Assuming Hairston stays healthy and can build on last yearâ€™s success, he looks like a good breakout candidate to me.
Chase Headley is a third baseman who has been moved to left field because of Kouzmanoff. All indications are that the transition has been successful, and itâ€™s just a matter of time before Headley contributes for the big club. If he doesnâ€™t win the starting left field job, he may start the season at Triple-A. Long term, think Jeff Cirillo with a little more power, or maybe Mike Lowell lite.
- Center Field
Jim Edmonds is 38 years old and coming off two straight injury-marred campaigns. His skills appear to be in steep decline, and at this point, heâ€™s good for the occasional walk and home run, but probably not much else. There are better options for your fantasy team, and if you canâ€™t find them, you need to look harder.
- Right Field
Like Edmonds, Brian Giles is in the twilight of a fine career. Turn back the clock 5 years, and the Padres have themselves two-thirds of the best outfield in baseball. Without a time machine, though, they have a couple guys hoping for one last good season.
- Starting Pitcher
In 2007, Jake Peavy had the year we all thought he was capable of having. He stayed healthy and mostly dominated, winning the Cy Young Award in the process. The one area where Peavy could improve is efficiency. Because he throws so many pitches, he never made it through the eighth inning last year. Even so, he is a true ace for a big-league team as well as for a fantasy team. Expect more of the same: 15+ wins, a sub-3.00 ERA, and 200+ strikeouts.
Chris Young was establishing himself as one of the NLâ€™s elite pitchers when he landed on the disabled list with an oblique strain in late July. Young didnâ€™t miss much time, but when he came back, it was without his command. Like Peavy, he is inefficient and sometimes has trouble late in games. A return to pre-injury levels (1.82 ERA) is unrealistic, but assuming Young is healthy, he should continue to be a great option for the front of a fantasy rotation.
Greg Maddux doesnâ€™t get old; old gets Maddux. Lame jokes aside, put the veteran right-hander down for his usual: 200 IP, 4.00 ERA, and an army of frustrated hitters.
The last time Randy Wolf made as many as 20 starts in a season was 2004. The last time he posted an ERA below 4.00 was 2002. Petco Park may help with the latter, but whether the 31-year-old southpaw can make it through a full season remains to be seen.
Mark Prior is the nominal #5 starter but isnâ€™t expected to pitch until late-May at the earliest. He worked 43 2/3 innings in 2006 and none last year. Expect nothing and maybe youâ€™ll be pleasantly surprised.
Justin Germano got off to a great start as a rookie in 2007 before the league figured out that his stuff is eminently hittable. Heâ€™s a stopgap solution who, given the track records of Wolf and Prior, may be asked to do too much. Again.
- Relief Pitcher
Trevor Hoffman basically had two bad outings last year. Unfortunately they came at the worst possible times and in full view of a national audience that ordinarily ignores the Padres. Pundits have been prognosticating Hoffmanâ€™s decline for years. At age 40 and with less margin for error than ever (keep your eye on the shrinking K/9), he may finally prove them right.
One wonders what the New York Mets might have been able to accomplish last year had they not chosen to discard Heath Bell. The right-hander throws hard, throws strikes, and proved extremely durable in his first full big-league season. Bell may not be able to duplicate his monster 2007, but even if he slips a little, he should hold plenty of value. Bell may get some save opportunities when Hoffman needs a day off and could eventually take over the closer role in San Diego.
There is no more extreme groundball pitcher in baseball than Cla Meredith. He elevated his pitches during the middle months of 2007 but finished strong. Meredith wonâ€™t get any save opportunities and has little or no value to fantasy players. If you play in sim leagues, e.g., Scoresheet, Meredith can be a useful part of your bullpen.
- Parting Thoughts
I know what Iâ€™ve said about Petco Park, but Gonzalez and Kouzmanoff really are terrific young hitters. Gonzalez has done it two years in a row now, and heâ€™s still only 26. His batting average dropped a bit last season, but his walk rate and isolated power improved.
As for Kouzmanoff, he has a great approach at the plate and hits everything hard. Donâ€™t be fooled by his slow start last year. One thing the Padres like about him is the way he handled himself during that stretch. As a rookie, he easily could have gotten down on himself and lost his job, but if anything was bothering him, he never let it show. He will produce at third base.
Itâ€™s a small sample, but Hairston looked legit down the stretch last year. If I had to pick one breakout candidate on offense for the Padres, heâ€™d be the guy.
On the pitching side, Peavy is a no-brainer. Keep a close eye on Bell, too, as heâ€™ll be first in line if Hoffman falters. Even if Hoffman doesnâ€™t falter, heâ€™s good for no more than 60 innings these days, which means some saves could land in Bellâ€™s lap.
Finally, Padres pitchers did a miserable job of holding runners in 2007. Young and Maddux were the biggest culprits. Young has been working on this aspect of his game in spring training, but itâ€™s hard to say how much that will pay off during the season. Base stealers who play in the NL West could have a slight advantage over their counterparts who donâ€™t get to face the Padres as often. It might not be enough to make a difference, but you may want to keep this in the back of your mind.