October 2019, the A’s had just been eliminated in the wildcard game by the Tampa – Billy Beane sits in his office *click* as turns off the TV with a sigh… he then stares out the window for a good minute as he draws a calm and quiet, deep breath. “It’s been a helluva run,” he thinks to himself, reflecting back on the nearly 20 years since the team had their 20-game win streak on the back of Scott Hatteberg (disregarding that Tejada won the MVP; but, I digress) and the hollow shell of David Justice.
They had changed the game. And in those 18 years with a small market budget, they’ve had a winning record 11 times and won the AL West 5 times with 3 wildcard berths. Billy and Peter Brand had found the formula to stay competitive in the brutal business of sport, where, money doesn’t guarantee success but it punches tickets; and, it certainly can patch quite a few mistakes like a soldering iron. They had found a way to be nimble with the data apart from the extra cash. Getting on base is what mattered, not just the hit. Walking was the same as singles. If the slugging and hard hit-rates were there, OBP was just as good as average—just get on base…
“AJ!” Mrs. Preller calls from the kitchen. *AJ Preller falls out of his chair* “AJ! Are you going to come out soon? We miss you.”
“Yes, honey.” AJ looked around the room dazed and confused. He had fallen asleep. It was a dream. The Padres had finished another losing season and AJ Preller had been locked in his office for a week. It had been over 10 years since they had a winning season and they hadn’t sniffed the postseason since losing the play-in game to the Rockies in 2007, the same year Jake Peavy won the Cy Young. They had been rebuilding for a generation and we’re no closer to playing for the pennant. The Rockies had come and gone and the division rival Giants had dominated the NL on the way to 3 championships. Now, the Dodgers had risen back to prominence for the past 3 years.
A team from the NL West has represented the NL in the World Series 5 of the last 10 years. Just not the Padres. The team needed to change, adapt. They can’t compete with the Dodgers’ resources. And they hadn’t developed talent like the Giants. They needed to find an edge and Preller just had an idea… after staring into the eyes of a Tony Gwynn picture on his desk, he finally had it. I can’t guarantee we’ll find the next batting champion, but we don’t have to…
Pitching, Pitching, Pitching
It slowly became increasingly clear. After growing the farm for so long they now they had collected a lot of young talent including their rising star Tatis Jr. as the face of the franchise. Looking through the past records, he found that the true strength of the 2002 A’s team wasn’t their lineup, it was their pitching staff. Zito, Hudson, and Mulder were arguably one of the top 3 rotations of the decade. Pitching was the key. Without good pitching, the hitting doesn’t matter (just ask the Angels)…
*Acquired at trade deadline
So Chris Paddack is having a down year, but last year he was lights out. What’s his issue? The fastball. This season everyone has been squaring up his fastball more and hitting it hard. BAA up from .204 to .327 and SLG up from .391 to .703, that’s a good way to have a bad time. He’s been a 2-pitch pitcher, so the reason he’s getting fewer people to chase and sit on his fastball more is he doesn’t yet have a good secondary pitch people will chase. Now, to supplement his role and at least replace it for the remainder of this season is Mike Clevinger, who has certainly been a ray of sunshine. And whom will be taking his place
Where Paddack has failed, Dinelson Lamet has excelled. Not only is his ERA barely above 2 (cut in half from 2019) and mostly backed up his FIP, but he’s also contributing a 12 K/9 (like last year) but now he’s cut his BB/9 from 3.70 to 2.58, and cut his HR/9 from 1.48 to 0.76—that my friend, is a recipe for success. So what has he been doing differently? Last year he threw 5 pitches… this year he’s dropped it 3. He’s completely scrapped his change and dialed back his sinker which was easily his worst pitch. And he’s now throwing his best pitch, the slider, nearly 10% more up to 53.5%. Yep, that’ll work.
Then there’s Zach Davies who has been finding success, and you likely have taken advantage of it if you have been listening to me for a hot minute. Davies reached a high of 7th starting pitcher overall on the Player Rater, and now sits at #10 just below his compadre (ha) Lamet at #9. Unlike Lamet, he was likely undrafted or a super late flyer and you were able to get him for peanuts. Let’s take a quick glance at what’s been working for him…
Last year Davies home/away splits were a bit prophetic: his home ERA at Miller Park was 4.26 and his road ERA was only 2.94, which means he was due for better results following a change of scenery. The other big change is his pitch mix. Last year he threw his sinker 52.6% of the time and change 31.3%; compared to this season with those 2 pitches at nearly equal shares of 42% each. And until 2 starts ago, his changeup was used the most in the majors north of 43% with an impressive .186 BAA and 35.8% whiff rate. What a deal he’s been! For both you, me, and the Padres.
Hitters Get On Base
A.J. Preller reflected on what Billy had done. He replaced All-Star talent on the field with guys that could duplicate their OBP. And so in the days that followed he dug through scouting report after scouting report for the answer. Seeking out guys that could help change the culture and the philosophy of the team’s at-bats. He wanted to get guys that would work counts and get on base.
|2019 K%||2020 K%||2019 OBP||2020 OBP||2020 OPS|
|Fernando Tatis Jr.||29.6%||23.6%||.379||.369||.951|
|Jake Cronenworth||– –||15.6%||– –||.369||.900|
**Bold are career-bests
The Padres intentially acquired Tommy Pham and Trent Grisham because they A) saw a lot of pitches at the plate, and B) They got on base. AJ Preller wanted to construct his roster with the same idea, attacking the zone and working the count. Those guys would get on base and then the big bats would hit them in. So he traded for guys that had good instincts and would be a good influence on the rest of the clubhouse to teach patience. He knew they needed to improve.
Tommy Pham for example, even though he’s had an injury-shortened year, has no doubt been a good influence on the team paired with the coaching staff as he has been known for taking extra BPs just to take pitches and better hone his sense of the zone. As you can see with the core of the roster above, nearly everyone this year has cut their K% and raised their OBP compared to last year.
— Coolwhip?? (@CoolwhipRB) August 1, 2020
And then there’s the 2nd part of the Davies trade, Trent Grisham. Another name you’ve heard me mention ad nauseam to nausiem. Grisham was a late draft sleeper for a few of us here at Razzball that we were in on since day one. And strangely there wasn’t the same kind of fervor around the ‘pertverse (which is kinda perverse). From a real-life baseball perspective, he has plus-plus OF instincts with plus-plus sprint speed (96%) despite not being built like Trea Turner. His swing shares some natural uppercut similarities with Bellinger (hence the power) but his contact skills are likely average at best. But the key here… he has plus plate discipline. Getting on base = more chances to steal, more chances to score.
In AAA, Grisham showed an advanced approach walking more than he struck out with a 14.6% BB-rate and 13.9% K-rate. So far he’s overperformed a bit in AVG with the help of the 10 game hitting streak he just came off of, but everything else with the power and speed is real and should continue for him.
The last thing Preller needed, was for Manny Machado to buy-in. This wasn’t going to work unless his David Justice, in this case much younger and still in his prime, was ready to go and committed to leading from the front. The coaching staff and front office called out Machado in the offseason because they believed he had given up midseason last year. Nothing will kill a team like their $300M man giving up on the season. They needed him to be what they paid him for. So in Spring Training, he showed up a new Manny. The old Manny. Swole Manny. Having cut some weight in his middle and getting back in shape he was ready to step up and be the Man, or Manny.
This is why I drafted him nearly everywhere and believed that he was going to be the real deal this season. He was another name you probably heard me rant on a lot, which I outlined in Truss’ Writer’s League Draft Recap questionnaire:
Favorite pick: Machado in the 5th hands down. It wasn’t that long ago that he was borderline 1st round talent before the public breakup with the Os. And last year before “giving up” he was on fire, May-July he hit .293 22 HR. Well, in the offseason the coaching staff gave him some tough love and he had a come to Jesus moment. Then he showed up to camp like Ben Swolo, claiming it was his time to be Supreme Leader. Color me a believer. A shot at him returning to 35/12/.300 form? Yes please. Now: Still like it for most part, just hope he is staying hungry and in-shape. If so, with the season starting in summer, could see the same summer from 2019.
How about them apples? One thing with him looking ahead to 2021, if he finishes strong he certainly ends up ranked too high for true value. I still like him a lot, but one knock is he’s going to be losing his SS eligibility and become exclusively 3B for 2021. Which one if his big draws is his position flexibility. So without the SS and MI flex, it limits your options. And since he’s been insanely hot of late its super-boosted his prorated numbers. As of right now, I see him as a 30/10 guy next year with a .280-.290 average and will be valuing him as such. So be careful not to overvalue him (and others for that matter) based on this sprint season.
Wil Myers has been enjoying a career year. In nearly 50 games, he is now sporting a slashline of .298/.358/.626 all career-highs. And in a full season, Mr. Prorater wants to tell you he’d have a line of 96/36/105/3, the steals aren’t there but the lumber is with wRC+ of 160. Thats 60% above average, easily All-Star level. Jurickson Profar too, is enjoying his best season at the dish, he’s on pace for a 21/15 season while slashing .270/.343/.434 with a wRC+ of 112, striking out the less and getting on base, finally getting close to realizing the prospect dream everyone thought he could be.
— Coolwhip?? (@CoolwhipRB) July 26, 2020
And this how #SlamDiego was born. The spiritual successor of Moneyball. Start with great pitching, then surround your big bats with guys that work counts and get on base and several threats to steal a base that pressure the pitcher. When you have a lineup stacked with pop, more guys on base lead to more runs. Duh. When you see more pitches you increase your odds of A) getting on base and B) pitchers making mistakes. Mistakes lead to home runs and when more guys are on base, with speed, it puts even more pressure on the pitchers who have now had their pitch count boosted by an order of magnitude with each inning. Face the bullpen sooner, beat up on the middle relievers. Profit.
Last year, Padres hitters ranked 28th in AVG (.238), 26th in OBP (.308), and 27th in Runs (682). So far in 2020 the Padres are 6th in AVG (.263), 5th in OBP (.338), and tied for 2nd in Runs (286)… which puts them on pace for 902 Runs in a full season obliterating last year’s total.
I’m just a little bit caught in the middle… life is a maze and love is a riddle…
*fade to black and end scene*
If you want more Coolwhip to top-off your baseball experience, fantasy or otherwise, you can follow me on Twitter: @CoolwhipRB.