In a flurry of moves, new Padres general manager A.J. Preller has totally revamped the San Diego lineup by adding the much needed element of power. These acquisitions should move the Padres out of last place in baseball in both slugging and OPS in 2015. However, these moves did not come cheaply, as San Diego had to tap heavily into their farm system to upgrade. Although the farm has been utilized in this way, Preller was able to hold on to their three top youngsters, Matt Wisler, Austin Hedges and Hunter Renfroe. Not only that, but the rookie GM was also able to keep his starting rotation (Cashner, Ross, Kennedy) intact. Even in the midst of all these deals, it appears that Preller and the Padres are far from finished, as there are rumors that they may also be in on Cole Hamels, though it is fair to speculate he would have to part with at least one of his top prospects to make that happen. A new Twitter handle has emerged to celebrate the brashness of A.J. Preller:
Before I dive into the new players that the Padres have added, I will take a moment to see what they traded away. First, here is a list of the prospects in order of status according to MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo: Max Fried, Trea Turner, Jace Peterson, Jesse Hahn, Joe Ross, Zach Eflin, Dustin Peterson, Jake Bauers, Burch Smith, Joe Wieland, R.J. Alvarez and Mallex Smith. That is six starting pitchers, one future closer, a first baseman, a second baseman, a shortstop, a third baseman and an outfielder who stole 88 bases in the minors last year. No pear tree, but what a turnover. One of the main points here is that although Preller has dealt these youngsters, they are not his prospects. It is evident that Preller is looking to put his fingerprints on the Padre franchise and this is quite a start. Some have mused that the prospects dealt were more quantity than quality. That remains to be seen, but more importantly, why did Preller make such a push for power?
Even though Petco Park’s fences have been moved in, last year’s team was not built to hit the ball out of the yard, which is exactly why it finished next to last in every power-measuring category in baseball. Many of the game’s elite power bats aren’t typically going to sign with San Diego via free agency for obvious reasons, which is why the new GM probably felt he needed to acquire thump via trade. It looks as though Preller did his homework. We are currently in an era where pitching dominates, making power bats all the more scarce. Daren Willman shared some pretty cool charts on Twitter:
What these highlight is how the game is evolving in pitches called for strikes, specifically low and inside to right-handed hitters. This is important because as I looked into the players that Preller acquired, they handle low and inside pitches well. Here are each of Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Derek Norris and Justin Upton’s zone profiles with slugging percentages, courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net:
Key in on the bottom inside third of the strike zone in which Kemp slugged 1.205 last year, Upton .641 and Norris .611. While Wil Myers did not handle this pitch well, he did slug .592 on pitches in the middle lower third.
It has been discussed that the move to Petco depresses the power of the players that Preller has obtained. According to this tweet though, (using a conversion from Baseball-Reference.com) the loss of home runs may not be as bad as forecasted:
So how about those home runs? I created overlays for each player with Petco as the background:
With the knowledge that only a few home runs would be lost due to the ballpark effect from the previous tweet, it will be interesting to see if each player can maintain his two-year averages in San Diego. I charted this below using 2012 and 2014 for Kemp’s statistics but all the other players listed reflect their last two years. Along with that, I included each player’s Steamer and ZiPS projections (thanks Fangraphs). There is no ZiPS projection yet for Kemp.
Due to their past seasons, it is easiest to predict what Upton and Kemp are capable of. I understand that there will be a cloud over Kemp and his arthritic hips, but he was a monster in the second half of 2014 and should be motivated after the trade. Before casting too much aspersion on how the move to Petco may sap their power numbers, take a look at their career stats hitting at Petco:
Matt Kemp in Petco: 59 G, 28 R, 7 HR, 34 RBI, 8 SB, .322/.372/.495
Justin Upton in Petco: 46 G, 24 R, 10 HR, 19 RBI, 7 SB, .291/.359/.541
Is it just a coincidence that each outfielder was available or did Preller target these outfielders who have OPS numbers in Petco that are .867 and .900 respectively? Here are the behind the scenes stats that I enjoy (again courtesy of Fangraphs) using some advanced metrics to predict future performance:
With the exception of Myers, the HR/FB%, wOBA and wRC+ seem very stable on the other three. There are no major variances in the swinging strike rates, either. It would appear that the only wild card in here is Myers, who not only needs to adjust to the National League, but possibly to playing center field as well. It will be a very interesting year for Myers since his power was never really questioned as a prospect but his ability to hit for average was. His two-year slash line of .258/.324/.400 is probably a good one to use as a projection for what he’ll do in 2015. I also think that Upton and Kemp can maintain their two-year averages. Norris may benefit from more playing time if he can stay healthy and move into the lower tier of number one catchers, but he profiles better as a strong number two for fantasy purposes. Preller has moved some of his chips into the middle to play for this season and still has control of many of these players until 2019.
Kemp has called A.J. Preller a rock star among general managers and his first concert in 2015 will be fun to watch. It remains to be seen if he can add one more starting pitcher to this team. One thing is for certain though, this lineup will be much deeper and more powerful than in years past. Not only that, but there are possible platoons around the diamond with Will Middlebrooks and Yangervis Solarte at third. At first base, the Padres can use Tommy Medica against left-handed pitching and Yonder Alonso against righties. Also, they can use Alexi Amarista and Clint Barmes at shortstop with Amarista being an emergency option in the outfield as well.
Things are not perfect with the lineup but with the defection of Pablo Sandoval and Mike Morse from San Francisco and the rudderless movement of Colorado, the Padres have positioned themselves for a run at the Wild Card. That is all you need in October, a chance. While I do not think that Preller is finished, I like what he has done to address team needs so far.
Statistical credits: Baseball-Reference.com, BrooksBaseball.net, CBS.com, ESPN.com, Fangraphs.com
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/DaUXCz (Preller & Kemp), http://goo.gl/HmzmXd (Prospects), http://goo.gl/74EHkc (Myers, Upton, Kemp, Norris)
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Greg Jewett is The Sports Script’s senior fantasy baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!