(but probably not for the same reasons)
In case you missed it, and given the way the regular season ended I wouldn’t be surprised if you did, the Giants clinched the World Series last night. Edgar Renteria, who had less than a hundred at-bats in the second half, was voted the series MVP after hitting a three-run homer off of Cliff Lee in the seventh to put the Giants ahead for good. Wilson came in, struck out Nelson Cruz, saluted his dad, and the World Series was over.
I have a confession to make: I was rooting for the Giants. If you wish to stop reading this blog, I understand but give me a moment to explain myself. I like the Giants. Oops! That probably made things worse, didn’t it? When they knocked us off on the last day of the year, I was more relieved than anything else. I’m talking to myself now, aren’t I?
It’s easy to look at the Giants and think “That should’ve been us!” In late August, it looked like it would be. The two teams seem to be built the same way. The Giants finished third in the league in FIP (3.74), right behind us (3.66). We were third in UZR (50.0), right behind them (56.4). They were a bit better than us offensively, but that doesn’t really mean much. Upon closer inspection, however, things are not as close as they seem so get your microscopes out. I’ve got some slides to show you.
We had the best bullpen in the league this year, and it wasn’t close. GAB and the guys contributed 73 wins above average, which was nine plus runs over the second place White Sox. The Giants came in fourth at 59.1, a still respectable number. It went well with the 141.4 runs their rotation was worth, which was good for eighth in the league (fifth in the NL) and which was much better than the 78.4 runs the Padres staff contributed. Latos and co. came in 26th in the league, which honestly sounds kind of crazy.
Mat with one T is obligatory. He is a legitimate ace and worthy of endless tangents, but I’ll stop myself here. After him, Richard had a solid-if-not-amazing season (3.81 FIP, 4.19 xFIP) and Stauffer and Young deserve credit despite their limited opportunities, but then things start to get bleak. The next best pitcher was Garland (4.41 FIP), then Correia (4.69) and LeBlanc (4.74). Garland and Correia both under pitched their xFIP, Correia by fifty points, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot for 2010 or the future, given the uncertainty of those two coming back. Comparatively, the Giants had three starters who out pitched our number two (Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner) and two more who out pitched our number three (Sanchez, Zito). Or, to put it another way, having an ace isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? Having three aces. I’m exaggerating, at least a little bit, but the point still stands.
It’s easy to hate. It’s easy to look at the Giants and think that it should be us and to think that we deserve a part of that trophy because our collapse helped get the Giants there, but that’s a little arrogant. It distracts us from the idea, which is just an idea at this point, that we missed the playoffs because we weren’t as good as we thought. We were good, don’t get me mistaken. Teams don’t luck into 90 wins but as we found out, 90 wins don’t go as far as you’d think.
A lot was made of how the experts who picked us to finish last were wrong but who is ready to predict a first place finish for the Padres next season? It’s still early but it feels safe to say that we’ll go into 2011 with still only one elite hitter and one frontline starter. The 2010 team’s second best hitter was Chris Denorfia – are you willing to expect a repeat next year? Better yet, are you willing to give him the shot to repeat? There are a lot of questions surrounding this team, including but not limited to:
-Is Will Venable legit?
-Will Headley ever put it together offensively?
-Was Ludwick’s 2008 a fluke?
-What’s to be done with Everth?
-Are Jed and Bud willing to commit to defense and pitching?
And I’m just spitballing. If you look at the Giants, or the Rangers, or the Rockies for that matter, they have questions too but they have more answers than we do, including Lincecum, Posey, Hamilton, Cruz, Tulowitzki, Gonzalez, etc. These players make it easy for their teams to reload, especially since they won’t be changing addresses in 2012. Is it worth it for the Padres to make a run in 2011, knowing that it will be Adrian’s last hurrah in San Diego? It’s easy to see the benefit of such a plan, but it’s just as easy to see the detriment if you look for it.
It doesn’t always feel like it, but the Padres have been pretty good since moving downtown. In seven years, they’ve averaged 82 wins, 84 when you take out the outliers. But with only two playoff appearances and one postseason victory, who cares? The Padres have shown a strong commitment to being good and hoping that’s good enough. That’s a cynical point of view, given the team’s many limitations, so let’s say that they’ve shown a strong commitment to not upsetting the apple cart. What was the last bold move you can remember the Padres making?
I’ll give you a second to think about that one.
Jed Hoyer’s in a tough position. It’s one thing to ship Mark Teixeira out of town when you still have All-Stars around the field, and it’s another thing to ship Cliff Lee out of town when you’re floundering in last place, but what do you do when you’re coming off 90 wins? The Gunslinger is an apt nickname for Kevin Towers because it rarely seemed like he had a plan. He shot first and asked questions later. He could build a bullpen and he won some lopsided trades but hitting the track is no way to support a family. The cupboard was bare more often than not and while we’ve got some cans of soup in there now, we shouldn’t be expecting a Rockwellian Thanksgiving this year. Towers deserves a lot of credit for where he put this team, but he deserves a lot of blame too.
Where the team goes from here is yet to be determined. Hoyer and his staff are beginning their first full offseason. Not committing to Eckstein is a good start, while committing to Ludwick despite his struggles shows confidence. And Hoyer’s not one to shy away from shaking things up – just ask Hanley Ramirez, so there’s reason to believe we’re in good hands. Then again, Moorad is a professional meddler who has already said he wishes he had told his GM how to do his job concerning Pat Burrell. After a 90 win season, is the man who writes the check going to be willing to take a step back to take two forward?
I’m probably being too hard on the Padres. They’ve gone 129 and 107 over the past year and a half and they are a legitimately good team. Nothing can take away from what the Padres accomplished this year, not even a new pennant for the Giants, but 2011 is a new year and at some point, the Padres are going to have to start looking forward.