Much was being made in the offseason about the San Diego Padres’ potential defensive limitations, especially regarding center field with Wil Myers. It’s somewhat understandable given that Myers isn’t a prototypical center fielder, and he’s coming of an injury plagued season with limited experience in center. In addition, there was talk about Matt Kemp’s arthritic hips and how well he’d respond after myriad injuries the last few years. That said, the defense (overall) has been solid. There has been a few hiccups for Myers in center, but but both Kemp and Justin Upton have been excellent.
Now, advanced metrics may disagree, and have these guys covering limited ground, (especially Myers) but it’s also a very limited sample size. Watching these guys every day, you see the offensive production outweighing the defensive limitations.
While the outfield defense seems to be working as planned, despite league-wide skepticism, the few mistakes have been costly ones — magnified further by surprisingly mediocre pitching. The Padres usually pitch well, especially at home, but PETCO Park is nowhere near the hitter’s graveyard it was prior to fence modifications.
The Friars’ talented pitching staff hasn’t performed as advertised, primarily due to a struggling bullpen, which was an expected strength coming into the season.
Some bloggers are clamoring for a new “true shortstop,” pointing to that specific area as an issue. Although Alexi Amarista is not a long-term solution at short, he is hardly the “problem” early on. While he’s hitting a mediocre .212, he’s vastly improved his on-base percentage, his main downfall in the past. He’s pairing getting on base with excellent defense at a premium position, and that’s very valuable.
Back to the outfield defense. While Myers isn’t ideal for center, the fact that a healthy Matt Kemp, a former center fielder, and an underrated defender in Justin Upton, who moved from right to left, has help make up some ground for Wil Myers. In addition to playing along side such veterans, Myers has an excellent teacher in Dave Roberts, the Padres bench coach. Also, and I think it’s important to re-emphasize that PETCO has been modified and there is much less ground to cover. On top of the fence modification, the atmospheric conditions at PETCO have been known to knock would-be home runs down. Shouldn’t that be beneficial to Wil Myers and not a hindrance? The park’s atmospheric conditions seemingly hold the ball up, allowing outfielders to track down balls that typically would carry farther in other environments.
The point: Outfield defense is not the reason the Padres are losing, despite some miscues in center.
Myers looks healthy and is producing along side Kemp and Upton, proving the skepticism, so far, to be false.
What’s the problem?
The balls in play have much more to do with poor pitching, exposing some of the defensive limitations and perpetuating the notion Myers may be an issue moving forward. Maybe he will be, but he’s looked more than a viable option in center given his offensive production. Having said that, if the bullpen lives up to even 90 percent of its capability, you’re not seeing these guys exposed as much.
That puts the focus back on the bullpen. The Padres have some strong pieces in Craig Kimbrel, Joaquin Benoit, Dayle Thayer, Shawn Kelley, Nick Vincent, Kevin Quackenbush and newly acquired Brandon Maurer (via the Seth Smith trade with Seattle). There’s a lot of talent there, and there’s no way this corp of relievers continues to let starting pitching staff down.
How to fix it
Simply put, calm down. These guys will produce and be fine. I know the triteness of “it’s early” might frustrate people, but it’s true. Bud Black is still trying to determine what pitchers belong in particular situations. And while I think he’s done a poor job utilizing his bullpen this year, he also has new guys. But more importantly, he has pitchers with solid track records along with warranted optimism from having the best pitching coach in the game to iron out the issues and find the right balance.
One last thing: A.J. Preller and the front office want to win yesterday. So, it’s unfathomable to believe as competitive and brilliant as Preller has been, he won’t get creative to make appropriate changes if the Padres’ slide continues. He’s just not that kinda cat; he won’t sit back and be content with status quo. He doesn’t just want to be competitive, he wants to go deep into the playoffs and ultimately win the Wold Series.
So, for now, pump the breaks. The defense has been more than adequate and will be less exposed when the pitching is running on all cylinders. And the fallacy of PETCO being too much for Myers is nonsense. If he doesn’t work out in center, it will not because of the way PETCO Park plays.