The 2014 San Diego Padres finished 77-85, which was good for third place in the National League West. They had quality starting pitching for much of the year. The team finished with an ERA- of 95, which was third best in the National League and denotes that they were five percent better than league average.
The 2014 Padres, however, were awful at the plate. The team combined for a .226/.292/.342 line, which was last in the National League. Part of that was because the Padres play their home games in a pitcher friend environment. Still, by wRC+, which is park adjusted, the Padres' offense sat 18 percent below league average with a mark of 82, which also put them in the National League cellar. Another illustration: Jedd Gyorko led the 2014 Padres with just 51 RBIs. The Rockies, in contrast, had six batters with at least 51 RBIs, including Troy Tulowitzki, who had 52 in just 91 games. The Padres had just three batters with a better than average wRC+, and none of those players are on the 2015 team.
Reshuffling characterized the Padres' offseason and has given them a brand new look for 2015. There are questions as to how well the pieces will fit together, especially on offense, but I think those concerns are overblown. The reality is that the Padres currently have a collection of very talented hitters and pitchers.
The 2015 version of the Padres are currently 8-5. They just won two out of three games against the Cubs this past weekend. This four game set in Denver will wrap up a seven game road trip. Here's what to know for the first four of the 19 games this season between the Padres and the Rockies.
Hitters to watch
The position players who composed the poor hitting squad last season have almost all been replaced. Only first baseman Yonder Alonso, second baseman Jedd Gyorko, and shortstop/utility player Alexi Amarista have returned. The moves new Padres general manager AJ Preller made this offseason have greatly improved the offense. The outfield is now manned by Justin Upton, Will Myers, and Matt Kemp. While each payer either has flaws or injury concerns, each one also comes with considerable upside. It's a scary collection of outfield bats. Upton, Myers, and Kemp are also scary in the outfield, but not in a good way. Each one rates as a below average outfielder. It will be interesting to see how well they navigate the expansive Coors Field outfield.
Catcher Derek Norris and third baseman Will Middlebrooks represent the new infield faces. Norris was a curious addition to the team. While he is a good hitting catcher, he's a defensive downgrade from 2014 catchers Rene Rivera and Yasmani Grandal, who the Padres traded to the Rays and Dodgers, respectively. Middlebrooks is the Padres batter with the most easily exploitable flaw. He's a free-swinger, so Rockies pitchers will do well not to throw him too many strikes and not too many fastballs.
Gyorko is a better hitter than his current .121/.171/.152 line suggests. He started out poorly last year as well, but he had a wrist issue, which sapped his hitting ability and ultimately landed him on the disabled list. After returning from the DL, he finished the season with a strong .260/.347/.398 line, which amounted to a 118 wRC+. And what do you need to know about shortstop Alexi Amarista's hitting? The 2015 Baseball Prospectus Annual sums it up well: he "reach[es] first base less often than an actual padre."
Pitchers to watch
When the Padres acquired right-hander James Shields this past offseason, he immediately became the team's best pitcher. He's pitched well in three starts this season. Shields has three pitches in his arsenal—a four-seam fastball, a cutter, and a changeup—that generate a lot of swings and misses. In three starts this season, Shields has struck out more than 11 batters per nine innings. Shields faced the Rockies last May as a member of the Royals in Kansas City. He limited the Rockies to one run over seven innings.
Tyson Ross, Brandon Morrow, and Odrisamer Despaigne (who is filling in for the injured Ian Kennedy), round out the starters the Rockies will see. Morrow is a hard thrower who has had trouble staying healthy, though he's started out this season well. Morrow tossed seven innings in each of his first two starts of the season, and he's only given up two runs. Tyson Ross's most notable trait is that he throws the slider more than any other starting pitcher in baseball. In 2014 he threw it a full 41 percent of the time. It's a good pitch, too. FanGraphs rates it about as well as Stephen Strasburg's slider. Despaigne is a groundball pitcher who relies on four and two-seam fastballs, as well as a cutter, to kill his worms.
The Padres' bullpen contains two closers, one of whom is the best relief pitcher in baseball, Craig Kimbrel. Kimbrel has struck out 14.7 batters per nine innings during his career. His career ERA is 1.43, and his career ERA- is an absurd 38. And while I don't think saves are a particularly revealing stat, this comparison is: heading into his age 27 season, Kimbrel has 190 saves. At that same point in Mariano Rivera's career, he had 48. So: Kimbrel is the closer. Joaquin Benoit is capable of filling that role, but he's taken on set-up duties after the Padres' acquired Kimbrel. Other notable bullpen arms are the amusingly named Kevin Quackenbush and the mustachioed Dale Thayer, the latter of whom gave up a walk-off home run to Justin Morneau last May 19.
Game 1: Odrisamer Despaigne vs. Jorge De La Rosa
Game 2: Brandon Morrow vs. Tyler Matzek
Game 3: James Shields vs. Kyle Kendrick
Game 4: Tyson Ross vs. Jordan Lyles
For smart Padres analysis, check out Gaslamp Ball.