2014 San Diego Padres: Luck be with the Padres, for once


Craig Lefferts

Left-handed pitcher, mostly a reliever, from 1983-94 who did two stints with the Padres. Came up with the Cubs, who traded him to Padres in a three-team deal: the Padres got Lefferts and Carmelo Martinez; the Cubs got Scott Sanderson; the Expos got Gary Lucas. The Cubs were soon sorry. Lefferts earned two of the Padres’ three wins in the NLCS over the Cubs. In all, Lefferts had a 2.13 ERA and 10 saves in 105.2 relief innings in ’84, but was even better in the postseason, where he had four shutout innings vs. the Cubs and six more vs. the Tigers, who swept the Padres. Lefferts led the NL in appearances with 83 in ’86 (3.09 ERA). He was traded in midseason ’87 to the Giants, who won the NL West and soon became the Giants’ closer. Lefferts had 11 saves and a 2.92 ERA in 88, and then at least 20 for the next three seasons, the last two of which back with the Padres, signed as a free agent. He made 32 starts in 1992, winning 14 (3.76 ERA), the last with the Orioles, then finished with the Rangers and Orioles. Lefferts is the last pitcher to have hit a walk-off home run, in 1986 off the Giants’ Greg Minton. Said MInton, according to David Schoenfeld at ESPN.com’s SweetSpot: “I have to tell you that I have no recollection of it at all. … I’ll say this though: He must have been the best hitting pitcher I ever faced.” Sadly, no. Lefferts had a career average of .121 and it was his only home run. Said Lefferts, according to Schoenfeld: “I loved to hit … If I could have, I’d have hit every day, but I’d have been the worst hitter in the league.” He was much better as a pitcher. Final numbers: 58-72, 3.43 ERA, 101 saves, .703 OPS against, 109 ERA+, 9.4 WAR.

I feel like I’m knocking on heaven’s door: The Padres may have only won 76 games in 2013, but they probably led MLB in one category: Tommy John surgeries. The Padres’ Casey Kelly, Cory Luebke and Joe Wieland all missed the season with surgery, which helps explain Jason Marquis’ presence in the rotation (if not Edinson Volquez). This year, the Padres are insured. Matt Wisler, drafted as a high-schooler in the seventh round in 2011, pitched a short-season inning that summer and went directly to full-season leagues, where he’s been effective at every stop. Wisler has pitched 250 minor-league innings and fanned nearly a batter per every one of them (244), while walking just a batter every four of them (63). His ERAs have been 2.53, 2.03 and 3.00 and his WHIP has never surpassed 1.079. He’ll probably start the season in AAA, but the Padres know too well Wisler is only a surgery away.

Trivia: The Padres have won one MVP award, and four Cy Youngs. Name them. Answer below.

What he said: Padres manager Bud Black on Yonder Alonso: “If he hits 10-15 homers, that’s fine as long as he gets his RBIs and scores his runs.”What he meant: “He’s had 1,000 major league at bats and has hit 20 home runs. You think that’s all Petco? Last I checked, we play half our games on the road. Fifteen home runs from him would seem like 50.”

Outlook: The Padres’ 76 wins in 2013 don’t seem like many, but along with 2012, are as many as they’ve won in the last six years, with the obvious exception of the 90-72 but no playoffs in 2010.

Somehow the Padres won those 76 despite:

  • losing the three aforementioned under-30 young starters, who had a combined 36 major-league starts, for the entire season;
  • catcher Yasmin Grandal’s 50-game suspension for PEDs, requisite apology and penance, and then, 28 games into his return, loss for the season with a torn ACL;
  • Centerfielder Cameron Maybin limited to 15 games by wrist and knee injuries;
  • Shortstop Everth Cabrera (.355 on-base, 37-for-49 stealing, six errors) suspended for 50 games for PEDs (given his 24 extra-base hits and .381 slugging, why?)
  • Power-hitter Carlos Quentin’s season limited to 82 games by knee and shoulder injuries, and an eight-game suspension for objecting to being the sparring partner of Zack Grienke’s pitchers;
  • Pitcher Clayton Richard limited to just 11 starts by season-ending shoulder surgery.

 

That’s how soft-tossing lefty Eric Stults leads your team in starts, and Volquez is sent out 27 times despite a 6.01 ERA and catcher Nick Hundley gets 400 plate appearances and Logan Forsythe 240 at five positions and Ronny Cedeno is the everyday shortstop in September. It adds a little perspective to those 76 wins.

It would be fashionable to say the 2014 Padres could be much improved, except that they’re starting the new season like the old one ended. Luebke has already been forced to undergo a second Tommy John surgery, and Maybin has a torn biceps, an injury he said didn’t deter Brett Favre or John Elway. That’s great if he’s intending to back up Phillip Rivers, not so much if he wants to play center field.

Still, there’s a lot to like about the 2014 Padres. Andrew Cashner may yet make the Anthony Rizzo trade a win for them; both he and Tyson Ross had their best seasons at age 26 after much tantalizing, and although neither hit 200 innings, they’ll have that chance in 2014. Josh Johnson came to work for cheap ($8 million), Ian Kennedy came by trade in midseason and both Burch Smith and Whisler will be back before Volquez or Marquis. Even Wieland is an option.

The bullpen is better, too: Joaquin Benoit (2.01) came as a free agent and lefty Alex Torres (1.71) by trade, though one should be wary of dealing prospects to the Rays. They wind up lasting far longer and far more effectively than the piece acquired.

Still, the Padres’ farm system is ranked ninth by ESPN’s Keith Law, so it could afford the attrition.

Quentin, Grandal and Cabrera will better the Padres’ lineup, as would a return to 2012 numbers by Chase Headley, who lost 128 points of OPS and 2.8 points of WAR. But the Padres might best better themselves by an upgrade at first base. Alonso’s .368 OPS was 13 points less than Cabrera’s, even if the latter’s was PED aided, and it’s hard to believe soon-to-be 26 Tommy Medica (.296/370/596 in the AA Texas League) couldn’t do better.

The Padres can, and will do better in 2014. How much so might depend on their fortunes, which haven’t been good in recent times.

Trivia answer: Ken Caminiti was the Padres’ only MVP in 1996. The four Cy Young winners were Randy Jones (1976), Gaylord Perry (’78), Mark Davis (’89) and Jake Peavy (2007).

Team song Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes: Bad Luck

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