Our team-by-team preview of the 2012 MLB season from a fantasy perspective continues today with the San Diego Padres. If you've just jumped on with our series or need a reminder, we are spending a day with each major league team, looking at 9 different fantasy angles for each franchise while also paying homage to the things we watch for as real life fans. The hope is that through this exercise we might all come to a greater understanding of the various environments that contain the players we spend so much time obsessing over. Fantasy baseball would be a lot easier if these guys played in a vacuum, but since they don't, it's a good idea to learn as much as we can about the circumstances that affect their play.
Make sure you check out Kenneth Arthur's spotlight on various Padres players, scheduled to post later today. Our series will continue tomorrow with the San Francisco Giants.
2011 in Review & 2012 Outlook
The San Diego Padres followed up their disappointing 2010 campaign with a 71-91 last place finish, making 2009 a distant memory. If there's one trait that defined this team, it was a lack of hitting, both at home and on the road. They were shut out 19 times and hit only 91 home runs all season, good for last in the league. By comparison, the New York Yankees hit 222. General Manager Jed Hoyer went into full rebuild mode at the trade deadline, flipping Mike Adams for two legitimate pitching prospects in Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland. Hoyer defected for the Cubs in December, and new GM Josh Byrnes wasted no time making an impact, trading Mat Latos for Edinson Volquez, Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, and Brad Boxberger. Less than a month later, Anthony Rizzo, who had become surplus to requirements with the addition of Alonso, was shipped to Hoyer's Cubs for a useful bullpen arm in Andrew Cashner.
Overall, the moves signaled a clear intention to rebuild, but the age and proximity to the majors of most of the new acquisitions have Padres fans hoping the process will not be a long one. Though there are still plenty of holes to be filled, there's a young core here that could push the team toward contention sooner than many expect. In the end, the 2012 team will probably look a lot like last year's version - preventing runs, but struggling to score them.
Petco Park is frequently held up as the epitome of an extreme pitcher's park, but the truth is that it wasn't the worst run environment in 2011 (28th), nor was it the stingiest when it came to home runs (23rd). It's still not friendly to hitters, but it's also not the worst. Still, pitchers get a bump, and hitters get docked - but you already knew that.
Manager & Coaching Staff
Bud Black is a former pitching coach who may or may not have a pulse. One thing fantasy owners love about him is that he's incredibly predictable. At one point in 2011, he used the same exact lineup (not counting the pitcher spot) 7 days in a row, not a common occurrence in today's major league. His bullpen pitchers have specific roles, and he doesn't deviate from them much at all. On the basepaths, he's very aggressive - for all their troubles getting on base, the Padres still managed to lead the league in steals.
Speaking of on base problems, hitting coach Randy Ready is out, replaced by Phil Plantier (alliterative names are apparently a job requirement). Plantier played in the majors for 8 years and boasts a career batting average of .243. Since that's above the team's average in 2011, he's got his work cut out for him.
Expected Position Battles
Newly acquired Yonder Alonso will attempt to take over at first for Jesus Guzman, who can't catch a break as far as holding on to a starting spot. If Alonso can reproduce some of his Cincinnati magic in Spring Training, Guzman may have to try to grab a job in the outfield, which actually looks pretty set in stone as of this moment.
Everth Cabrera and Jason Bartlett will go to war over the starting shortstop position in a bold attempt to make the Padres boring and irrelevant by Opening Day. Cabrera's career OPS is .647, and while Bartlett's career numbers are better, in 2010 he posted a .615. His SLG was actually lower than his OBP, which was a putrid .308.
Catcher is a bit more interesting, as Nick Hundley will attempt to hold off new acquisitions John Baker and Yasmani Grandal. Grandal started 2011 in High-A in the Reds system and was aggressively promoted to AAA, so he is a good bet to at least start the season in the minors. Baker is 31 and holds no fantasy value. Hundley is expected to take over the position, but if the organization believes Grandal is ready, there could be a shakeup in the works. The position is deep enough overall that there's no real reason to grab Yasmani unless he's announced as the starter before the season starts, and even then, he only has value in NL-only leagues, at least initially.
Projected Lineup & Rotation
Will Venable - RF
Jason Bartlett - SS
Chase Headley - 3B
Carlos Quentin - LF
Cameron Maybin - CF
Jesus Guzman - 1B
Orlando Hudson - 2B
Nick Hundley - C
Last season, Carlos Quentin and Nick Hundley stole 1 base each. Everybody else in this lineup had at least 9 steals at the major league level. This team doesn't hit well and they play in a huge ballpark, so they're going to continue to play small ball and run aggressively.
Tim Stauffer | Cory Luebke | Edinson Volquez | Clayton Richard | Dustin Moseley
As a team, the Padres only allowed 611 runs, good for fourth in the majors. Thanks to offensive ineptitude, every single one of the returning San Diego starters had a below .500 record to his name, and that could very well happen again. I don't advocate chasing wins, so don't go crazy with this information, but it is worth noting that while pitching in Petco can be an advantage, pitching for the Padres can sometimes hurt in fantasy.
Huston Street comes over from the Rockies to take over closing duties, and as a fly ball pitcher (career GB%: 38.0), the change in venue will definitely benefit him. It's basically a lateral move in terms of team quality (give or take), so something like the 34 save opportunities he got last season is a decent guess. He keeps his walks down (1.39 BB/9, 67.4 F-Strike% in 2011) and strikes people out (8.49 K/9, 13.1 SwStrk%, also 2011), which I believe are the two most important things to look for in a fantasy reliever, apart from save opportunities. Ernesto Frieri can bring the heat as a setup guy, but there are other options I'd look to first given his high walk rate. Andrew Cashner is more likely to hurt you than help you at this point in his career. I do like Luke Gregerson as a holds option. He was extremely unlucky when it came to strikeouts in 2011. His 5.50 K/9 was well out of his career norm, and there's really no reason it should have been - his swinging strike rate ended at 11.5%.
Potential Fantasy Sleepers
My definition of sleeper and yours may vary. I use the term to refer to a player who may be undervalued, no matter his current or expected draft position.
Cory Luebke had some outstanding 2011 stats: 9.92 K/9 (well supported by a 10.9 SwStr%), 3.29 ERA (with every ERA predictor in existence below that number), and a 1.07 WHIP. The ballpark doesn't explain his performance away - his numbers were actually better on the road. So why isn't he considered a Top 20 pitcher? Mostly it's the innings. He only pitched 139.2 innings, a career high. Can he handle a larger workload? Will the organization place an innings cap on him? He's currently being drafted at 39 among starting pitchers, and at that point in the draft, I'm happy to pay for top-shelf potential, even with these lingering concerns.
Edinson Volquez's 2011 HR/FB% was 20.7, well above his career average. The move from Great American Ballpark to Petco should help, as should some good old fashioned regression. His ERA-xFIP was a healthy 1.63, indicating some fairly extreme bad luck. The WHIP is always going to hurt as long as he's walking people left and right (and that's not going to change), but the ERA should look a bit better and the strikeouts will be there. All that's left is health, which is a tall order. If he can stay healthy, there's value in taking Volquez 250 overall.
Spring Storylines to Watch
It will be interesting to see whether or not the club sends Yonder Alonso to AAA to get regular at bats if Jesus Guzman wins the first base job as expected. There are plenty of other prospects to keep an eye on, including the aforementioned Grandal, Erlin, and Wieland. How soon can these guys be ready? Will this team be ready to contend in 2013?
Follow the Team
MLB.com beat reporter: Corey Brock (Blog | Twitter)
San Diego Union-Tribune: (Blog | Twitter)
Broadcaster: Andy Masur (Twitter)
SBN: Gaslamp Ball (Blog | Twitter)
Know of any other sites or Twitter accounts that deserve a mention? Let me know in the comments.