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As predicted by many, the 2004 San Diego Padres were much superior to the 2003 rendition of the franchise. They opened PETCO Park in style, jumping from 64 wins to 87 to stake claim to the title of Most Improved Team in the National League. While the Pads fell 5 games short of the playoffs in the end, they were in first place as late as July 7.

2004: What Went Right

Jake Peavy put it all together at the age of 23 to lead the NL in earned run average. Mark Loretta showed that 2003 was no fluke, leading the Major Leagues in Win Shares for second basemen by a wide margin. Khalil Greene was runner-up for Rookie Of The Year, playing solid defence and showing surprising pop with the bat. Japanese import Akinori Otsuka followed Greene in the ROY voting, delivering 77 dominant innings out of the bullpen. Trevor Hoffman was back on top of his game, notching 41 saves after pitching just 9 innings in 2003. Scott Linebrink made it a bullpen trifecta, with a line nearly indistinguishable from Otsuka’s. Phil Nevin stayed quite healthy, playing 147 games. Ramon Hernandez missed a month with a strained knee, but was one of the best hitting catchers in the league for his 111 games. Backups Terrence Long and Rich Aurilia were surprisingly solid.

2004: What Went Less Than Great

Jay Payton played excellent defence but was anemic at the plate. Rod Beck’s remarkable 2003 comeback turned out to be a one-year phenomenon. Brian Giles was solid, but not the superstar Kevin Towers thought he was getting when he traded Rookie Of The Year Jason Bay and the equally exploding-on-the-league Oliver Perez to acquire him. Sean Burroughs took a step back from his promising sophomore season. Brian Lawrence treaded water and Adam Eaton regressed, though both stayed healthy and pitched 200 innings. Sterling Hitchcock and Ismael Valdez performed down to expectations. Dennis Tankersley and Xavier Nady were effective in Portland but played little and not well in San Diego.

Welcome To PETCO Park

In my 2004 preview, I alluded that PETCO Park would play more to the favour of hitters than did Qualcomm Park simply because the Q was such a severe pitcher’s park. Technically, I was correct: Using a simple 1-year run park factor calculation ([2*(HomeRS + HomeRA)]/[RS + RA]), Qualcomm scores a .904 for 2003, while PETCO comes in at .911 for its inaugural season. More practically, PETCO was the most severe pitchers park in the league.

The spacious confines got in the heads of the hitters early on. The Giants initial visit prompted Barry Bonds to grumble, “I just found out at PETCO stadium that they tried to make it Bonds-proof, but I think they made it baseball-proof.” Ryan Klesko was heard to complain about the unfavourable right field dimensions, but in fact his first-half struggles (.271 .366 .370) included worse numbers on the road than at home (particularly, a .405 home slugging percentage against just .321 on the road).

Offseason Maneuvers

General Manager Kevin Towers had a steady but unspectacular offseason, making small but astute transactions and avoiding the frenzy that was much of the free agent market. Rather than the apparent new norm of 3 years, 20-something million to a middle-of-the-road starter, Towers signed the aging but effective Woody Williams to an incentive-laden two-year deal. Similarly, while other teams were handing out multiple years and multi-millions to left-handed specialists, the new LOOGY in San Diego is veteran Chris Hammond on a one-year $750K deal.

Less apparently logical was the trade of Jay Payton, Ramon Vazquez, and $2.65 million to Boston for Dave Roberts. While the theory may be that Roberts’ offensive skill set is better suited to the spacious dimensions of PETCO, it says here that Payton is a significantly better hitter than he showed in 2004 and his defence in centre will be missed.

To bolster the bench, Towers picked up free agents Mark Sweeney, Eric Young, and Geoff Blum. Rudy Seanez and Danny Patterson join Hammond as new bullpen material, with Antonio Osuna and Jay Witasick moving on. A trio of Kansas City castoffs look to join the pitching staff; Darrell May (obtained in exchange for Long) heads to Spring Training wearing the 5th starter’s belt; Dennys Reyes hopes to catch on as a second lefty out of the pen; and Miguel Asencio is an interesting addition – the former prospect missed all of 2004 after having Tommy John surgery and is expected to start the season on the 60-day DL.

Hit That

After spending a couple years as one of the worst offences in the National League, the 2004 Padres scored 768 runs to finish in the middle of the pack. The major change for 2005 is Roberts and Young replacing Payton in centre field.

With the aforementioned rib cage injury behind him, Ramon Hernandez should be one of the best hitting backstops in the National League again this year. Over the past two years, Hernandez has hit .274 .335 .466. Not too shabby for a catcher playing in pitcher’s parks.

Following a very productive 8-year career in Mexico, Miguel Ojeda broke through to the big leagues in 2003 and last year put up fine numbers backing up Hernandez. The 30-year-old will fill the same role this year.

First Base
Phil Nevin’s first full season at first base was a definite success, as he played nearly as many games as he had the previous two injury-marred campaigns combined and put up better numbers while he was at it. Second only to Trevor Hoffman in San Diego service time, the path to becoming a Padre pillar was a winding one for Nevin. Drafted first overall in 1992 by Houston, he was traded three times and never hit much at all (even at AAA) before finding his niche in the south-western corner of the USA at age 28. He’ll bat cleanup between Giles and Klesko again this year.

The Padres hope Mark Sweeney makes the Colorado-San Diego transition more smoothly than Payton, as he’ll be the 5th outfielder and backup 1st baseman. Robert Fick will be ready in Portland should Sweeney revert to his career-norm sub-400 slugging.

Second Base
Utility man turned best hitting second sacker in the league? Like Nevin, coming to San Diego did wonders for Mark Loretta’s career. In his early thirties and coming off easily the best season of his career, it’d be reasonable to expect a fair amount of regression. But then, the same was true one year ago.

Granted a full-time job in the big leagues less than two years after being drafted, Khalil Greene took the bull by the horns and hit .273 .348 .446. Write him in as San Diego’s starting shortstop for the next five years.

Third Base
From being drafted 9th overall in 1998 through to a solid first full season in the big leagues in 2003, Sean Burroughs’ career path was straight out of a textbook. In 2004 he hit a bump, a bump that cost him 40 points of slugging percentage. Call it the sophomore jinx, blame it on PETCO, whatever – at 24-years-old, it’s much too soon to write Sean off. In fact, he’s best candidate in the Padre lineup to have a breakout year.

On the other hand, if Burroughs continues to struggle against lefty pitching he’ll find himself in a platoon with Geoff Blum. Blum figures to see plenty of playing time regardless, as backup infielders are scarce on this team. Another possibility is moving Xavier Nady to third.

Left Field
As bad as Ryan Klesko’s aforementioned first half was, it appears to be directly attributable to back spasms and a rib cage injury. Healthy for the second half, he swung the most dangerous bat in the lineup (.310 .427 .519). A 900 OPS over a full season out of Klesko (or Giles, or Nevin, or all three) would go a long way toward the Padres' ambitions of making the playoffs.

Centre Field
Dave Roberts returns to California following three months and a World Series ring on the east coast. Roberts will bat leadoff against righties, pairing with Eric Young to form a speedy platoon. While it won’t likely be a stellar defensive combo, the two could add up to one good leadoff hitter. Consider their 2004 split stats:

Roberts vs RH: .270 .356 .407, 263 AB, 38 for 41 overall stealing bases.
Young vs LH: .319 .413 .451, 164 AB, 14 for 23 overall stealing bases.

While the net of that is short of All-Star material and may suffer at the whims of the park, it should be better than the .250/.326/.367 Payton managed in his 458 AB last year.

Right Field
Brian Giles was brought to town as a star attraction on a young up-and-coming team moving in to a new park. While he was his usual durable self, playing 159 games, his 126 OPS+ was short of what the Padres were hoping for. Looking at his career path and his most comparable players through age 33 (Dave Justice, Bob Johnson, Hack Wilson, and Jim Edmonds), there is plenty of reason for optimism that Giles will again be a top-10 hitter in the NL for 2005.

Pitching In

Aided and abetted by PETCO, the Padres were fifth in the National League in ERA in 2004, after being 13th the year before. The staff currently getting ready in Peoria, Arizona has the potential to be even better, if not necessarily much black-and-white improved.


Woody Williams returns to So Cal to take over from David Wells as the relative greybeard leading San Diego’s rotation. Williams is somewhat of a David Wells-Lite (without mentioning that Woody weighs about 50 pounds less): Both started their careers as relievers in Toronto and moved on to greater success in other cities, becoming highly dependable starters after the age of 30, consistently turning in good or very good seasons. Where Williams has his work cut out for him, however, is that Wells has done it through his age 41 season. Should Woody not be able to keep up the pace at age 38, the Padres are protected financially in the form of contract incentives, but they do not have a safety net to pick them up on the field.

Though not the staff leader in name, there is no doubt that Jake Peavy is the biggest talent in the group. The worst thing that can be said about his 2004 season is that it totaled only 166 innings. The good news is that it was in part due to his workload being carefully restricted, as Jake broke 110 pitches in only 5 of his 27 starts (2 of those over 120). Even on the negative side of the lack of innings, that being that he missed a month with forearm tightness, there is a silver lining; the Padres were cautious in keeping him out as long as they did, and he came back stronger than before the injury. Peavy otherwise earned full marks for his ERA title, as he also led the league in ERA+ at 177.

Hopes of Brian Lawrence developing into a frontline starter are all but gone. A strong minor-league record and a promising rookie season at age 25 portended greater things, but consider the following rates for Lawrence over the past 3 years against the 2004 National League average:

       	 H/9	K/9	BB/9	HR/9
Lawrence 9.56	5.57	2.37	1.00
League	 9.09	6.73	3.38	1.11

Pitching in favourable parks, Lawrence has allowed a few more hits and a handful fewer homers than a league average pitcher. His control has been been a little better, his strikeout rate a little worse. It’s all evened out to a league average pitcher, as evidenced by his ERA+ of 98 over this span. There’s significant value in that because Lawrence has topped 200 innings all three years, and the Pads will be happy if he can continue this type of performance through his arbitration years.

Adam Eaton, on the other hand, has not necessarily found his niche yet. In the majors to stay at 22 and with just 21 AAA innings to his credit in 2000, he had Tommy John surgery in 2001 and spent most of 2002 on the shelf. Healthy for the last two years, he’s not quite been able to translate generally good component stats into impressive ERAs or win totals. The time is now for Eaton to establish himself as Lawrence’s twin (nothing wrong with that) or something more.

While lefty Darrell May is the favourite to win the last spot in the rotation, it is not guaranteed. Tim Stauffer and Justin Germano are also being given serious consideration. May went from very good in 2003 to very fungible in 2004 as his hit and home run rates soared. Moving to the National League may be just the thing for him.

Stauffer’s pro debut season saw him move all the way from High A to AAA, with reasonable ERAs but poor strikeout and hit rates and a whopping 15 homers in 81 AAA innings. He’d be best served with more time on the farm.

Two months younger than Stauffer, Germano is entering his 6th season as a Padre farmhand. He had himself a very nice season between AA and AAA, and made a 21-inning cameo in the Majors. A few more months at Portland are in order, but he could become a very solid option.


The trio of Hoffman, Otsuka, and Linebrink returns for 2005 and should once again preside over a solid pen. The threesome struck out 223 batters in 215 innings, with a stingy 2.04 ERA. Hoffman successfully returned from elbow surgery, Otsuka made the pan-Pacific transition look easy, and Linebrink continued his excellent performance since being claimed on waivers from Houston in May of 2003.

After having just 9 2/3 relief innings pitched by portsiders last year, the Padres welcome Chris Hammond as a situational lefty. He’s been a very solid reliever for three teams in the past three years, and there’s no reason to think he can’t continue this streak in 2004. Dennys Reyes also hopes to catch on and provide left-handed relief.

Likely rounding out the relief corps are Rudy Seanez and Danny Patterson. Seanez has had a bumpy ride, bouncing between the majors and minors and 12 different organizations (he joins San Diego for the 3rd time). Regardless, he’s a low risk investment who could definitely provide some useful innings. Though much less traveled, Patterson is also a bargain-bin find who could prove useful.


Though San Diego had a quiet offseason, the noise in LA was not necessarily the sound of progress, and the geriatric Giants didn’t get any younger. Arizona could prove the skeptics of their spending spree wrong, but still not break .500. Colorado gets a mention only on the technicality that they’re officially in the division. The bottom line: San Diego takes the West with 89 wins.

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The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Mike Green - Thursday, March 03 2005 @ 10:56 AM EST (#104265) #
It's not much of a division, is it? The Padres' future seems to me to rest on the development of Greene and Burroughs. I like both quite a bit, but one never knows.
The rotation is underwhelming, so for this team to get really good, they will have to bash opponents into submission (not that anyone will really notice because of PETCO).

The decision to pick Matt Bush #1 overall in the draft last year is likely to be long regretted by Padres' fans. You gotta take your opportunities.

Nice piece, Jonny.
Chuck - Thursday, March 03 2005 @ 11:12 AM EST (#104268) #
Mike, what's the basis of your optimism for Burroughs? I see a guy, albeit a young guy, who has zero power and doesn't draw walks. His entire offensive game is wrapped up in his ability to hit singles.

No question about Greene though. Solid defense, power, ability to take a walk. Just under an 800 OPS while playing in PETCO is very impressive.
Magpie - Thursday, March 03 2005 @ 11:24 AM EST (#104269) #
This is an interesting team, and they have a chance to just take over this division for the next few years. One of the hardest things for organizations to do is turn pitching prospects into major league pitchers. I think it's much easier to do that, though, if you play in a pitcher's park. It helps the young guys while they're making the transition.

I wonder if anybody has investigated that? It won't be me, anyway.

Williams is somewhat of a David Wells-Lite

You mean David Wells Extra-Lite, shurely.

Jordan - Thursday, March 03 2005 @ 11:53 AM EST (#104271) #
I think it's much easier to do that, though, if you play in a pitcher's park. It helps the young guys while they're making the transition.

Jeremy Bonderman may be Exhibit A in that investigation, and he's certainly making strides. You'd think the Tigers would be throwing as many young flyball pitchers into Comerica National Park as they could get their hands on.

Coors Field, of course, seems to wreck young pitching, in part because pitchers just lose their confidence in their ability to record outs. So it's at least arguable that extreme pitchers' parks might have the opposite effect: young pitchers only relax and rely on their strengths at home, while seizing up and second-guessing themselves in the "bandboxes" on the road. The study would be interesting, though I'm not volunteering to do it either.

Mike Green - Thursday, March 03 2005 @ 12:01 PM EST (#104272) #

Chuck, here is Burroughs' complete record. What I see is a 6'2", 200 lb., .300 hitter, who is 24 years old and has fine strike zone control, but no power. If the power comes, even at the 35 double, 15 homer level, the walks will come too. Given his age and size, I think that it's better than 50-50 that he will develop enough power to be a fine hitter. Whether that might happen this year is anyone's guess. I've got him marked down for .310/.370/.450 this year. In other words, a step forward but not a leap.

Gitz - Thursday, March 03 2005 @ 12:32 PM EST (#104277) #
No Burroughs fan here. He's always been overrated, and frankly he'd be lucky to be 1/2 of Mark Grace.

Just out of curiousity, Mike G., what do you have marked down for Hiram Bocachica?

Nice analysis, Jonny G. But how are the Padres going to win the NL West when Smooth Johnny Gizzi has already spoken on the matter?
Mike Green - Thursday, March 03 2005 @ 01:52 PM EST (#104281) #

Actually, Grace is not a bad comparison. He played his first major league season at age 24, and among his first 4 seasons, he had only one really good one. In Grace's case, the ballpark worked for him; in Burroughs' case, it's something to be overcome.

As for Hiram, I'm a member of the fan club of the "most exciting" outfielder in the majors today. Therefore, .450/.560/.670 is easily within reach. :)

Thomas - Thursday, March 03 2005 @ 03:13 PM EST (#104289) #
Nice preview.

I agree regarding Germano. I think he'll spend 3 months in AAA and then will give the Padres about 14 solid starts down the stretch as a callup or injury replacement and will provide a large boost.

Additionally, I agree that Burroughs will make a stride forward this year, but not of monumental proportions. Of course, I said the same thing last year and was quite disappointed by his performance.

I quite like San Diego, but unfortunately that Giles trade could look mighty foolish in a year, if it doesn't already.
R Billie - Thursday, March 03 2005 @ 05:01 PM EST (#104311) #
The trade looked pretty good for them at the time. Giles was at the height of his powers and signed for very reasonable dollars. Jason Bay looked solid but I think he's outperformed his expectations a bit at the major league level. Oliver Perez has obviously worked out if he can stay healthy but he was one of those guys that might have gone either way at the time of the trade. You just simply never know with pitchers.
Thomas - Thursday, March 03 2005 @ 06:31 PM EST (#104318) #
I thought it was a pretty fair trade at the time, too. I thought SD gave up potentially a bit too much in Perez, but I didn't foresee it turning out like this. But regardless, if Giles signs elsewhere this offseason and Pittsburgh has Bay and Perez for another 3 or 4 years San Diego will be kicking themsevles for a while.
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