Friday, August 13, 2010

The San Diego Padres Are Doing It With Smoke and Mirrors

The San Diego Padres are a good team. Let's get that out of the way. They roll into the Big Phone tonight for what is probably the Giants' biggest series in about 7 years. So I figured, if I'm going to start writing this blog, there's pretty much no better time to do it.

The Padres are a good defensive team. The best in the league, according to UZR. They've got good young pitching, led by Mat Latos and Clayton Richard. They've got one hell of a bullpen. And they're not as good as they've been playing.

Looking at their baseball card numbers, their starters have been fantastic. A closer look, however, reveals that they have been outperforming their underlying numbers by a mile.

Name                  ERA         xFIP        ERA-xFIP
Mat Latos           2.36          3.56            -1.2
Jon Garland        3.41          4.48           -1.07
Wade LeBlanc    3.51          4.58           -1.07
Clayton Richard  3.83          4.04            -0.21
Kevin Correia     4.86          4.23             0.63
Averages            3.60          4.18           -0.58

Latos, aided by a .245 BABIP (4th in the league) and an 84.2% strand rate (2nd), is not as good as he's looked. Simply put, his numbers are unsustainable. If there was ever a man who was in for a serious deal of regression, Latos is it. I wouldn't be surprised if his ERA was closer to  3.36 than 2.36 the rest of the way. Garland and LeBlanc have been similarly lucky, as evidenced by their xFIPs both being more than a point higher than their ERAs. Clayton Richard will be the Padres starter for game one of this pivotal series. Richard's statistics are probably luck-neutral, as his ERA-xFIP is only -0.21. The former Wolverine (Go Blue!) also has the benefit of one of the most pitcher-friendly home parks in the league as well as the aforementioned league-best defense lined up behind him. He might even be able to pitch a little better down the stretch. Kevin Correia's been unlucky, but as Giants fans are well aware, he's not that good anyway, even in a luck-neutral environment.

To counter Richard, the Giants will hand the ball to the young lefty, Jonathan Sanchez. Sanchez brings a 3.55 ERA into tonight's contest. An ERA-xFIP of 0.70 suggests that he has been lucky this season, but you don't simply luck into the 142 K's in 132 innings that Sanchez has put up this year. To borrow a line from Forrest Gump, Jonathan Sanchez is like a box of chocolates... you never know what you're going to get. One night he's throwing a no-hitter or striking out 10 in 8 innings. 5 days later, he's walking 7 and Santiago Casilla is warming up in the 5th. Let's hope tonight brings the former.

Tomorrow, I'll talk about the Padres lineup (hint: there's one guy to worry about, and his name rhymes with Schmadrian Schonschalez.) and the work of Madison Bumgarner, who can as of a few short weeks ago finally drink a beer to celebrate what we hope will be the Giants' second win in this pivotal three-game set. Until then, thanks for reading and stay classy (but not quite as lucky), San Diego!

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