The Downside of the Recent Padres Acquisitions

December 21, 2014

The Padres have had a lot of trouble in recent seasons adding power to their lineup. Current division rival Adrian Gonzalez has four of the team’s five seasons with 30 or more home runs since 2002. The other belongs to recently re-signed Yankee Chase Headley, who was unable to replicate his 2012 power for the Padres in the year and a half he remained with the team before being traded.

This offseason, the team has made several moves to attempt to correct that recent deficiency. Matt Kemp was an expensive player stuck in the outfield logjam in Los Angeles. After injury issues limited Kemp to 179 games from 2012-2013 and dramatically decreased his numbers, he showed signs of a return to his 2011 MVP runner-up production with his 17 second-half home runs. Wil Myers dealt with his own injury issues in 2014. Specifically, his broken wrist sapped the power that he showed in the minors and likely contributed heavily to his six-homer season, but he remains one of the best power prospects in baseball. The Padres' most recent acquisition, Justin Upton, has been more consistent with 27 and 29 home runs in his two seasons with the Braves.

All three hitters will have to contend with PETCO Park, which the Bill James Handbook 2015 indicates allowed 19 percent fewer home runs than an average park in 2014, but they seem like solid bets to add the pop the Padres have been missing. However, that power spike may come at a price in terms of team defense.

For the bulk of his career, Kemp has been a center fielder. And in recent seasons, he’s been one of the worst defensive center fielders in baseball. From 2009-2013, Kemp cost the Dodgers an average of 13 runs per season based on Defensive Runs Saved. Last season, the Dodgers played Kemp at all three outfield positions, but he did not see an improvement in his Runs Saved totals in the corner spots like many outfielders do. In all, Kemp cost the team 23 runs in 2014, the worst total of any outfielder in baseball.

Myers is younger and has less of a track record defensively, but he cost the Rays 11 runs in right field in close to a full season of playing time split over 2013 and 2014. Historically, Upton had been an above-average defensive right fielder, but he cost the Braves eight runs between 2013 and 2014 as a left fielder. In contrast, Padres’ outfielders saved the team 21 runs in 2014, alone. Here is how Kemp, Myers, and Upton compared last season:

Outfielders Runs Saved
Kemp, Myers, and Upton -30
Padres 2014 Outfield 15


Based on an estimate of 10 runs equaling a win, the defensive difference between the Padres’ previous outfielders and their new outfielders was worth about four or five wins in 2014. In all likelihood, Kemp, Myers, and Upton will provide a major upgrade to the team’s lineup, but they will have to in order to make up for the downgrade they represent defensively.

The team does have some options to help mitigate that defensive hit. Cameron Maybin has saved about six runs per season in his four seasons in center field for the team. Will Venable saved 10 runs split between left and right field last season. Perhaps the team can get creative with their lineups, such as by putting one of their new outfielders at first base in some starts. Even so, the team is unlikely to approach their 43 Runs Saved across all positions from 2014. They’ll just have to hope Kemp, Myers, and Upton can hit enough home runs to counterbalance their defensive decline.


COMMENTS (1 Comment)

True, these are considerable defensive losses. The real question is, do the offensive gains offset them?​
8:16 AM Dec 24th
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