The San Diego Padres entered 2015 with plenty of buzz and hype. They signed James Shields, traded for Craig Kimbrel, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Matt Kemp, Derek Norris, and Will Middlebrooks—and more. But the Padres finished in the bottom half of offenses despite a remade lineup and the top half of runs allowed—the wrong direction—despite playing in spacious Petco Park.
New GM A.J. Preller made splash after splash last winter but it didn’t have the results he wanted. The Padres shook up their roster from top to bottom, but it didn’t help. His plans were attacking all angles but not always in a coordinated way.
Justin Upton led the team in bWAR with 4.4 and his .251/.336/.454 performance bested that of his teammates. With 26 home runs and 19 steals, Upton enters free agency at 28 and almost certainly headed to a better park for hitters, no matter who signs him. 2015 wasn’t his strongest season, but he’s still in his prime.
It’s hard to believe Matt Kemp is only 31. It feels like he’s been around forever. 2015 wasn’t pretty for his first year as a Padre: .265/.312/.443 with 23 homers and 12 steals is a far cry from his career numbers of 26 & 23 with a .289/.345/.489. His fielding was an issue, his bat went missing in May, and until June he had just one home run to his name. This is not the player who narrowly missed the NL MVP in 2011. Even with the Dodgers kicking in some money, Kemp is still owed over $18 million per season through 2019.
Derek Norris slipped from .270/.361/.403 in 2014 to .250/.305/.404. His strikeout rate went up to 23.5 percent from 19.5 percent (although that did return him to 2013 levels) but his walk rate plummeted from about 12 percent to just over 6 percent. Losing half your walks is tough to overcome.
Injuries limited Wil Myers to just 60 games and when he played his .253/.336/.427 performance wasn’t eye-popping. Splitting his time primarily between center field (38 games) and first base (21), there might be a more permanent move to the infield in the works, depending on how this winter shapes up.
Melvin Upton, formerly B.J. and still Justin’s brother, was surprisingly competent: .259/.327/.429 with five homers and nine steals in just over half a season worth of games. After two lost seasons in Atlanta maybe he’s turning things around?
Jedd Gyorko had a fine debut season in 2013 as a middle infielder with 20-homer power but has struggled in the two years since. Appearing at shortstop in 29 games isn’t going to fix what’s wrong as he’s more suited to second or third but it was an interesting experiment to watch. Ditto Will Middlebrooks. As his debut with the Red Sox fades into the past, so does his shot at the future.
This was an odd season for Padres pitching. It wasn’t that everyone pitched poorly, it just wasn’t quite right.
Tyson Ross continued his breakout since transitioning from the AL and the A’s to the NL and the Padres. He fell short of 200 innings by single digits for the second straight year but had an ERA of 3.26 (FIP 2.98) and struck out nearly 26 percent of the men he faced. His walk rate did increase about a point and a half to 10.2 percent, although he still struck out 2.52 batters for every walk.
James Shields was the Padres big signing last offseason and he put up his worst ERA since 2010 (3.98 with a 4.45 FIP, although he tends to have higher FIPs). He led the league is starts as he has each of the past three seasons and crossed the 200 inning threshold for the ninth straight year—every year in his career aside a 21-game sample in 2006. He also led the league in home runs allowed with 33. In a year when his strikeout rate (25.1 percent) and walk rate (9.4 percent) reached career highs, so did his home run to fly ball ratio: 17.6 percent. That’s 4.2 percent higher than his next highest in any full season.
Ian Kennedy was fine towards the back of the rotation: 4.28 ERA, 30 starts, about 170 innings. He’s a free agent. Andrew Cashner continued to not have the big breakout that seems on the horizon every year, although he was healthy—making at least 30 starts for the third time in four years.
Closer Craig Kimbrel and setup man Joaquin Benoit handled the late innings with sub-3.00 ERAs (although a 3.75 FIP for Benoit tells another story) while striking guys out and being stingy with the walks. Both were traded in November to the Red Sox and Mariners, respectively, and the young players in return should prove helpful in the Padres longer-term rebuild.
Was it a successful season?
It wasn’t. The Padres took a huge gamble on the 2015 season and pushed in their chips at a time when many GMs wouldn’t even consider playing the hand. And it didn’t work. The Padres acquired many pieces and players but they didn’t end up building a working team. Not enough defense in the outfield or infield. Sporadic bats. Pitching that needed better seasons to carry the mess of an offense.
Part of the plan, like acquiring Kimbrel when Benoit could have handled the ninth, seemed like resources that could have been used to find a true shortstop. If things had played out a little differently, maybe we’d be talking about the Padres as the next team to emulate, like the Red Sox with short contracts to veteran players (Napoli, Uehara, Victorino) after their 2013 success. But a major overhaul didn’t work in San Diego in one year and probably won’t elsewhere either.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs