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The lowdown on the Padres Slow Down

Discussion in 'All Other San Diego Sports' started by wrbanwal, May 6, 2008.

  1. wrbanwal

    wrbanwal Well-Known Member

    Dec 27, 2005
    I couldn't put it better myself



    ATLANTA – Scouts who have seen a lot of the Padres consider them among the slowest and least athletic teams in the major leagues.

    Some coaches and players regard the Padres as perhaps the slowest team in baseball.

    Among the team's field regulars, only outfielder Scott Hairston has better than average speed, and it is only slightly above average. Even reserve Callix Crabbe, one of the few stolen-base threats on the team, has average major league speed from home plate to first. A few Padres players, in the scouting vernacular, are sun-dial slow.

    Of course, when the Padres face the Braves tonight at Turner Field, not even the fastest player can steal first base.

    More important than foot speed, scouts and analysts agree, is a team's ability to pitch, hit and catch.

    The biggest problem for the 2008 Padres, who are 12-20, has been a poor offense that's at or near the bottom in several categories, notably slugging and on-base percentage. Too, the team's bullpen got off to a slow start, no small thing for a franchise that has struggled to score runs every April since moving to Petco Park but stayed afloat largely because of the bullpen.

    The team's relative slowfootedness isn't why the Padres' pace is falling well short of the front office's projections for nearly 90 wins and a first-place finish. But it's been glaring when juxtaposed against other members of the National League West, such as the Diamondbacks and Dodgers, or a Giants club that won four of five games from the Padres, or, more recently in the East, a Phillies team that benefits from speedy center fielder/right fielder Shane Victorino, a former Padres rookie.

    In Florida's big ballpark this past weekend, the Padres' lack of speed also showed up, either on the basepaths or at several defensive positions.

    Relative to others, the Padres are not a threat to steal bases or take an extra base.

    Defensively, the Padres are sure-handed, but scouts and field personnel with other clubs consider their range as below average at center field and third base and no better than average at every other position save shortstop and right field.

    Even when he was winning Gold Gloves – he has eight of them – center fielder Jim Edmonds relied on extraordinary anticipation. Now he is 37 and trying to patrol larger outfields than those in the National League Central, where he spent the previous eight years. Edmonds, acquired from the Cardinals in December, isn't getting to balls that Padres center fielder Mike Cameron caught in 2006 and 2007.

    Of course, when the Padres were leading the NL West for most of last season, their speed was far less of an issue.

    That's one of the points made by Padres CEO Sandy Alderson, who noted that the 2007 Padres had the third-best record (89-74) in franchise history.

    “Speed is something that the team always likes to have,” Alderson said last week, “but as I've said before and said again going over the last two or three years, we won a lot of games last year, and with maybe one exception at one position, we don't have any less speed today than we did.”

    Alderson continued: “Yeah, we'd love to have it. If we were getting on base and driving the ball, speed wouldn't be an issue.

    “I don't want to dismiss speed. It's important to some extent defensively and it can be important offensively. But again, there's not a huge, huge deficiency this year that didn't exist last year.”

    A few within the organization, however, said Cameron has been “sorely missed,” though Cameron, because of a 25-game suspension, would have been unavailable to start the season.

    In 2006, the Padres had a former center fielder, Dave Roberts in left field, and he aptly flanked Cameron, who won his third Gold Glove that year. The club retained Cameron for 2007, General Manager Kevin Towers calling it a “bargain” after he picked up Cameron's $7 million option and again saying it was comforting to have a good center fielder for Petco Park and in the NL West.

    But after more than a year of negotiations on a multiyear contract, the Padres and Cameron were unable to reach terms, which, preceded by the Padres' finishing second to the Cubs in the pursuit of outfielder Kosuke Fukudome, led to the acquisition of Edmonds.

    For the most part, the Padres haven't placed a keen emphasis on speed since moving to spacious Petco Park, though even Towers found it striking how capable Tampa Bay, powered by skillful, fleet athletes at every outfield spot, appeared when it swept the Padres in a three-game series at Petco in 2004.

    The greater emphasis, with decidedly mixed results, has been on finding hitters who could hit home runs and get on base.

    Shortly after both Towers and manager Bud Black said late into spring training that the team's outfield defense was not a concern entering this season, Alderson spelled out the club's ideas on how it values speed.

    “If you do the analysis, what the analysis tells you is the key to scoring runs is on-base percentage and power,” he said. “Therefore speed and stolen bases become a nice-to-have component of your team, not a need-to-have component of your team. Once we get to the point where we have all of the on-base potential and power that we need, we can make those adjustments in our overall offensive and defensive package. All of that is with one footnote, and that is outfield defense is somewhat more important at Petco than it is elsewhere.

    “Therefore, the speed and quickness manifestation are more important. (A lack of speed in the outfield) might be a flaw. Some people thought our inability to throw out runners last year was a flaw. It was. But what you have to do is net all of that out. The bottom line is you've got to take advantage of your strengths, minimize your weaknesses, or live with those weaknesses to the best of the net result.”

    Meanwhile, the two top teams in the NL West – Arizona and Los Angeles – have several skilled, fast athletes. And, combined with the sustained health of their frontline pitchers, the two have raised the competitive bar in the division, making it more difficult for teams such as the Padres, who rely almost totally on aptitude despite playing in a large ballpark and in a division with big outfields.

    The Padres also are unlikely to get an injection of speed from their Triple-A or Double-A teams this season, where their top prospects are esteemed more for their bats than their legs.

    Not that he made foot speed the be-all and end-all of his player valuations, but Diamondbacks GM Josh Byrnes said he considered it important, particularly because of the team's arid, large home, where balls zoom in the desert air and across the tarmac-like turf.

    Byrnes acquired a rangy second baseman, Orlando Hudson; and a fleet center fielder, Chris Young. He also signed an expensive No. 1 draft pick for $6 million, right fielder Justin Upton, who has excellent speed and a fast bat.

    “They've got three center fielders,” said Towers, who, shifting into scout-speak, referred to several Arizona players as “live bodies,” a complimentary term about a player's athleticism.

    Said Byrnes: “There is a lot of room to cover in our outfield, and having speed out there is a big thing – and that's a big part of our division with the bigger ballparks in the NL West.”

    Byrnes, whose staffers include an MIT graduate, said the full impact of foot speed on baseball “probably can't be measured.” Scouts like to say that speed “doesn't show up in the computer.” The Padres' front office has said speed can be mostly accounted for and quantified, although it can get tricky with compartmentalizing defense because routes, instincts and jumps all play a big part in defense. The Padres are confident in their statistical ability to quantify the impact of speed on batting averages and on the bases.

    Former Padres and Giants third-base coach Tim Flannery suggested that the baseball industry's move in recent years to more stringent testing for performance-enhancing drugs, from the minor leagues up, is making speed more valuable.

    “I think that's where the game had to go because in the last three years there hasn't been steroids and as much waiting for the three-run home run,” Flannery said.

    Brian Sabean, the GM of the Giants since 1996, said there is a “lot more speed” and pitching in the NL West than there was in the rest of his tenure as GM.

    “It might be a sign of the times,” Sabean said. “It obviously shows that pitching and defense and playing the game right goes a long way, especially when you're facing tough pitching every night. There's not much margin for error.”

    A third-base coach is more apt to admire faster baserunners for obvious reasons, but Flannery's appreciation dates to his days as an infielder for the 1984 Padres. That club had skillful athletes such as Tony Gwynn, a former San Diego State basketball star and third-round baseball draft pick; Alan Wiggins, a speedster who could play second base and left field; Garry Templeton, a smooth, quick-footed shortstop who hit well from both sides of the plate; and center fielder Kevin McReynolds, who combined pretty good speed with power.

    “I remember (manager) Dick Williams used to say about Tony Gwynn and Alan Wiggins: Speed always shows up every single night,” Flannery said.


    Two words can sum up the Padres lack of everything....Kevin Towers. He is the most short sighted GM in all of baseball with a knack of always doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. Don't give me the blame Moores response; Towers is terrible in every aspect. PERIOD.


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