5 SAN DIEGO PADRES

April 05, 2009

It's Not Just ThePark
Lack of talent, more than the size of the home yard, explains a suddendownturn

AT HISintroductory meeting with Padres players this spring, new batting coach JimLefebvre whipped open a fat binder and began a presentation that could havebeen titled, "You Can Hit in Cavernous Petco Park." "He startedspewing out these numbers," says leftfielder Chase Headley, "and he wasbasically telling us, 'Everyone says that Petco is a graveyard for hitters. Letme tell you why it's not.'"

Lefebvre beganreciting the difference between the major league averages and the Petco Parkaverages in the following categories: batting average on line drives (.738 vs..722), ground balls (.238 vs. .232) and hard ground balls (.431 vs. .433). Hispoint? There was little discrepancy between the two. The only difference was onballs hit at least 325 feet: Whereas the league average was .405, the averageat Petco was .278. "That opened our eyes," says Headley. "Don'tswing for the fences, because more than likely you're going to fallshort."

Last season thePadres finished with their worst record since 1993, and the reason was as clearas a San Diego morning: an anemic offense that had the fewest runs scored, theworst on-base percentage and the third-most strikeouts. At home the Padres—whoscored a respectable 4.3 runs per game on the road—averaged just 3.6 runs andhad a puny .366 slugging percentage. Lefebvre is determined to prove thathitters can succeed at Petco; he's even trying to develop a home fieldadvantage. The theme of the spring was, as he puts it, "driving the ball ona line," Lefebvre says. "I want to see line drives and hard groundballs. Don't worry about home runs. I want the guys to work the count and putthe ball in play. That's how we're going to score: Get on base and driverunners in."

The philosophy,which the organization's minor league coaches are trying to instill as well,might one day reap better results. But the problem of late is that the club'sdismal offensive output (ranked in the bottom half of the league in scoring ineach of the last four years) has as much to do with a lack of talent as it doeswith Petco. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez, 26, the only Padre to belt more than23 home runs and slug higher than .500 in 2008, is the lone hitter who strikesfear in opposing pitchers. Headley, 24, is San Diego's only other promisingyoung everyday player; though he lacks home run power, he's a high on-base,line-drive hitter. The Padres bring back an otherwise punchless lineup thatwill give regular at bats to two hitters (catcher Nick Hundley and thirdbaseman Kevin Kouzmanoff) who had sub-.300 OBPs last season and a third whobarely cleared the .300 mark (shortstop David Eckstein, at .301).

Since moving toPetco in 2004, the Padres have perennially been a no-hit, all-pitch club. Thisyear they could be no-hit and no-pitch. San Diego still has a formidable duo inrighthanders Jake Peavy and Chris Young—though the latter's velocity wasalarmingly low this spring—atop the rotation; behind them come two serviceablearms with low upsides (Cha Seung Baek and Kevin Correia). There are also redflags in the bullpen. The Padres will rely on setup man Heath Bell, who lastyear ran out of gas in the second half and had a rough September (6.39 ERA), toreplace alltime saves leader Trevor Hoffman, who signed a free-agent deal withMilwaukee. The righthanded Bell arrived at camp 25 pounds lighter after gettinga wake-up call from his Wii Fit. "I stepped onto the board and it said Iwas obese," says the 6'3" Bell, who now weighs 245. "That wasshocking. So I took the game to heart. I worked my butt off, and I have to givecredit to the Wii."

San Diego won 89games as recently as two seasons ago, and it's been just three years since theteam's last playoff appearance. But with more payroll trimming to come (Peavyis likely to get moved at the trade deadline unless the team is in contention)and little talent in the minors (the Padres have just one player ranked amongBaseball America's top 100 prospects), the forecast in San Diego is bleak—bothfor the short term and the long.

CONSIDER THIS
A Modest Proposal ...

While therebuilding Padres had no success in moving righthander Jake Peavy during thewinter, they should be aggressively shopping their next most attractive veterantrading chip, Brian Giles (left). Though he's still a high-OBP, high-contacthitter (Giles walked more times than he struck out in each of the last 11seasons) who can play either corner outfield position, the 38-year-oldCalifornian has no place on a team that has the potential to lose 100 games.San Diego should target contenders in need of a productive corneroutfielder—the Indians and the Braves would be high on that list—and try toacquire the high-upside middle infielder its farm system sorely lacks. KeepingGiles, who does have a limited no-trade clause in his contract, slows theprocess of putting together a contender.

THE NUMBERS

DON'T LIE
18

Intentional walksreceived by Adrian Gonzalez last season. Only Albert Pujols (34), CarlosDelgado and Prince Fielder (19 each) had more free passes in the NationalLeague. Gonzalez had at least 13 more home runs and 35 more RBIs than any otherSan Diego hitter, so there was little incentive to pitch to the 26-year-oldslugger, who is under club control for the next three years at a total of$13.25 million—one of the best values in the game.

The Lineup
WITH 2008 STATISTICS

Manager BudBlack
THIRD SEASON WITH PADRES

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

JODY GERUT CF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 191 .296 14 43 6
DAVID ECKSTEIN

[NEWACQUISITION]

2B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 311 .265 2 27 2
BRIAN GILES RF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 169 .306 12 63 2
ADRIAN GONZALEZ 1B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 27 .279 36 119 0
KEVIN KOUZMANOFF 3B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 121 .260 23 84 0
CHASE HEADLEY LF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 139 .269 9 38 4
NICK HUNDLEY C
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 282 .237 5 24 0
LUIS RODRIGUEZ SS
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 325 .287 0 12 1
BENCH
SCOTT HAIRSTON OF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 266 .248 17 31 3
CLIFF FLOYD

[NEWACQUISITION]

OF-1B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 318 .268 11 39 1
HENRY BLANCO

[NEWACQUISITION]

C
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 295 .292 3 12 0

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

ROTATION
PITCHER PVR W L K/9 WHIP ERA
RH Jake Peavy 33 10 11 8.6 1.18 2.85
RH Chris Young 47 7 6 8.2 1.29 3.96
RH Cha Seung Baek 183 6 10 5.9 1.34 4.79
RH Kevin Correia

[NEWACQUISITION]

177 3 8 5.4 1.71 6.05
RH Walter Silva (R)*

[NEWACQUISITION]

226 7 8 4.7 1.45 4.21
BULLPEN
PITCHER PVR W SV K/9 WHIP ERA
RH Heath Bell 63 6 0 8.2 1.21 3.58
RH Duaner Sanchez

[NEWACQUISITION]

232 5 0 6.8 1.32 4.32
RH Cla Meredith 245 0 0 6.3 1.46 4.09

NEWACQUISITION
(R) Rookie
*Mexican League stats
B-T: Bats-throws WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 69)

NOW AT SI.COM/VAULT

EXCERPTED FROM SI
May 13, 2002

This whole Xanadu of a life Trevor Hoffman seems bornto? Neither the scouts nor his wife, Tracy—heck, not even psychic friend DionneWarwick—could have seen anything close to this coming. You don't expect a5'6", 130-pound high school shortstop with one kidney to turn up on a trackfor Cooperstown. You don't expect a failed minor league infielder who hadsigned for $3,000 and who hadn't pitched since Little League to wind up with arecord as a closer to make Mariano Rivera envious.... You don't expect someonewhose mediocre fastball hits speeds that might not roust a highway patrolmanfrom mid-doughnut boredom to be so maddeningly difficult to hit.
—TOM VERDUCCI

For free access to all Padres stories and photographsfrom the SI archives, plus video clips, go to SI.com/vault.

PHOTOPAUL JASIENSKI/GETTY IMAGESRUNNING START Headley is a rare young, high-on-base player in a lineup full of regulars with low OBPs. PHOTOBRAD MANGIN (GILES) PHOTO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)