The year is 2021.
It is the perennial Game 7 of the World Series. MacKenzie Gore is on the mound, trying to complete a three-inning save in a tight 2-1 ballgame. The energy within the confines of Petco Park is unlike any other it has experienced in its short lifetime. The atmosphere in the surrounding Gaslamp District is similarly intoxicating. With each pitch, the intensity and excitement exponentially increase. As the 0-2 pitch crosses the plate… we all snap back into reality.
As die-hard Padres fans, we have all had these dreams. We all remember being a naive kid at spring training trying to rationalize a way the Padres could somehow squeeze into the postseason and make a run. Heck, we have probably done this as adults as well. These pipe dreams of Padres’ success have been extraordinarily irrational, until now.
The optimism surrounding this team is unique, but certainly justified. The depth, the swagger, and everything in between has a different feel to it. Unfortunately, right now, there is no concrete evidence of major league success, but merely a feeling of hope.
There is nothing in the world sports pundits and experts love more than these feelings. They run with them and subsequently make bold and often crazy claims for ratings that fans buy into and spread like wildfire. Take Skip Bayless for example. Not to rehash bad memories, but how many times has he predicted the Chargers to be the “favorite to win the AFC West” in the last decade?
This is not to suggest that all predictions of success and failure are based purely on gut feelings. There are many who use facts and reason to base their opinions. And there are plenty of reasons to LOVE this Padres team moving forward. However, it is tough to ignore the track record of the San Diego Padres. You are looking at a team who has never won a World Series in its 49-year history and has only made two appearances; the last being two decades ago.
Past performance does not have much predictive validity for future performance when using a 49-year sample, but it is certainly tough to overlook as a fan. Thus, while excitement and optimism are warranted, it may be wise to take a step back and evaluate some legitimate concerns the Padres have moving forward and how those concerns may snowball into a roadblock for future success.
This piece will attempt to address a few of those glaring issues and potentially lay out contingency pathways the front office can take to resolve them. Wake up Padres fans, this is a little taste of reality.
Many drank the Eric Hosmer Kool-Aid months ago when the team signed him to the largest free agent contract in team history. He is still fairly young and was only a couple of years separated from a World Series championship run with the Kansas City Royals. There were certainly reasons to be excited by his presence in a Padres uniform. The biggest concern was his offensive performance and how it would fair over the eight-year contract we all should be hoping he opts out of. That concern has proved itself legitimate in 2018 as he has not lived up to the hype that came with his massive contract.
Arguably, the most concerning and glaring statistic from Eric Hosmer’s first year in San Diego is his ground ball to fly ball ratio, which sits at 1.60. This means that Eric Hosmer is hitting a ground ball nearly twice as many times as he is hitting a ball in the air. The only player worse in this category is Ian Desmond with a 1.74 ratio. These two are outliers in this respective category as number three on the list, Joe Mauer, has a 1.11 G/F ratio. When you dig in a little further, you come to find that Eric Hosmer leads all MLB first basemen with 210 ground balls and is fourth in this category when you consider all other positions. This is not the type of production you want to see out of anyone, especially from someone who just received an extremely lucrative contract.
Additionally, you can see how these numbers translate into his overall offensive value.
For example, Hosmer’s wRC+, which currently rests at 92, is the worst he has had in his career since 2012. Essentially, Hosmer has created 8% fewer runs than the average player, even when taking into consideration the fact that he plays half of his games at Petco Park. To put this into perspective, both Hunter Renfroe and Austin Hedges have a better wRc+ at this point in the season. While the sample size is smaller for the both of them, it is still an eye-opening statistic nonetheless.
To be clear, none of us expected Eric Hosmer to recreate his previous two years of 25 home runs, especially when changing to a more balanced ballpark. However, for him to struggle as much as he has when it comes to elevating the ball, it is time to be slightly concerned about the progression of his offensive production as we get deeper into his contract. The more problematic issue here is that there are not many plausible options for this to be remedied. The Padres have bought into him for the next eight years unless he opts out for some unforeseen reason. One thing is certain: if his performance continues to trend downward, no team will give him more money and the Padres will be stuck with his massive contract. However, given his contract is front-loaded, the Padres may have some options if they want to experiment with someone new at first base.
If, and it is a big if, Hosmer consistently underperforms throughout the 2019 season, it would be wise for the Padres to find a buyer. They would likely have to take a hit with his contract, but it would free space to try out a guy like Josh Naylor. Naylor recently turned 21 and is tearing it up in Double-A San Antonio. He is currently slashing .306/.395/.465 and is certainly a guy to keep an eye on moving forward as the Padres begin cherry-picking who they want when playoff contention begins.
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