Between Jose Pirela, Cory Spangenberg, and Carlos Asuaje, the San Diego Padres have a group of second basemen who are playing under league average in many categories. With Luis Urias lurking in the weeds, this trio has limited time to prove their worth to Andy Green and the Padres. What will be the end result for these men?
Having three position players who largely play in the same place is pretty odd, but the Padres are currently doing just that.
The problem is that the three players mentioned haven’t been very productive at the position for the team.
Take a look at the statistics.
All stats compiled by the trio courtesy of Fangraphs:
None of the three have been very useful in their roles for the team, as the data above indicates. An average wRC+ is about 100, so all of them have been below average in comparison with other hitters in the major leagues. Only Spangenberg has a barely positive WAR figure, meaning he’s the only one who’s supposed to be better than a replacement level Triple-A shuttle-type player, based on the definition of WAR.
Let’s talk about some more specific statistics to see how the trio stacks up against the average second baseman in baseball. This season, second basemen in the big leagues have had an average on-base percentage of .318. Pirela is the only one of the three who’s even close, at .307. Their average wRC+ is 93, so all of them are performing well-below the standard by that measurement as well.
To further explore their hitting, here are their average exit velocities:
Average Exit Velocity (mph)
For reference, the average exit velocity in the major leagues is 88.6 mph. So only Pirela is hitting the ball with more force than the rest of the league is on average. This is another sign and reason why the trio has been underwhelming all season long. Two of them also have issues being too predictable with their batted ball locations, which further exacerbates their hitting struggles.
While Pirela has done a good enough job spraying the ball around the field, Asuaje and Spangenberg have pulled the ball so much that teams have simply shifted to gobble up their batted balls with relative ease. Take a look at the Statcast locations of the fielders’ positioning against the two hitters:
If the two did a better job of spraying the ball to all fields when they hit, they’d have a better chance of getting hits on their batted balls, because the fielders would be playing more traditionally without much of an idea of where they may hit the ball during any given plate appearance.
Perhaps the three have at least made up for their lack of offensive output by playing good defense? Unfortunately not, as all of them have been measured as having negative defensive value, according to Fangraphs. Is there a reason why they’ve struggled on defense as well? Let’s examine where the three have positioned themselves on average, to see if that data could give us a clue about their lacking defense:
This data from Statcast gives us some idea as to why the trio has been mediocre on defense. Only Spangenberg is starting deeper than the average second baseman is, in his positioning. What’s interesting is the fact that he has rated out better defensively than the other two, likely because of his deeper starting point. The average second baseman starts 150 feet away from home plate, but for some reason Pirela and Asuaje start two feet closer in. It may seem like a small difference in positioning, yet as the old saying goes, “baseball is a game of inches.” Even the slightest difference in starting point can alter a player’s chance of getting to a batted ball, so perhaps Pirela and Asuaje should consider starting deeper on the infield than they have thus far.
All-around, the three guys analyzed above have been disappointing and insufficient for the Padres in 2018. These are all players who have played well in the past — Pirela put up 2.1 WAR in 83 games last season, Spangenberg was worth 2 WAR in 2015 for San Diego, and Asuaje was worth 0.7 WAR in 2017. They all have good enough track records to continue to get chances for the Padres this season.
Though with all the prospects the Padres have in their farm system, Luis Urias for example, time is quickly running out for the aforementioned second basemen to prove themselves with the team. If these players can’t improve by the end of the year, the Padres will surely be contemplating whether to move on from the three during the offseason. Highly touted prospects will be valued more than veterans who have had multiple years of time in the major leagues, and proved to be insufficient for their roles, especially in the case of the Padres, who are rebuilding and likely more willing to give youngsters a shot at becoming impact major leaguers.