It was Ralph Waldo Emerson that said, “Trust thyself: Every heart vibrates to that iron string.” When I taught high school English, I’d ask my students what this quote meant. They could never piece it together. If I was still in the classroom, I think I’d be inclined to show them a picture of A.J. Preller and call it a day.
Can’t Fault Ambition, Right?
Nobody trusts “thyself” quite like Preller. In a stretch where his division is dominated by the Los Angeles Dodgers, Preller still manages to grab headlines at every turn. Whether it’s signing Manny Machado, trading for one of a handful of high-profile arms, or adding Juan Soto at this year’s deadline, it’s undoubtedly refreshing to see a team with such aggressiveness. Even if it’s resulted in them being 17.5 games back of said Dodgers in the National League West.
The California team to their northwest notwithstanding, the San Diego Padres are perhaps the most notable team in the league. But in a year dominated by the Dodgers and a pair of squads out of New York, does it even matter?
There’s a lot of jest over Preller’s tenure in San Diego. “Hey, he tries, but does it even matter?” That aggressiveness hasn’t manifested in much more than early playoff exits, if even that. With Fernando Tatis Jr. now suspended into next year, it remains to be seen if this iteration of the Padres will be any different. Especially with the offense in the shape that it is.
Peaks & Valleys
That’s not to say the San Diego Padres, as currently constructed, are not a dangerous team. Their pitching has been elite, sitting third in the NL in fWAR as a staff (14.5) and tied for sixth in ERA (3.77). For San Diego to make the noise they aspire to in October, two things have to happen. First, they have to get there. Atlanta, Philadelphia, and one of Milwaukee or St. Louis might have a thing to say about that. Second, they’ll have to bring the sticks.
When the Padres acquired Juan Soto, the grand assumption was that they’d supplement him with Machado and Tatis Jr. That obviously will not happen, now. Instead, supplementary efforts will have to come from Josh Bell, Jake Cronenworth, Trent Grisham, and Jurickson Profar, among others.
By way of wRC+, the San Diego offense has been exactly average. Their mark of 100 there is tied with four other teams and sits in exactly the middle of the National League. They do, however, sit in the bottom half of the league in average, slugging percentage, and ISO. Where they do excel is in the on-base game, as their OBP ranks 10th in the league (.318), largely thanks to a 9.2 BB% that sits seventh. Big picture, it’s not a terrible group. But their penchant for streakiness is a far more concerning trend.
The Padres have been shut out six times this year. Three of those occurred in a 10-day stretch in April. The other three have occurred in a 10-day stretch this month. Obviously, those represent two minuscule stretches at opposite ends of the calendar. At the same time, they speak to exactly that concept that plagues this offense.
The simplest way to illustrate the streakiness that the Padres are combatting is to look at their top three hitters in terms of volume. Outside of Machado, Cronenworth, Profar, and Grisham have registered the most plate appearances on the roster. All to mixed results.
Cronenworth has been a fairly large source of the streaky idea. He posted a wRC+ of 105 in April before falling to 90 in May. That lept to 162 in June before plummeting to a 106 July. As of this writing, he’s at 135 in August.
It’s a similar situation for Jurickson Profar. He started the year with a 119 mark, before falling to 107 in May. It was back up to 125 in June, but has fallen in two consecutive months, with a wRC+ of 99 for the month of August. Worse for Profar is the wavering of the power. He posted a .271 ISO in April, but followed that with a .103 clip in May. By July, he was posting a .182, but now it sits at just .125 for August.
Trent Grisham’s penchant for getting hot is a little bit different. The reason being, he’s been mostly bad this year. But he has his moments. Over the weekend, he turned in a pair of multi-hit games. Prior to that, he hadn’t notched a hit in a game since August 3rd. A quick look at his game log indicates very much that. You’ll see a couple of multi-hit games packed in together nicely, but it’s surrounded by a rather noticeable cluster of zeroes.
And it’s not as if the Padres have the chops to compensate for those quiet stretches from a few lineup stalwarts, either. Ha-Seong Kim has been much-improved but is still a slightly below-average bat. Jorge Alfaro has been solid, but is splitting duties behind the dish. Wil Myers is striking out almost 30 percent of the time. With all of this, it’d sure be nice to have a franchise shortstop ready to return from the Injured List and not transferring him to a different, less enviable one.
Unfortunately for San Diego, there isn’t yet a way to really quantify the element of streakiness so prevalent for their lineup. They do a lot of things well. Look at the general numbers, things don’t look so bad. Of course, Manny Machado in your lineup can skew things. The addition of Soto and Bell likely further will.
Moving forward, though, that penchant for quiet days at the plate is going to be a real problem. There isn’t any doubt that this is a club that has the clichéd pitching and defense necessary to win a title. They grade out respectably in both. But you need at least some offense. And if the San Diego Padres do reach the dance in October, if that offense disappears at the wrong time, the outcomes become all-too-familiar.
Brandon Sloter//Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Matt Fletcher (@little.gnt on Instagram)