The 2021 “won the offseason” iteration of the San Diego Padres was, famously, a letdown. Despite marquee pitching additions and a potent lineup, the club failed in their quest to compete with the Dodgers and Giants in the National League West. The fallout included a change in leadership and some fairly significant roster changes, even if they weren’t on the scale of the 2020-21 offseason.
Regardless, the Padres came into 2022 with significantly reduced expectations. The reigning power of the Dodgers, combined with the carryover from 2021’s upstart Giants and an improving Rockies team didn’t leave the outside world with much hope for San Diego to do what they set out to last season. In the mix? Yes. Vying with those top two squads for a division title? Probably not.
As we begin to hit the middle of May, though, the Padres do, in fact, remain firmly in the mix. They’ve held within a couple games of the Dodgers for the season to this point. It’s a surprise, to be sure. And it’s possible that it could be sustainable. But there’s at least one major reason it’s not: the offense.
Where did the O go?
The Padres were an elite offensive team by most measures in the first half of 2021. Their 428 runs ranked third in the National League behind the Dodgers and Giants, while their wRC+ as a team (99) finished in the same standing. They were more middle-of-the-pack in the power game (ranked 14th at .162 in ISO), but featured an elite strikeout rate (22.0 K%) and elite walk rate (10.1 BB%). Their contact percentage, at 76.9%, ranked sixth in all of baseball. They clogged the bases to the tune of a .324 on-base percentage.
Interestingly, it wasn’t the offense to blame for their second-half collapse. Sure, they were 24th in the league in runs scored, and largely everyone else saw a rise in their team wRC+, while the Padres sunk to 24th. Their 95 there took them to well below league average. But almost everything else — strikeouts, walks, on-base, contact, quality of contact, BABIP, — was identical to their first half output. There’s likely some contextual stuff there worth exploring. But the simplified version is that it wasn’t the offense that sunk them in the second half. It was the lack of depth on the mound.
Suffice to say, the pitching has been largely sorted in 2022. The Padres feature one of the better rotations in all of baseball, with depth to back it up. In what has been something of a role reversal, though, it’s been the offense that has been deficient in San Diego thus far.
The following are the outputs, as of this writing, for regulars in the San Diego lineup:
Through a shade over 30 games, the Padres have scored three or fewer runs roughly half the time. Fifteen of their outcomes have featured a run total in that, with two or fewer coming 11 of those times. Two of those were shutouts. Hardly surprising, given the table above.
Outside of their BB% and their subsequent on-base percentage, the Padres haven’t been able to drum up any impactful offense. Their .131 ISO as a team ranks 17th, while their HardHit% sits 20th in the league. This comes despite making contact. So they’re seeing plenty of pitches, as indicated by their walks/on-base, but aren’t able to turn that into solid contact. Worse yet, they’re hitting just .247 with runners on and .244 when they’re in scoring position. There’s a lot to be said for getting traffic on the bases, but that potential impact is wiped out by futility when that traffic exists.
Hosmer obviously represents the non-Manny Machado outlier in the above. And we’ll talk about Machado momentarily. But outside of those two, there isn’t a whole lot to get excited about. Profar has flashed the power but isn’t maintaining anything else outside of it. Grisham and Nola have been far, far below average. Jake Cronenworth has experienced some regression coming off a very good 2021. C.J. Abrams was getting regular at-bats but was jettisoned back to Triple-A given his own offensive struggles. It’s just not a group that can compete in a gauntlet of a division with their current (lack of) production.
Manny Machado: Still Elite
But in the midst of so much mediocre offense, there’s Manny Machado. While Hosmer has been very good, likely better than at any point in his career, Machado has brought the sorely-needed impact to the San Diego lineup.
Machado has already been worth 2.8 fWAR, putting him on pace to exceed last year’s 4.2 mark. No position player in the league is particularly close right now, either. Next on the list are Nolan Arenado & José Ramírez at 2.0. That would give Machado easily his highest since he arrived in San Diego. His slash goes .381/.454/.628/1.082. His wRC+ is astronomical, at 211. He sits 92nd percentile in HardHit% (52.6) and 91st in expected batting average (xBA) at .312. Unsurprisingly, it’s resulted in plenty of power. He’s at a .248 ISo for the year. You can look at virtually any offensive leaderboard right now. Machado will be at or near the top. Simply put: he’s been really, really good. Not that that’s a surprise. A healthy Manny Machado is an elite player.
The only concern that arises from this is how sustainable this type of situation is. The Padres are winning games. Those wins, however, are primarily the result of good pitching. And then you’ve got the contributions from Hosmer and the much more notable impact of Machado. But when you’re relying on essentially two guys, only one of which is bringing that “impact”, how long can you survive? Especially considering the context of their division.
How long can this trend hold up?
San Diego has scored 127 runs this year. It’s an imperfect comparison, but between runs batted in and runs scored, Machado has been responsible for 47 of them. The next closest are Hosmer and Profar at 29. Beyond Machado, this Padres offense is just scratching whatever runs they can get across the plate. This, while the pitching carries the load. The good news there is that at least the San Diego staff isn’t a constant tightrope act in matters of health; they can afford to shoulder the load for a bit. But can Machado?
It’s not that Machado can’t. Again, elite player. Doing elite things. It’s that on those nights where the pitching falters, how much can Machado really compensate?
The good news is that Fernando Tatis Jr.’s return is on the horizon. The Padres are seeing a ton of pitches. They’re getting on base. It’s a matter of that translating into actual quality contact and run production. If those things can happen, with the pitching staff assembled, it’s possible that the 2022 Padres closely resemble the imagined version of the 2021 club.
Until then, though, enjoy those 2-1 or 3-2 outcomes. For better or for worse.
Brian Roth Muller/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Matt Fletcher (@little.gnt on Instagram)