Participants this month include Anthony Trifiletti (Friar Watch), Peter Friberg (various; currently covering prospects at Ducksnorts under the title “Padres Prospect Report”), Jim Higgins (FriarBall), John Conniff and Denis Savage (MadFriars.com), Corey Brock (Padres.com), Ed Barnes (On the Road with Matt & Mud), Dex and jbox (Gaslamp Ball), Rich Campbell (San Diego Spotlight), and yours truly.
Let’s jump in right away, shall we?
Geoff: We previously identified Kevin Kouzmanoff's early struggles as one of April’s biggest surprises. Manager Bud Black stuck with his rookie third baseman and Kouzmanoff has gotten himself back on track. Beyond what we learned about Kouz and his resiliency, we also learned a little something about Black. What other managerial tendencies have you noticed from Black, and how do they differ (if they do) from those of his predecessor, Bruce Bochy?
Denis: The answer is in the question. While many of us are more than willing to vilify players on the team, Black stands up for them and gives him the most important vote of confidence. Kouzmanoff is just one example. He believes in their talents and wills them to be better with an inordinate amount of success. His latest magic trick is willing them to hit — if they do, we might just have the greatest magician of our time. Watch out, David Blaine.
Corey: I wasn’t around for the Bochy era so I can’t make any fair comparisons in that regard but I will say that Black has shown a tremendous amount of patience in his first go as manager, and not just in dealing with the Kouzmanoff situation, either. This speaks volumes about his background, experience and, most importantly, his trust in his players. I don’t see a lot of rash decisions/panic from him, not when adversity rears its head or otherwise.
Dex: To me, Bochy and Black have a couple of similarities. First off, they both stuck with light hitting third basemen, Sean Burroughs and Kouzmanoff, respectively, for what seemed to be an overly long time. Secondly, they both seem to have a habit of leaving talent on the bench. In Bochy’s case, it was the Mysterious Case of Xavier Nady, while in Black’s case we’ve seen him look past talented arms in the bullpen. It’s still a little early to see what kind of quirks Black will develop, but so far, I like what I see. Kevin Towers obviously isn’t taking the chance with a potential right-lefty freak like Bochy as the roster doesn’t really allow for much of those types of decisions. If Black ever starts Rob Bowen in right field just to avoid P-Mac, then I’d be willing to bet that there’s something wrong with the water in the manager’s office at Petco Park.
Geoff: Bowen in right field? Hey, the Rangers just released Miguel Ojeda. On a more serious note, how about Black the tactician — anything stand out so far?
Rich: Buddy has a very different approach to a tight game. I don’t just mean that he will bunt or squeeze either. He’ll take risks Bochy wouldn’t, such as starting the runners earlier in the count. He also seems to be better able to recognize when we are going to have one of those games where runs are scarce, and will start looking at the “small ball” option in earlier innings.
Corey: With the offense still struggling at times, Black hasn’t been afraid to kick start the offense by putting runners in motion, stealing and bunting more. He’s not waiting around for the three-run home run because he recognizes the offensive success of the team isn’t predicated on the long ball. He’s adapting and working with what he has and this team responds to him.
Anthony: Bud has shown a distinct veteran bias in the bullpen. Kevin Cameron and Justin Hampson have been relegated to mop up duty and even Cla Meredith has seen his role reduced. He’s also shown an odd habit of trying to get two innings out of guys like Meredith and Doug Brocail when he has plenty of fresh arms available. He’s shown a slow hook in general, especially with starters if they’re due up the next inning.
jbox: I’m trying to think how Bochy would have used the bullpen in the last month. I can’t imagine him going over two weeks without using two pitchers. Bochy loved resting guys and I think there’s no way that he would have used Meredith as much as Black. Bochy probably would have thrown Scott Linebrink in every eighth inning though. I don’t think Bochy would like Kouzmanoff at third; I’ll bet Geoff Blum would be starting now. Bochy would probably still be platooning Terrmel Sledge and Jose Cruz Jr. in left field as well.
Jim: Black leaves his pitchers in longer than any other major league manger it seems. While most managers have a quick hook in tight situations, Black will let his pitchers work out of jams. Part of this is probably due to the fact he was a pitcher and probably hated to be taken out of games, but sometimes you just need to get a fresh guy on the mound. He also seems to be very loyal to players in general, willing to let them work out of slumps instead of pulling them and getting somebody else in a lineup that isn’t setting the world on fire in terms of runs scored. I guess when you have the bullpen he does, you can afford to be in one run games every day.
Geoff: It’s hard to argue with results, but I admit to being baffled by the bullpen usage at times. Anything else?
Anthony: The Padres have stopped trying to control the running game. At some point you have to wonder if it even makes sense to have Adrian Gonzalez try to hold runners on. Why not play off the bag for greater range?
Geoff: Interesting idea. I wonder if anyone’s ever tried that approach… We’ve noted Black’s leadership abilities, how he relates to his players. What are some specific examples that we’ve seen so far?
Rich: Where Bruce was always taciturn in game situations, Buddy is much more emotional. He chirps at umpires, meets players at the steps of the dugout. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not calling him a Larry Bowa devotee! But with Bruce we learned to interpret his actions. With Buddy we just need to listen.
Ed: ENERGY! Ever since my first trip out to spring training this year, Black has shown tremendous energy on the field. In Peoria he was out there hitting fungoes and roaming around the diamond during infield drills. This was a stark contrast to Boch, who would mainly sit in the dugout during these drills. This has continued during the season, as Black will throw batting practice or even go to first base to take throws during BP.
Peter: I was never Bruce’s biggest fan (or critic), but one thing he knew how to do was argue with an umpire. This is trivial… I like Bud Black a lot, but it looks like he goes up to the ump and says, “You better listen to what I have to say or I’ll… I’LL… I’ll just go back to my seat in the dugout.” Seriously, though, Black just gets involved. I do not think Bochy’s aloof style works well with younger players. Black knows how to build camaraderie.
[Ed note: This discussion took place just before Black’s first ejection from a game as player, coach, or manager.]
Geoff: The relationship between players and manager is difficult to quantify and therefore often gets overlooked by the sabermetric crowd. From a distance, it certainly looks like the young guys are more comfortable sitting in the dugout this year. How that bears itself out in terms of wins and losses is anyone’s guess, but as a fan who hopes to see the franchise move from good to great, I’m very glad to see the kids being integrated into the team so well.
John: One of Madfriars.com’s biggest criticisms of the Padres in the past has been that they were a major league team as opposed to a major league organization. Seemingly Bochy was not willing to give young position players an opportunity unless all available veteran options were taken away from him and had apparent unending patience with veterans that are struggling. One of the reasons that Bochy was replaced by Sandy Alderson in my opinion was that the Padres needed to develop more position players who fall into the 1-6 category of experience which makes them much cheaper, and more economically in-line with the franchise’s ability to pay them. The Padres needed a manager that was working on the same page with the organization; Black has front office experience and is more comfortable with statistics and development as compared to Bochy.
Ed: Black is clearly on the same page with the front office. Where Boch wasn’t willing to give young players the same sort of opportunity in the everyday lineup, Black stuck with a young player like Kouzmanoff and now he is being rewarded for his patience. It wasn’t much of a secret that Bochy and Towers clashed about the playing time of Nady a few years ago. If Bochy was still in charge, there is no way Kouzmanoff would have gotten as long as he did to heat up.
Geoff: I couldn’t agree with you more, Ed, about Bochy and Kouz… Shifting gears a little, Jake Peavy is off to a start similar to the one he had in 2004, when he won the NL ERA title. What is the difference between his game last year and so far this year? How good can he be?
Rich: Jake is controlling his emotion better. He has not completely backed away from the firebrand style, nor should he. But there have been a couple of times this year when we had very clear spots that I could point to and say, “Jake’s gonna lose it.” He hasn’t. It took him a couple of batters once, but last year it would have been the end of the night.
Peter: The difference? A proper spring training warm-up… How good? THIS good. He’s not going to sustain sub-1.50 ERAs over multiple seasons, but he IS capable of posting the odd 2.00ish ERA any given year.
Ed: How good can Peavy be? He can’t maintain the ERA that he has but this guy will get Cy Young votes this year and could finish his career with a few of those awards.
Geoff: It would be nice to see him finally get even a single vote for the Cy Young.
Anthony: Jake is healthy again, he’s matured and learned to control his emotions. Jake’s nagging injuries last season really hurt his command and movement, leading to high pitch counts and inconsistent results. This year he’s got the nasty slider back, his command has been great and, most importantly, he’s not making mistakes up in the zone (only 1 HR allowed). Greater movement on the slider has led to more missed swings, leading to more strikeouts and lower pitch counts.
Jake has always been talented. This year he’s making the leap to become one of the elite pitchers in baseball. This is what we all expected last year to be like.
Dex: Peavy’s health was in question all last year, and this year we’re seeing what he can do with a healthy body and a little bit of maturity. Last season, it was tough to watch Jake try to exert that extra effort when his pitches would start failing him. This season, I don’t think I’ve seen a pitch fail him yet. It remains to be seen if he’ll be willing to go to switch up his game when his stuff eventually has an off day, but so far he’s been insane to watch. Nobody’s even close to what Jake’s got right now (don’t say Cole Hamels).
Rich: When Jake starts trying to do everything himself, he overthrows and his movement flattens out. So far this year, he has recognized when he started to overthrow and calmed down. He still needs to do more of it. He also needs to go for the kill earlier in the at-bat. Far too many of Jake’s strikeouts come on 3-2 and 2-2 counts. He needs to get more on 1-2 counts, let alone the three pitch jobs. Being around Greg Maddux for an entire year should help with that.
Geoff: It seems, anecdotally, that the Maddux influence is starting to pay dividends. Now I take a quick look at the numbers and see that Peavy has thrown more pitches per plate appearance (4.10) than anyone in the National League, so maybe not. I hate when facts ruin my theories.
Ed: Another thing that Geoff pointed out time and time again on Ducksnorts was the inability of Peavy to finish hitters off in 2006. He correctly pointed out the way that hitters would foul tons of two strike pitches off against Peavy. This season, he is obviously putting those hitters away. If you take a quick look at pitch data from baseball-reference.com, 31% of Peavy’s strikes last year were from foul balls as opposed to 27% this year. Not a huge difference but over the course of the season that 4% can be a factor.
Geoff: Okay, I feel better now. And smarter. Ed, can you stick around awhile? On a more serious note, it certainly is looking like 2006 was a fluke.
Corey: I didn’t see Peavy up close last season but I can say that I’ve been impressed by a few things this season. The first is his bulldog attitude. I don’t know if he’s always been like this or not but the guy really battles out there, is aggressive in the strike zone and isn’t afraid to go after hitters. Sure, he gets upset if he misses a spot or allows a hit in crucial situations but, unlike many other younger pitchers, he seems able to flush that quickly. That’s impressive. As far as his stuff goes, it’s hard for me to think of a pitcher I’ve watched who has been as dialed-in with his stuff as consistently as Peavy has. He’s had a few rough first innings but he has stayed true to his stuff and has benefited from it. I think you’re probably seeing a more mature pitcher and a more refined pitcher than ever before.
Geoff: Peavy has been like that since the first time I ever saw him at Lake Elsinore. Heck, he’s probably been like that since he started pitching. He is unbelievably intense on the mound, and in the past, as others have noted, it hasn’t always worked to his advantage.
There’s always so much to say about Peavy. Anything else we’re missing?
Ed: Let’s all say it together, W-B-C. There were stories last year about how Peavy never got the good feel of his changeup because he had to alter his preparation for the WBC. In addition, he had some nagging injuries during last season that may or may not have resulted from the WBC. If you look at the last two seasons where he hasn’t had a WBC to contend with, you see a different pitcher than the one that did have to deal with prepping for the WBC.
Denis: I thought last year was an aberration because of the WBC and some injuries that slowed him down. We are seeing Peavy at his best, and it is a pleasant sight to behold. He not only has kept the adrenaline humming just underneath the boiling point, but has also been pinpoint with his ability to spot each pitch, particularly that nasty slider. We are watching one of the best young pitchers in the game harness his talent and unleash it on the rest of the league.
jbox: Peavy was a mess last year. He told us it had nothing to do with the WBC and now he tells us that it was all because of the WBC. Either way he let his emotions control him and his pitches weren’t hitting their spots or moving like they do now. Peavy has ice water in his veins now and if that is the reason or the result of his success is anybody’s guess. Peavy will win 20 games.
Geoff: I’ve been reluctant to jump on the WBC blame bandwagon because a) it seemingly revived Chan Ho Park’s career (if only for a little while) and b) I had more fun at the three games at Petco Park than I’ve had at any baseball game in a very long time, but reality is beginning to make my continued resistance look rather silly.
Moving on, he seems like a nice guy trying to make an honest living, but why is Blum still on the roster? For that matter, why are the Padres carrying 12 pitchers?
Rich: There are two things that will keep a player on a roster overlong: potential and history. Blum has history. He is also very versatile in a utility role and has the switch-hitter thing going. The 12 pitcher thing is related, because carrying the extra pitcher makes Blum’s multiple gloves more valuable. Personally, I don’t have the cringe factor some of you have with Blummer. His strikeouts have not hurt us nearly as much as Khalil’s inability to lay off the golf swing or to recognize the “get-ahead” first strike down the middle.
Anthony: Fun fact: Blum has had five at-bats with runners on first and second, resulting in three GIDPs and one single. I could live with Blum as the last option off the bench. As the primary pinch hitter he’s killing us.
Geoff: As fun facts go, that’s not particularly fun.
John: In May, Blum hit .286/.375/.536; he can play all the infield positions and the corner outfield slots, is the emergency catcher and last year was the best pinch hitter in the National League along with playing well when Greene was injured. He had a bad April (.091), but I think he’s earning an honest living.
Ed: Regarding Blum:
- You can’t discount great hair.
- He’s been a lot better in May than he was in April.
- He is the Padres most trusted pinch hitter. He did a great job in the role last year and will be given every opportunity to keep doing it this year. With the small sample size of pinch hitters, it’s not shocking that he’s corrected for the great job he did with the role last season.
Denis: Versatility reigns. Find me another guy who can play six positions on the diamond, is a switch-hitter, and is an excellent clubhouse presence — then Blum can go. Until then, he serves a valuable role.
Jim: I think it’s been well said by the others but Blum is a jack-of-all trades. He can do many things well but is a master of none. Also, when someone has a big career moment in a career defining situation, they seem to be immortalized, no matter what they have done before or since. And with Black’s penchant to continue to let players prove themselves despite struggles, Blum will probably remain the lone guy off the bench who can bat right handed until the Padres get desperate enough to add someone else.
Geoff: The Padres have claimed Hiram Bocachica off waivers from Oakland; he isn’t exactly a savior, but the Padres don’t really need saving.
jbox: I think Blum was the best pinch hitter last season with a .380+ average. That’s probably why he’s on the team — he had a successful year last year and has good experience as a pinch hitter. He’s sucked it up this year but it’s still a small sample size, and his defense is okay. If you are going to dump him you’re going to need someone who can play three infield positions. I just don’t think we have anybody to replace him right now.
Corey: Blum is on the roster because he can play several positions and every team needs a guy like that. Are there better candidates for the job? Sure, but the Padres don’t have them. Blum is certainly hitting better in May than he did in April, though that can be said for a lot of guys. And I think there’s a comfort level with guys like Blum, and manager’s like track records. You also know that he’s not going to hurt you defensively when you stick him in the game. Again, there’s a comfort level there. Because he can fill so many spots, you can carry 12 pitchers. Sure, there have been times late in games when the Padres could have used another bat, but given the heavy workload on their bullpen thus far and that Maddux and David Wells are, well, not getting any younger, carrying 12 pitchers has been a smart decision.
Peter: Despite the recent long outings by Wells and Maddux, I don’t think we can count on them to sustain their 6- to 8-inning starts. Having an extra pitcher makes more sense than carrying another a left-handed bat off the bench. I would like to see right-handed bat, but I’m not going to worry about 12th arm vs lefty pinch-hitter while there isn’t a right-handed bat option.
Rich: I don’t mind the 12 pitcher thing, even if it limits our roster. And it may prove very important in the next couple weeks in the whole Clay Hensley scenario.
John: The strength of the team is their bullpen, and with two 40+ starters, having a deep ‘pen that is able to come in the sixth and seventh inning to relieve Maddux and Wells is a more productive use of the roster than another position player. Additionally, having five bench players (as of right now, Russell Branyan, Blum, Oscar Robles, McAnulty and Bowen) will allow the manager to play them more and keep everyone fresh.
Ed: As great as the starting pitching has been, the bullpen is the greatest strength of this team. I don’t mind keeping the extra arm around as long as Black will use it to keep the main cogs of the bullpen fresh. This can be difficult with all of the close games the Padres play, but at this point, who are you going to add to the bench anyway?
Denis: Answering the 12 pitchers portion is a softball — thanks! With two pitchers on the wrong side of 40 and an offense that is conducive to one-run games, that extra bullpen help is essential. Throw in the fact that the bullpen is, arguably, the heart of the team and you have your answer.
Anthony: A 12 man staff is reasonable considering Maddux and Wells are only good for 6 or 7 innings, 5 or 6 in Wells’ case. What’s not acceptable is carrying that many pitchers and letting guys sit for weeks on end.
Geoff: Bullseye. This is what I was driving at with the question. I have a real hard time reconciling two things:
- Behind Blum (.170/.226/.200 in 55 PA as RHB in 2006 and 2007) and Bowen (backup catcher who seldom is used off the bench in case something happens to Bard), the Padres’ best right-handed option off the bench in May was Peavy.
- Kevin Cameron got into four games in May and once went 18 days without making an appearance, while Hampson appeared in five games and once went 10 days between outings.
Seems to me there’s a disconnect.
Dex: These are riddles, right? Why is Geoff Blum on the Padres roster? Because there’s no room underneath. Why are the Padres carrying 12 pitchers? Because they couldn’t fit it all into a single bucket.
Geoff: As usual, Dex, your logic is unassailable. On that note, we'll call it a day. Part 2, which touches on Justin Germano, Petco Park dimensions, and the Padres farm system, will run tomorrow.