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Field Notes on The Good Padres

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Proposition one: It's difficult to imagine the Padres being good so soon after being a mess.

Proposition two: Even when you come to grips with that, it's difficult to imagine these Padres being so good. Speaking only as a baseball fan, Kyle Blanks is one of my favorite prospects in baseball—he's huge, 6'6" 270, and he hits like a huge guy should, .250 with a .514 slugging percentage in his first 54 major league games. He appeals to my barely conscious sense of baseball propriety. 

Well, he's hitting .157 this year. Tony Gwynn—no more junior, so far as I can tell—hit .270 with a nice on-base percentage in a feel-good run as the Padres' starting center fielder at the end of the year. He's hitting .183. Everth Cabrera is a waterbug in the Whiteyball tradition, fast, short, etc. etc. .212 with no walks and a lot of strikeouts. Adrian Gonzalez is hitting, and David Eckstein(!), and Nick Hundley and Will Venable, and longtime prospect Chase Headley is taking his move back to third base well enough. But Petco is an ugly place to hit, distorts baseball statistics in an ugly way, and the Padres aren't hitting that well besides. 

Pitchers—The Padres are pitching really well, even for Bizarro Coors, but it's not a top-to-bottom fascinating rotation. Jon Garland, perhaps the least fascinating pitcher in baseball, has a 2.38 ERA, some ugly peripherals, and the first shot at the Cardinals. Kevin Correia's adjusted well to a full-time life in the rotation. Then there's Clayton Richard, part of the Jake Peavy trade, who's off to a solid start, and Mat Latos, the most interesting pitcher of the bunch, who sprinted through minors with some outstanding marks and has shown much the same profile in the majors. MLB.com's human-interest story: Some of their pitchers are really tall. The tallest one, Pitching Chris Young, is on the 60-day disabled list. 

Meanwhile, their relievers are striking out a batter an inning, and aside from the low-leverage margins have been pitching exceedingly well. Mark Worrell is still rehabbing post-surgery, but you'll be happy to know that the Padres wouldn't be sitting atop the NL West without Luke Gregerson!

Gregerson, the second piece of the 640-right-handed-relievers-should-be-enough-for-anybody trade for Khalil Greene, is a remarkably successful example of my favorite class of reliever: average fastball, knuckleball-frequency trick pitch. Fangraphs has him pegging 90 miles per hour on his fastball for the last two years, but this year he's thrown his diving slider nearly as much as Brad Penny throws his fastball—60% of the time. What makes him more effective than the average ROOGY with an absurd slider is his control: this year he's struck out 26 batters against just one unintentional walk. 

As a Cardinal farmhand his minor league stats were impressive but not very predictive—he was a late draft pick, and he didn't do much that hadn't been done before by guys like Mike Sillman. Trading him had to be a scouting decision, and thus far it appears to have been a mistake. 

While we're wallowing: Rule 5 success story Luis Perdomo has been deposited back into AAA, where he's put up some unimpressive numbers so far. Anthony Reyes is throwing off a mound this month!

The Padres are, thus far, successful in a manner befitting the park and the team—some good, unassuming pitchers, one hitter, and the hope that things might be better when the prospects start playing up to their promise. The idea floating around that the Cardinals might delay P.J. Walter's start to get their own unassuming young pitcher—Adam Ottavino seems most likely, but I won't discount Evan MacLane or Lance Lynn until Tony does—seems plausible to me. I'm not sure it makes much of a difference, but if there's any place you'd want a young pitcher like Ottavino to begin his career, and any team you'd like it to begin against, it's these Padres in this ballpark.