What the Padres Need to Happen to Win The NL West

It should be noted I wrote this on my phone one handed and posted this on a flight from Charlotte to Houston with a 14 month old asleep on my chest.  I am so pumped I bought wifi to read the trade reactions and hopefully stream the first half of the game.

So it’s a new era of Padres baseball right?  Absolutely.  The thing is, is it enough?  When you are in the same division as the Dodgers, a team with unlimited payroll and one of the top braintrusts in baseball, it’s an uphill climb.  Sabermetricians, like those at Fangraphs, have been tepid on the Padres forecast for 2015, believing infield deficiencies and defensive OF issues will lead to a just above .500 season.  Meanwhile they are projecting LA to be well into the 90s in wins.  The question then is, what do the Padres need to happen to close the gap?

LA needs key players to underperform or get injured
The Dodgers have some of the top performers in baseball, so unsurprisingly, projections love them.  That also means a lot of he projected WAR is being disproportionately projected for a few players.  Clayton Kershaw for x WAR, Puig for x WAR, Greinke for x WAR, etc.  Steamer and ZIPS also love some of their top prospect rookies like Joc Pederson.  The thing with rookies is some of them hit the bigs in stride, a la Mike Trout.  Many more struggle and find their way back to AAA, a la Anthony Rizzo, or just flame out (Sean Burroughs anyone?).  If a Kershaw or Puig get injured, the Dodgers realize a huge drop off in expected production.  This is especially the case for their starting pitching, where injuries will lead to a Joe Wieland or worse taking a spot in the rotation.  Let’s not forget Kershaw was hurt for a month last season and Greinke has a few injuries under his belt already. Ryu is already hurt.  Less than key players like Juan Uribe have surprisingly good projections that aren’t difficult to imagine an underperforming season for, taking into account aging curves and whatnot.
Projection systems are wrong about the OF defense
To start, I have no idea how projection systems project defense.  I know it’s a relatively new field of sabermetrics.  Projections show much of the offensive contribution of Wil Myers and Matt Kemp to be given back in defensive ineptitude. Proving the projection systems wrong can happen in two ways: outperforming expectations defensively or through actual results, seeing if bad defense is enough to cancel out their good offense.  In Wil Myers’ case, there is a very limited sample size of his work in CF to base his defensive projections on. This leaves room for error.  For Kemp, an argument could be made that injuries or attitude influenced his bad defense last season.  Who knows really, but it’s certainly within the realm of possibility that both outfielders, when fully healthy, contribute closer to league average defense which would greatly increase their WAR contribution.  
Stay healthy
This is a big one.  As long as the team is changing identities, maybe they can dump their usual habit of being among the league leaders in disabled list time.  With most of the Tommy Johns hopefully out of the way, the team had a noticeably healthy Spring.  Tim Federowicz was the only real injury.  Even the now departed but oft injured Carlos Quentin and Cameron Maybin made it through the gauntlet relatively unscathed.  One of the keys to fulfilling or exceeding projections will be keeping he best players on the field as much as possible.  The Padres have depth at pitching, but there still a significant drop off from a Shields or Cashner to an Odrisamer Despaigne or Casey Kelly.  The infield is bad enough that it’s difficult for the backups to be worse luckily (O guess this is good).  There are very few impact minor league bullets that could be fired this season to provide a boost.  Replacing an Upton or Kemp with Venable or Terrible Upton is another huge drop off.  Let’s hope positive attitude and good luck keep this team healthy.  
Gyorko, Alonso and Middlebrooks at least perform up to projections, if not better
Steamer and ZIPS projected fairly good results for Alonso and Gyorko, both in the 2 WAR range.  In the case of Gyorko, he had a subpar spring.  Tom Krasovic’s Pink Pony chat article in the U-T highlighted scout’s displeasure with his approach, work ethic and results.  He is a primary candidate for underperforming, but the team needs him desperately to show more 2013 results, less 2014 mediocrity.  With Alonso, the team needs him to be a smooth and capable fielder while just not being a total hole in the lineup like last season.  Middlebrooks is a wild card.  His past few seasons have varied so wildly it’s tough to put a finger on how he will project.  The entire premise behind acquiring him and starting him is that a new environment and coaching staff will allow him to realize his potential.  Projections aren’t asking for much from him, so if he performs up to his potential he will easily surpass the value projection systems saw him contributing.
Will all of this be easy?  Of course not, but it’s also not crazy talk.  Each of these items on their own are not unlikely.  The tougher part will be for all of them to come together in this season.  And if they do, I think we are looking at a possible division winner and a team that will go deep into the playoffs.
To go on the record, I’m predicting 91 wins for this team.  Who says I’m a pessimist?!
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