Thursday, February 19, 2015

Cracking The Preller Code

People forget how strong Willy Wonka's 1970 off season really was

Not every crazy person is a genius, but every genius started out being thought of as crazy. Its the burden of seeing the world in a different way. When you see things that other people don't, they question you instead of questioning themselves first.

This idea plays out in sports all the time. No one thought much of Bill Belichick until suddenly he was a coaching genius. Billy Beane's own people questioned his competency until he created a perennial winner with a payroll the size of a midsized school district. This MLB off season alone has brought into question the operating practices of San Diego's own Mad Hatter AJ Preller.

But I think I've cracked the code. I figured out exactly what AJ Preller is up to out in San Diego. It took a while, but I'm on to him. And now I'm going to share his secrets with all of you.

First, lets take a look some the more notable Padres' off season acquisitions:

12/5 - Signed Clint Barmes
12/18 - Traded for Matt Kemp & Tim Federowicz
12/18 - Traded for Derek Norris
12/19 - Traded for Wil Myers & Ryan Hanigan
12/19 - Traded for Justin Upton
12/20 - Traded Hanigan for Will Middlebrooks
2/11 - Signed James Shields
Padres also acquired a slew of Relief Pitchers in there too, but I'm not going to get too deep into them right now.

Now for the Padres' projected pitching rotation:
1. James Shields (RHP)
2. Andrew Cashner (RHP)
3. Tyson Ross (RHP)
4. Ian Kennedy (RHP)
5. Odrisamer Despaigne (RHP)
Depth: Robbie Erlin (LHP), Brandon Morrow (RHP), Casey Kelley (RHP) Josh Johnson (RHP), Cory Luebke (LHP)

That's a fairly impressive 1-10 of starting pitchers. The top seven on that list should be good to go on Opening Day with Johnson & Luebke still working their way back from TJ surgery, but could line-up nicely in case depth is needed (I'm looking at you Cashner). Kudos to Preller for recognizing the age-old baseball tenet that you can  never have enough pitching. The Padres could be capable of replacing their entire rotation if needed.

The other thing I notice about that group of starting pitchers is that its awfully right-handed. You'd think considering Petco Park's reputation of being notoriously difficult on right handed power that a GM might want a rotation with at least a couple of lefties. Why not let left field do its thing crushing power & focus on keeping down left-handed hitters? It should be noted that Erlin, Despaigne & Kelley are probably in a competition for that 5th spot, but there were LHP options out there this off season in Lester & Hamels (could still still happen, but it feels unlikely right now). Also, given Preller's ability to wheel & deal he probably could have brought in at least one other lefty, but no. What the Padres have is a very right-handed rotation. Why?

Let's look the Padres' projected Opening Day lineup for some more clues:
(This is open to a lot of conjecture, but barring a trade or injury these players will be hitting somewhere in the lineup)
1. Amarista(L)/Barmes(R)
2. Wil Myers (R)
3. Justin Upton (R)
4. Matt Kemp (R)
5. Jed Gyorko (R)
6. Norris(R)/Federowicz(R)
7. Yonder Alonso (L)
8. Middlebrooks(R)/Solarte(R)
9. Pitcher

Notice anything about that lineup?

Seems awfully right handed heavy for a team that plays in a difficult park for right handed hitters doesn't it? On top of that, the only left-handed hitters on this team are holdovers and Preller sent away the Padres' best left handed hitter in Seth Smith (OPS+ of 135 in 521 AB's in 2014). That leaves Will Venable as the only other left handed option off the bench and even after a pretty decent 2012 & 2013 he is the definition of "Replace-Level Player".

Since its inception in 2004 Petco Park has consistently been one of the worst Home Run parks in all of baseball. In fact, Petco has ranked dead last just about as many times as it has ranked anywhere in the teens and never once above 15th. Home Runs aren't the end all be all for a park's offensive potential but it does tell us how many balls are hit where no one can catch them.

A big part of Petco's offense killing nature is the shear size of the park. When the park opened the outfield walls were well over 400 ft in both alleys with the right field foul pole sitting at 375 ft. In 2013 the walls were brought in almost 10 ft all the way around and the visitors' bullpen was moved from foul territory to beyond the outfield wall reducing the playing field size by about 30%. Its hard to say exactly what the effect has been on scoring at Petco since 3 years is a small sample size and the 2014 Padres were one of the worst hitting teams of all time.

Take a look at this graphic comparing Petco to the other parks of the NL West:

You'll notice that Petco is not dramatically bigger than the other parks in the Padres' division. Actually, a case could be made that its smaller than the other parks, especially in left field. Of those 4 other parks AT&T & Dodger Stadium are also considered pitchers parks while Chase & Coors are renowned for their offense.

What then accounts for that difference? Location and climate. If you are standing at home plate at Petco Park you will be facing directly North which puts left field slightly to your NorthWest.

In the map below you will see ocean currents for the entire planet, but focus in on Southern California. You'll notice that the ocean current, the warm air and by default the wind blow South down the California coast. That breeze coming from the West/NorthWest blows over the left field wall.

Figure 1. This map shows the global surface current system under average conditions for winter months in the Northern Hemisphere. Warm currents are shown as solid red arrows, and cold currents as dashed blue arrows.
(This is a map of winter currents, but check & tell me how much the wind changes year round in that part of the country. You can also check for up to date wind direction over Petco or any park.)

What exactly does that all mean? Well, for one it means that a lot of home runs hit to left field (where right-handed hitters tend to hit them) get knocked back by that wind. It doesn't do left-handed hitters any favors either unless the wind can take a fly ball into the right field corner where the outfield wall slants in dramatically. It could also mean that line drive hitters with who work the gaps well could find a nice level of success at Petco.

As I mentioned above, there have been some changes to Petco Park in recent years. Most notably the outfield fences were brought in and the visitors bullpen was moved out of foul territory to behind the outfield wall. This year the Padres are putting in a brand new Jumbotron right out there in left field. Look at the before and after pictures and you tell me which board you think will do a better job of protecting line drives and fly balls from the wind.

Before -

After -

Now we can't be positive what sort of effect this will have on balls hit to left field, but I bet AJ Preller knows. I mean the man set out and learned Spanish so that he would be better at his job. (Learning Spanish would make me a lot better at my day job, but I decided to start a baseball blog instead.) He has to have some idea that this new scoreboard will provide some degree of protection to right handed hitters. Why else would he acquire so many right-handed hitters and roll with a likely all right-handed rotation. He has some prediction about the effect it will have.

Its also worth examining the right-handed hitters that Preller actually landed. For the sake of keeping this reasonable, I'll just look at the big 3.

Wil Myers

Its hard to say exactly what the Padres will get out of Myers. Two years ago he was the highest regarded prospect in all of baseball. Last year he was a bust, then he got hurt and he was a super bust. Myers might have a bad attitude, but he might just be a super talented 24 year who is still figuring it out.

Check out Wil Myers's spray chart 2013-2014 of hit types courtesy of


Granted its a small sample size, but I see a hitter who uses the entire field, has power all over, and takes advantage of both foul lines. Of all the Padres' new players Myers probably has the greatest variance of possible outcomes. What is definitely in the Padres' favor is that Myers doesn't start with arbitration until 2017 and will not hit free agency until 2020. The Padres can easily cut ties if things don't work out or they will have a highly productive and highly affordable player for the next 5 years.

Matt Kemp

We pretty much know the story on Matt Kemp. When he is happy and healthy he is an extremely productive hitter. We know he's got bad hips, but Mike Napoli's got bad hips and it doesn't seem to slow him down any. Kemp base stealing days are likely long gone, but I don't think the Padre's acquired him thinking that he'd be swiping 30+ bags a year.

So, what does Matt Kemp's 2012-2014 spray chart look like for hit types?


Once again I see a player with power to all fields with some gap doubles mixed in there. I also see a lot of doubles down the left field line which considering their distance tells me that the wind shouldn't have too dramatic of an effect on them anyway. Kemp also has quite a bit of experience in Petco Park having spent his entire career in the NL West.

Check out this piece by Tony Blengino at (Matt Kemp and the Petco Problem) if you want a more in depth analysis. Mr. Blengino does not offer a particularly glowing preview of Kemp at Petco, but he does offer that Kemp will likely remain good for 20+ HR seasons (assuming health) through the end of his contract. Since the Padres are only on the hook for 5yrs/$75mil to a 30 year old outfielder it should be a deal that as long as Kemp remains somewhat healthy should be a decent value. Its entirely possible that a 20 HR season from a right-handed hitter might being going for $25mil/year by 2019...

Justin Upton

Justin Upton in an interesting case. Upton is going into his age 27 season (peak for hitters) in a contract year. He's been a fairly consistent player throughout his young career who has remained healthy and has posted a career 121 OPS+ which could certainly increase in the next few years. He doesn't steal bases nearly as much with the Braves as he did with the Dbacks, but there are multiple factors that could have gone into that. Regardless, its probably more reasonable to expect that Upton's SB numbers will be closer to his Braves years than his Dbacks' while he is with the Padres.

And, lets see Justin Upton's spray chart for hit types 2012-2014 one more time for the people in the back!!!


Call me crazy, but Upton's chart looks a lot like what Wil Myers' chart would look like if he had more at bats. Uses the entire field, power all over, and works the lines pretty well. Upton probably has a little more pull to left than Myers, but he also hits quite a few balls right at where that new left field score board will be blocking the wind. I'd also imagine that Upton heads into this year pretty motivated considering that a big year will net him a mega, mega contract as he will be one of the rarest commodities to hit the free agent market, a power hitting righty in his prime.

Now it's possible that its just a happy coincidence that the Padres brought in a bunch of right-handed hitters at the same time that a giant Jumbotron went up in left field. I suppose it's also possible that Preller is just some kind of deranged fan boy who went out and picked up his favorite players because they're "gamers". Hell, its even possible that Preller just acquired all the hitters that were available & gave no thought as to whether they were right-handed or left-handed. Personally, I'd put my money on the Padres having a plan here that no one else saw coming. That might make them crazy now, but time will tell if was really genius.

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