The Padres have underperformed over the first quarter of the season — and it’s worth arguing that their approach to roster construction hasn’t fully embraced key changes in the league this season.
The San Diego Padres entered the 2023 MLB season with the sixth-best odds to win the World Series at +1000. With a star-studded roster that reached the 2022 National League Championship Series and subsequently added four-time All-Star Xander Bogaerts on an 11-year, $280 million contract to join Juan Soto ($23 million on the books season), Fernando Tatis Jr. (14 years, $340 million) and Manny Machado (11 years, $350 million), you’d once again expect the Friars to contend for their first World Series title while their window is ostensibly wide open.
As losers of eight of their last 10 through May 21, however, San Diego is now 21-26 with the second-lowest run total in the National League, sputtering despite a payroll just under $246 million that ranks No. 3 in baseball — more than twice that of an Arizona Diamondbacks currently sitting above them in the NL West standings.
Why haven’t things stayed classy in San Diego? As we approach Memorial Day, the Padres’ offense is currently well behind the times here in 2023.
New rules implemented this year emphasized contact and stolen bases. Banning the infield shift and making the physical bases larger has catalyzed a merciful pivot away from the era of the “three true outcomes” — homer, walk, strikeout — that dominated the game over the last decade. The Padres must not have gotten the memo, however, with a .222 team batting average that’s dead last in baseball as of this writing.
The Padres’ strikeout rate of 23.7% is 10th-worst in baseball; among those 10 teams that whiff the most, only Milwaukee and Minnesota have records above .500. While their 11% walk rate is second-best in the game, San Diego’s 339 total hits are the lowest in baseball. Some of that has to do with a .270 batting average on balls in play that’s third-lowest in baseball, but the two teams with worse BABIP luck than the Padres are the Dodgers and Yankees, both of whom are doing just fine in the MLB standings.
It’s hard for a team with Soto to rank just 21st in baseball with a .312 team on-base percentage, with an even more embarrassing .379 team slugging percentage that’s 24th, and a .691 OPS that’s also 24th. Of the 10 Padres players with more than 100 plate appearances thus far, only Soto, Bogaerts, Tatis, and veteran Matt Carpenter have an OPS+ above the league average of 100. They need much better play from the aforementioned quartet, as well as Machado (currently on the IL with a fractured hand), two-time All-Star Jake Cronenworth, Ha-seong Kim, and woefully struggling regulars like Austin Nola, Trent Grisham, and Rougned Odor.
Troublingly, the Padres aren’t hitting so well at home, but they’ve completely cratered away from Petco Park. In 20 road games so far this season, San Diego is batting .202 as a team with a .641 OPS. How the Padres’ road record is only 9-11 is a testament to how much their pitching is carrying the team thus far.
When the Padres are getting bats on balls, they’re not maximizing the contact. Their 37.4% hard hit rate is 23rd in MLB, with an 8.3% barrel rate good for 16th in baseball explaining why the Friars are 18th in the game with 50 total home runs despite just 10.9% of their fly balls leaving the park, the ninth-lowest rate in the game — fortunately, that will likely progress back toward the mean. Also, San Diego just isn’t utilizing the stolen base as much as the league’s most successful teams are tending to, with 27 swipes so far on 35 attempts. Of the nine MLB teams with 35 or fewer stolen base attempts, six sit below .500.
All told, San Diego certainly has the stars to turn its offense around despite an approach to roster construction littered that over-emphasizes three true outcome guys like Carpenter, Odor, Nelson Cruz, the latter of whom is finally starting to show his age as he approaches 43. The team’s schedule is due to get easier after 32 of their first 47 games took place against teams above .500, tied with struggling St. Louis for the most in the NL, another reason to expect certain lagging batting indicators like BABIP to turn around — but they still just need to make more contact, hit the ball harder, and get more active on the base paths.
For this offense to move forward and get back to contender status, it has to escape the past and embrace what makes the MLB’s best score runs and succeed in 2023. The Padres are still a solid bet to make the playoffs if they can get into the summer with a healthy core, but they’ve got to get out of their own way first.
2023 San Diego Padres Payroll
Salary data via Spotrac.
26-man roster spending: $183,844,081 (No. 3 in MLB)
Total payroll spending: $245,970,232 (No. 3)
Estimated luxury tax bill: $26,282,409 (No. 3)
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