Saturday, July 07, 2007

Padre Pitching Dominance

Pitching wins. You can never have enough pitching. Good pitching shuts down good hitting. Get the point. Baseball clichés are more than catchy sayings, they mean something, they have a point. The 2007 San Diego Padres are living proof, wielding the best record in the National League, with a less than potent offense, to put it nicely. No regulars’ batting average is higher than .265 or boasts an OBP over .334. On the mound, the Padres are on pace to post the best numbers across the board since the 1990’s.

Petco Park favors pitchers, but not by more than a half run, the differential between the Padres Team ERA and the next closest team. The numbers are staggering, lowest ERA, lowest WHIP, top 3 in BAA, 4 shutouts more than any other team, most Quality Starts, lowest bullpen ERA, OK, let me catch my breath. The current Team ERA of 3.05 would shatter Atlanta’s 3.13 ERA from 2002, the lowest this decade. San Diego’s pitching supremacy should not surprise anyone. Look at the progression over the past three seasons, moving to 13th in MLB in 2005, up to second, beyond AL Champ Detroit last season, before taking the big leap this season.

Many factors contribute to the Padres success. Lets start with the best, and least ballyhooed, 1-2 combo in baseball, Jake Peavy and Chris Young. The fact Chris Young even required the fan vote to make the All-Star game is a disgrace to the process. Young has dominated the NL this season, and is arguably the NL Cy Young winner at the half way mark. Both Peavy, bouncing bac in a big way from a subpar 2006, and Young, are Top 10 in ERA, WHIP, and Strikeouts. The pair are right there in wins also, though its more of a team stat than a reflection of pitching dominance, case in point Carlos Zambrano and Randy Wolf posting 10 and 9 wins respectively to go along with over 4 ERAs.

Health, always an issue for pitching staffs, continues to bless the Padres thus far this season. The top four starters each have 17 or 18 starts, while the fifth spot has made 17 starts, the last 11 by Justin Germano, who replaced Clay Hensley after Hensley struggled early on. Of the five current starters, only Boomer Wells sports an ERA over 4, and none have lost more than five games. Consistency, a good mix of veteran and young arms, all contribute to the record stats.

The dominance does not end with the starts, San Diego’s bullpen ERA also leads the majors, on pace to be the lowest since the 1990 Eckersley-led Oakland A’s. We all know Trevor Hoffman, the All-Time Saves leader, but the setup and middle relievers separate San Diego from the rest of the league. Scott Linenbrink is the NL answer to the Angels Scot Sheilds, a proven shutdown eight inning reliever in front of a proven elite closer, a deadly combination. Doug Brocail has rediscovered his dominance of the late 1990’s, while Heath Bell, acquired in an off-season trade with the Mets, has emerged as a go-to guy in the late innings. Along with Cla Meredith, the Padres bullpen usually slams the door shut on opponents when handed a lead. Joe Torre please take note, nobody in the Padres bullpen is in the Top 10 in appearances. There may be something to be said for rest.

GM Kevin Towers deserves a ton of credit. He stole Chris Young, clearly an emerging talent at the time, from Texas, along with starting 1B Adrian Gonzalez, before the 2006 season. Then, after last season, Towers snagged both Bell and Royce Ring from the Mets for little more than Ben Johnson. Think the Mets and Rangers want do-over’s?

All this, and we did even mention third starter Greg Maddux, inching ever closer to 350 wins, and new manager Bud Black, one of the best pitching coaches of this ERA. Do not underestimate the pitching knowledge and leadership these two bring to the pitching staff. It takes more than raw talent, pitching savvy and knowledge separates the good from the elite. A little talent does not hurt either.


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