Image by marcusjroberts via Flickr
The San Diego Padres recently completed their 42nd year of existence without a single World Championship to their name.
An expansion team in 1969, they have never enjoyed a 100 win season, but have lost at least 100 games five times.
Over the years, however, they have produced some very good ball players, and even a few strong ball clubs. This year’s version came within one victory of winning their division for the sixth time, finishing with a 90-win season for the first time since 1998. They have gone on to the World Series twice, getting swept by the Yankees in 1998, and losing to the Tigers in five games in 1984.
Trivia Question: Who is the only Padres pitcher to ever win a World Series game? Answer below, after this post.
As a boy growing up on the east coast in the 1970’s, the Padres were a mysterious team of unfamiliar names sporting garish, ugly uniforms. But since the Padres were almost always a bad team in those days, at least I knew that my Mets would stand a good chance of defeating them in a season series.
By the time the Padres enjoyed their first winning season in 1978, I was already well into high school, and my interest in baseball waned as the Mets languished in the basement of the N.L. East.
Even as a youthful baseball card collector, I can’t say that many Padres players stood out as the kind of name players you could offer up in a trade for, say, Johnny Bench or Reggie Jackson.
But my fog of ignorance regarding Padres players from that era has lifted to a certain degree recently while researching players and stats for this post.
I was surprised, for example, that the Padres pitcher with the highest single season WAR was not Kevin Brown, Jake Peavy or Randy Jones. It was, in fact, Dave Roberts. No, not the speedy outfielder Dave Roberts of recent years, swiping bases for the Red Sox, Dodgers, Padres, etc.
Dave Roberts was a left-handed pitcher for the Padres from 1969-71, before moving on, in quick succession, to the Astros, Tigers, Cubs, and a couple of other teams, eventually retiring after the 1981 season with a career record of 103-125.
1971 was Dave Roberts Best Forgotten Season with the Padres.
Dave Roberts finished the season with what, at first glance, looks like an unimpressive 14-17 win-loss record. But the Padres record that year (just their third campaign since expansion) was 61-100.
Robert’s posted an impressive ERA of 2.10 in ’71, second best in the N.L. He made 34 starts, completed 14 games, and hurled 269 innings. His 1.109 WHIP was seventh best in the league.
Not a strikeout pitcher, he fanned just 135 batters in ’71, but he also knew how to keep the ball in the park, surrendering just nine home runs.
Robert’s ERA+ was 157, almost as good as the 158 that Jake Peavy recorded in 2007 when he won the Cy Young award for the Padres.
Perhaps most impressively, as I alluded to earlier in this post, Dave Robert’s WAR in 1971 was 8.5, better than Kevin Brown’s 8.4 in 1998, better than Peavy’s 6.2 in 2007, and better than either of Randy Jones’ two best efforts of 7.7 (1975), and 5.1 (1976.)
But like Randy Jones, Dave Roberts was a good pitcher on bad Padres teams. Jones, however, managed to get enough run support to enjoy consecutive 20-win seasons in ’75-’76, while Roberts never topped his 14 wins in ’71.
(As an aside, Randy Jones never won even as many as 14 games in any other season of his career outside of those two 20-win years.)
Dave Roberts efforts did not go completely unnoticed by Cy Young voters, however. Even with a losing record, Roberts finished a respectable 6th in the Cy Young vote in ’71.
Roberts passed away on January 9th, 2009, having enjoyed one fine, yet largely forgotten season as a major league pitcher.
Roberts did have one teammate who could slug the ball, however. His name was Nate Colbert.
From 1969-73, Colbert slugged 149 homers in five seasons, averaging just under 30 homers a season on a team that badly needed all the offense it could get. Unfortunately for Dave Roberts, Nate Colbert’s best season occurred the year after Roberts got traded to Houston.
1972 was Nate Colbert’s Best Forgotten Baseball Season.
Colbert was not a well-rounded ballplayer, but he knew his strength, which was, in fact, strength. He wouldn’t hit for much of an average, and he never won a Gold Glove for fielding his position, but he could certainly hit the long-ball.
In 1972, Nate Colbert finished third in the N.L. in home runs with 38, behind a couple of guys named Aaron and Bench. He had also hit 38 homers a couple of years earlier in 1970, but this time around, he also added 111 RBI’s as well, good for 4th best in the N.L.
He added 27 doubles, 87 runs scored, 70 walks, and a .508 slugging percentage, sixth best in the league.
His 286 total bases was the fifth most in the N.L., and his 67 extra base hits were the third highest total in the league.
He posted an OPS+ of 145, and his WAR was 5.2. Each of those numbers placed him in the top ten in the league.
Colbert wasn’t a huge speed threat, but his 15 stolen bases coupled with his home run power produced a Power-Speed # of 21.5, 4th in the league.
Colbert was named to the All-Star team, and he finished 8th in the N.L. MVP voting in ’72. His .250 batting average, at a time when that statistic was more highly regarded than it is today, was a primary culprit in suppressing where he otherwise might have finished in the voting.
Unfortunately for Colbert, and for the Padres, he enjoyed just one more productive season the following year before going into a steep, irreversible slide at age 28. He was out of baseball by age 30.
Nate Colbert’s .469 career slugging percentage is still sixth-best all-time on the Padres. He remains on the Padres top ten all-time lists in at bats, hits, runs scored, RBI’s and walks.
He is the all-time Padres leader in Home Runs (163) and strikeouts (773). Early next season, however, Adrian Gonzalez will break Colbert’s career home run record; Gonzalez currently has 161 career home runs for San Diego.
But in the first half-dozen years of the Padres existence, Nate Colbert was their primary offensive weapon.
Now, if only the Padres could find a slugger to pair up with Adrian Gonzalez, they might create some new team history their fans could be proud of.
Answer to Trivia Question: Andy Hawkins defeated Dan Petry in Game 2 of the 1984 World Series.
Posted in baseball
, Baseball Analysis
, Baseball Commentary
, Baseball History
, Baseball Players
and tagged 1984 World Series
, 1998 World Series
, Adrian Gonzalez
, Dave Roberts
, Jake Peavy
, Nate Colbert
, New York Yankees
, Randy Jones
, San Diego Padres
, San Francisco
, San Francisco Giants
, World Series
A Mets Post Mortem
Let me begin by congratulating the Kansas City Royals on their first World Championship season in 30 years. I also want to acknowledge my pre-season error when I predicted that the Royals were probably a fluke last year, and would be unlikely to repeat as A.L. champions this season. The Royals appear to be a team whose sum is greater than the whole of their individual parts, but baseball being a team sport, they were well-constructed and expertly managed.
As for the Mets, the Royals did a fantastic job exposing and exploiting each of their weaknesses. Specifically, a team built around starting pitching will probably be most vulnerable once those starting pitchers are removed. In this day and age, when complete games are largely a thing of the past, this means that a bullpen cannot, then, play second-fiddle to a young and talented starting staff.
There needs to be a virtually seamless level of pitching talent from the first through the ninth innings. After all, major league baseball is not a seven inning game. If the manager signals, time after time, that he would rather trust his tired starters to pitch an inning longer than they should probably be allowed to instead of going to fresh bullpen arms, (and worse, if he allows himself to be talked into doing so by his spirited starters), then the final third of every game will inevitably become the Achilles heal of what should be a strategic advantage.
If I’m putting too fine a point on it, use the damned ‘pen at the beginning of an inning, not once an overworked starter has inevitably put a man or two on base.
The Mets infield defense is sub-par, and it’s difficult to imagine, quite frankly, how the Mets made it this far in the playoffs with not one above-average defensive infielder. If your pitchers have to strike out eight to ten batters per game to keep the ball out of play (at least as far as the infield is concerned), you are A) forcing your starters to throw too many pitches through the first six innings to gain those 4-7 pitch strikeouts (vs. those one or three pitch ground-outs), and B) you are allowing the defense to become too comfortable, so that when a ground-ball is hit, the fielders are potentially less ready to make the play.
I love Danny Murphy for his bat, and yes, even though his homer total during the first-two rounds of the play-offs was fluky, the man can hit. But an actual second-baseman (as opposed to a hitter who happens to play second-base) would be preferable to the current option. If Murphy is allowed to move on elsewhere as a free agent, I would have to count that as a potentially positive move for the Mets, IF it results in an over-all improved infield defense (no sure thing at this point)
With the advent of sabermetrics, especially over the past fifteen years or so, a new orthodoxy has taken over most baseball teams. Don’t run much, forget the sacrifice bunt, go for the long-ball, and take your walks.
Oddly, though, the original premise of (at least Billy Beane’s version) of sabermetrics wasn’t so much to enshrine any particular strategy as baseball’s version of the New Testament. It was to exploit those aspects of baseball being neglected by your financially wealthier opponents. Which aspects of a given player’s skill-set were being undervalued, and how could a relatively poor team exploit those undervalued skills in the baseball marketplace?
Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson was (at the helm those aforementioned A’s teams) one of the earliest proponents of this philosophy of baseball, and translated to the (oddly) mid-market Mets, this philosophy has appeared to pay dividends in 2015.
Yet, as the Kansas City Royals have shown, there is apparently more than one way to win a World Championship. The Royals offensive strategy, such as it is, is to play a kind of pre-1920’s baseball, when putting the ball in play, running with apparent abandon, and disrupting the other team’s game-plan (arguably the bete noire of sabermetrics) becomes the whole point of the game.
In other words, perhaps the movement of modern baseball G.M.’s to (at least appear to) embrace particular tenets of sabermetrics has become the new, already calcifying religious orthodoxy that, in turn can be exploited by a small market, 21st-century ball-club. In effect, meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
While there is not necessarily a correlation between age and the ability to adapt to new realities, it is worth raising the point that with Sandy Alderson turning 68-years old later this month, and manager Terry Collins reaching his 67th birthday next May, are they the right men to have at the helm of a team composed of players who could be their grandchildren? Will they be able to objectively evaluate the structural deficits of this team through the baseball lens of 2015, or will their baseball strategy perpetually reflect an era that might already be coming to an end?
Obviously, the payroll level Mets ownership settles on during this off-season will go a long way towards defining this team’s future, both immediate and long-term. What can they afford to pay, for example, outfielder Yeonis Cespedes, and what will his asking price be? Certainly, Cespedes uninspired post-season performance (12 hits in 54 at bats with one walk and 17 strikeouts) won’t help drive up his asking price, but do the Mets commit a very substantial chunk of payroll to him, pursue a different free agent outfielder, or go another route altogether?
Meanwhile, while it would certainly be tempting not to tamper with that young, talented pitching staff, would it make sense to trade one of those arms for a highly talented position player? After all, as we saw in this World Series, a solo homer here or there is perhaps not the best way to achieve a balanced offense.
Finally, from a Mets fan point of view (and I’ve been one now for over 40 years), it should be noted that only two Major League teams were still playing meaningful baseball on November 1st, and the Mets were one of them. From that perspective, and for the happy memories this team provided for their fans of the playoff series against both the Dodgers and the Cubs, we have to count 2015 as among of our all-time favorite, most enjoyable baseball seasons.
Thank you, New York Mets, for all your efforts this season, and let’s look optimistically forward to the 2016 baseball season, as I’m sure baseball fans of every team will also be doing.
Let’s Go Mets!