A Tale of Two Pitching Staffs: Breaking down the Padres’ first 23 games.

Over the first month of the season, it seems the Padres have shown us two different sides to the team. From an Opening Day blowout loss in Los Angeles to a 1-0 victory at home, the 2017 season has been a mixed bag so far. Although we are only 23 games into the season, I went ahead and delved into the pitching numbers so far, and found a couple areas of interest to watch as the season progresses.

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Location, location, location.

One common metric to examine for pitchers is performance at home vs. performance on the road. This typically has a lot of variances, depending on the park factors of the stadiums the team visits, as well as the lineup construction they face.

Padres: When looking at the Padres home vs away splits, the number is pretty gaudy.  At the time of this writing, the Padres rank 15th in the league, with a home ERA of 3.80. However, the flip side of that coin, is a rank of 28th when on the road, with a 5.63 ERA.

Comparison: The fact that this split exists is not independently troubling. Over the first month of the season, only 12 teams have a better road ERA than home ERA. Amongst those 12 teams, there is an average differential of just over a half a run per nine innings when comparing home ERA to away. 18 MLB teams have a higher road ERA than home ERA. The part of this statistic that I find potentially concerning, is that, with a difference of +1.83 in home vs road ERA, the Padres are currently owning a larger than average home vs. road split.

Factors: To try and find a cause for the large home vs road split, I went ahead and took a look at the different parks the Padres have visited, as well as the offenses the Padres have encountered on the road vs at home.

Ballpark Factors: According to ESPN, Petco park has been extremely pitcher friendly. Petco is currently in the bottom 3rd of the league for hitters, ranked 8th worst for HRs. Of the Padres 14 road games, 6 have taken place at top 4 hitters parks (Coors field and Chase field), with 8 taking place in the 13th and 15th best hitters venues (Dodgers Stadium and the new SunTrust Park). It seems pretty clear that so far this season the Padres have definitely faced some tough parks, especially compared to the favorable confines of Petco. It is also worth noting, however, that when reviewing the game logs, Padres pitchers posted an ERA of just 2.07 in the 3 games in Coors field, which is their best in any stadium this season.

Lineup Factors: According to MLB.com the Padres have faced 3 of the top 15 offenses on the road so far (AZ, COL, LA), as well as the Braves, who currently sit at 27th. At home, the Padres have dealt with the 1st ranked offense (AZ), as well as the 16th and 25th ranked offenses (MIA and SF).  While it’s hard to draw a definitive line here, it does seem like they have faced a tougher schedule on the road.

Conclusion: I am not concerned that the Padres staff does better at home than on the road.  Petco has always been a pitcher-friendly ballpark, despite seeming to move more neutral in recent years. Overall, based on the road schedule and taking both ballpark and lineup into consideration, I feel like Padres fans can definitely expect a bit of positive regression in this area. The numbers don’t look good at the moment, but we are only a month into the season, and I can confidently say that the current 5.63 ERA is a number the Padres can improve upon.

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Quality is Key

One of my favorite metrics for examining the success of a starting pitcher is the quality start (QS). A quality start is an outing, where a starting pitcher throws at least 6 innings and allows 3 or fewer earned runs. I think this designation, does a good job telling the story of how a pitcher is actually performing compared to wins or losses.  The quality start takes things like run support (or lack thereof) and bullpen performance, out of the equation.

Baseball Reference keeps a record of the percentage of quality starts by each team, noted as QS%. I went ahead and compiled these numbers for all teams in the league, to see where the Padres stack up, and the results were not pretty. Of 30 MLB teams, the Padres are currently 25th in QS% with just 35%. This brings up several warning signs.

Duration: After examining the game logs, the duration of starts is what really stood out to me about the Padres starting rotation.  It is ideal to get about 6 innings out of a starting pitcher, that way the bullpen only has to work 3 innings and is not overworked. The Padres have had 23 starts, and the starting pitcher has reached or surpassed 6 innings, just 11 times. This number will definitely need to rise to keep the strain off of the bullpen.

Run Prevention: Fortunately, the Padres have done a better job at allowing 3 earned runs or less than they have at lasting 6 innings. In the first 23 Padres games of 2017, the starter has held opponents to 3 or less earned runs 14 times.

Conclusion: Duration is clearly something that the starters will need to work on. Jered Weaver, Jhoulys Chacin, and Trevor Cahill have historically averaged more than enough innings to throw 6 in every start, with Clayton Richards logging plenty of innings and Luis Perdomo building on a career high 2016. Based on these numbers, I think it is pretty safe to assume that the duration of the starts is something we can count on improving. To log a quality start a pitcher must have a 4.50 ERA or less for the game. Nobody is going to win a Cy Young with a 4.50 ERA, but 3 runs allowed over at least 6 innings, means that the game is still well within reach. Preseason projections placed the Padres rotation at a combined average ERA of around 4.51. I’m not trying to sell you on unicorns crapping out rainbows here, admittedly it is very unlikely the Padres rotation turns into an elite unit. What I will tell you, however, is that the Padres are definitely built to increase their QS%, and that will keep us in a lot more ballgames throughout the duration of the season.

Going Forward

I know it has only been 23 games. I also know we have seen some pretty mixed results. When I started researching these different stats and scrutinizing the game logs, I had no idea exactly where it would it take me. Baseball is a game of many statistics, and trying to follow them to a logical conclusion can drive you crazy. Personally, I think that is part of the fun. I hope someone else has fun reading through my conclusions from 23 game logs and can go into the rest of the season with a bit more optimism and knowledge of the Padres 2017 pitching staff.

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