Does James Shields Make the Padres a Playoff Team in 2015?
As some wise people once said, sometimes, "it's time to change."
The San Diego Padres must have gotten that message loud and clear this off-season, as new general manager A.J. Preller put his foot on the gas and completely remade his team from last year. Take a look at the squad that played the most games at each position last year, compared to the projected starting lineup and rotation of 2015.
|C||Rene Rivera||Derek Norris|
|1B||Yonder Alonso||Yonder Alonso|
|2B||Jedd Gyorko||Jedd Gyorko|
|3B||Chase Headley||Alexi Amarista|
|SS||Everth Cabrera||Will Middlebrooks|
|LF||Seth Smith||Justin Upton|
|CF||Cameron Maybin||Wil Myers|
|RF||Will Venable||Matt Kemp|
|SP1||Andrew Cashner||James Shields|
|SP2||Tyson Ross||Andrew Cashner|
|SP3||Ian Kennedy||Tyson Ross|
|SP4||Odrisamer Despaigne||Ian Kennedy|
|SP5||Eric Stults||Odrisamer Despaigne|
That's a pretty massive turnaround from one year to the next, and it's reflected in their payroll, which is projected to be a little more than $100 million for 2015, up from $91 million on Opening Day last year, and way up from $68.3 million the previous season.
As part of their new-found aggression, the Padres signed free agent starter James Shields to a very reasonable four-year, $75 million contract on Monday that also includes an option for a fifth year.
No, Shields has not lived up to his "Big Game" nickname, thrust upon him before he had ever actually proven he performed better in big situations. But there is no denying that the guy is a top-of-the-rotation starter and instantly gives the Padres a rotation that can contend with the Dodgers and Giants in the NL West.
It's interesting to note that Shields will be playing along side the principal player for whom he was traded when Kansas City acquired Shields from Tampa back in December of 2010. Wil Myers was acquired in a trade from Tampa earlier in the off-season and now will play center field behind Shields every fifth day.
Despite his shortcomings in the postseason, Shields is an extremely valuable starter to have at the top of the rotation. Last year, his nERD of 2.03 -- which means if Shields pitched a 27-out game he'd give up 2.03 runs a game less than a league-average pitcher -- was eighth-best among all Major League pitchers. He pitched 227 innings (not counting the postseason) with an ERA of 3.21, a Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) of 3.59 and posted a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.09, which was his best mark since 2007.
He's also extremely durable, leading the league in starts made (34) last year for the second straight year.
So how does San Diego's new-fangled rotation stack up with the other beasts of the West, the Dodgers and Giants?
Here is the Dodgers' rotation...
...here is the Giants' rotation...
...and here is the Padres' rotation.
Keep in mind, by the time the playoffs rolled around last year, San Francisco basically had Madison Bumgarner and a collection of two-inning pitchers left at their disposal. They did nothing to upgrade that rotation in 2015 but are hoping a returning Matt Cain from injury will help.
Clayton Kershaw is obviously the best pitcher in the game and gives the Dodgers an advantage that no other team has. When you add up last year's fWAR totals, the Padres' five starters tally up 11.8 wins against replacement, while the Dodgers total 18.7. Sure, seven of those wins come from Kershaw, but that still leaves L.A. with at least three starters with fWARs between 3.0 and 3.9.
From top to bottom, the Dodgers still appear to have the best rotation in the division. And as for Shields, it's fair to wonder when the mileage on his right arm is finally going to start taking its toll. Since 2007, his first full season as a Major League starter, only one pitcher in baseball has thrown more pitches than Shields has.
Even though Shields is only signed for four years, that still takes him through his 36th birthday, which, in addition to all the pitches he's thrown the last eight years, could make for an ugly end to the deal. But that's pretty much the case for every starting pitcher signed to a multi-year deal in free agency.
If San Diego struggles this year it will most likely be the fault of the offense. Even though they've remade their outfield by trading for Justin Upton, Myers, and Matt Kemp, Myers and Kemp come with injury histories and question marks. Upton, however, should provide lots of power to a team whose leader last year was the recently-departed Yasmani Grandal, who hit a grand total of 15 home runs.
Back for a return engagement is first baseman Yonder Alonso, who managed a mere .682 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) and 7 home runs last year and second baseman Jedd Gyorko, who had an OPS of .612 and just 10 homers in 2014. They'll be relying on Kemp to stay healthy and contribute another 25 homers, Myers to return to his Rookie of the Year form when he had an OPS of .831 with 13 homers and 23 doubles in 373 plate appearances, and new catcher Derek Norris, an All-Star last year for Oakland where he put up an OPS of .763 with 10 homers and 19 doubles.
The signing of Shields certainly gives San Diego the second-best rotation in the division and, with the addition of some pieces on offense, makes the Padres a threat for a wild card in the National League.
The Padres are trying to prove that "change is good." We'll see if their voice cracks anyway in 2015.