Why Did the San Diego Padres Fire Bud Black?

Seen as one of the better managers in baseball, Black has been fired by San Diego after a slow start.

The San Diego Padres' self-transformation has not gone well thus far.

In the offseason, general manager A.J. Preller completely remade a roster that went 77-85 in 2014 and finished 17 games behind the Dodgers and 11 games behind the Giants in the National League West. In fact, the team had not had a winning record since going 90-72 in 2010, and hadn't made the playoffs since an 88-74 campaign in 2006, when they won the division.

Preller wanted to be a player in a very tough division and over the winter aggressively went about re-making the team. He traded for a whole new outfield in Justin Upton, Wil Myers and Matt Kemp. He got a new catcher in Derek Norris and a new third baseman in Will Middlebrooks. He traded for one of the best closers in baseball in Craig Kimbrel, and he signed starting pitcher James Shields to a free agent contract.

Frankly, those are more big moves than most general managers make in a career, and he did it all in the span of about four months. Unfortunately, many of those moves haven't paid so far, and as a result, it has cost manager Bud Black his job.

In a little more than eight seasons, Black went 649-713 and was named Manager of the Year in 2010 after leading San Diego to 90 wins but no playoff berth. And with the team stumbling out of the gate at 32-33, six games out of first and 2 1/2 games behind the Giants, and with a new general manager who is looking to put his own stamp on this franchise, Black's fate was sealed.

The Padres have been the very definition of mediocre, 16-17 at home and 16-16 on the road. Their run differential is -6. That's an average baseball team. But why? What is holding the Padres back?

Too-Right Handed

Below is the team's offensive numbers in the key statistical categories, with their ranking among NL teams in parenthesis.

Padres4.2 (13).246 (10).302 (13).373 (14)6.9 (10)22.3 (14)278 (T-2)52 (T-9)

The Padres have done relatively well against left-handed pitching, with a weighted runs created (wRC+) of 95, which may not seem like much but is sixth-best in the National League, and a slash line of .251/.320/.364. Interestingly, they have only hit seven homers as a team against left-handers, a surprisingly low number given the presence of Upton and Kemp. But they're worse against right-handers, 12th in the NL in wRC+ (89) with a slash line of .244/.297/.375.

And while Upton (.286/.366/.491, 13 home runs, wRC+ 141, 1.6 fWAR) has been a terrific addition offensively, Kemp has been a disaster, easily one of the worst players in the National League. In 270 plate appearances, Kemp is hitting .249/.289/.340 with a mere two homers and a hard-to-believe wRC+ of 78. His fWAR of -0.6 is worst among position players on the team.

Two other additions, Myers and Middlebrooks, have been largely disappointing as well. Myers has missed some time this year with a sore wrist, and when he's been in there, he's performed decently at the plate, hitting .277/.327/.459 with five homers and a wRC+ of 122 in 159 plate appearances. But his wrist is bothering him again and he is back on the 15-day disabled list, with fears growing he could need surgery. As for Middlebrooks, he's hitting .227/.259/.389 with eight dingers and a wRC+ of just 80.

Underachieving Arms

Neither the starters, nor the bullpen, have acquitted themselves exceptionally well this year, either.

Starters3.1 (7)4.11 (10) 4.04 (7)3.48 (6)8.62 (2)2.81 (11)1.23 (14)197 (13)
Relievers0.3 (14)3.62 (9)3.89 (14)3.83 (11)8.14 (10)3.39 (11)0.99 (14)87 (T-8)

It would appear the Padres have been getting a lot of strikeouts from their starters, which would be a good thing. However, much of that is due to Shields' 10.68 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9). He is 7-0 with a 3.59 ERA, a 4.13 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), and an fWAR of 0.7, so he's done his job. And while Tyson Ross is just 3-6 on the season with a 3.81 ERA and a 3.01 FIP, his fWAR is more than double that of Shields, thanks to an impossibly low 0.36 home runs allowed per nine innings (HR/9).

However, the team's other three starters have not done the job. Andrew Cashner (4.16 ERA, 4.15 FIP), Ian Kennedy (5.84 ERA, 5.24 FIP), and Odrisamer Despaigne (4.33 ERA, 4.23 FIP) have all been different shades of bad.

And the bullpen has been a hot mess. Kimbrel has a 3.60 ERA and a 2.90 FIP, not horrible stats but far worse than his career numbers, although his strikeout and walk rate are nearly the same as his career marks. But oddly enough, playing in pitcher-friendly Petco Park for half his games, Kimbrel has seen his HR/9 jump considerably this year, giving up 1.08 homers per nine, far higher than his career 0.43.

The rest of the crew has been right in the middle of the pack, with the best work coming from Brandon Maurer and his 1.69 ERA and 2.85 FIP. He and Joaquin Benoit are the only relievers with an ERA under 3.00, but only one other reliever with more than 20 innings pitched this year has an ERA over 4.00. So, it's a mixed bag.

My Heavens, the Defense

I submit this, without an initial comment.

Okay, now, the comment. That's ridiculously bad.

Everyone knew the defense could be the team's biggest issue when Preller was putting the 2015 Padres together, and it certainly has become just that. Their -18 Defensive Runs Saved is second-worst in the league (ahead of only the Phillies' ghastly -45), and their Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), which tells us how much ground they're able to cover, is 26.7 runs worse than a league average team, last in the league.

Myers as a center fielder was a horrible ide: he's accounted for -9 DRS by himself. Upton and Kemp each were worth -1 DRS, and Will Venable has chipped in another -5 DRS. That's -16 DRS from those four outfielders alone. Middlebrooks also hasn't helped, he's at -4 DRS at third, although the rest of the infield is about league average at their positions. Only the new catcher Norris has been well above average defensively, at 4 DRS this season.


It's hard to say just how much of Black's firing was the result of the play on the field, which hasn't been good, and the team's desire to move in a new direction. Certainly their slow start gave Preller the opportunity to make a move.

Whether it will positively affect the play on the field is yet to be seen.