Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Players To Be Named

Today we acquired RHP Eduardo Perez and LHP Michael Watt from the Dodgers in exchange from Greg Maddux.

Eduardo is a 20-year old, 6'2" right-hander from Venezuela. Our scouting reports indicate that he has an advanced feel for pitching, throws consistent strikes with four pitches, and has the makings of a terrific changeup. Due to an elbow fracture in 2006, Eduardo has pitched just 87 innings here in the US but has posted a 3.61 ERA and has struck out 81 hitters in those innings.

Michael is a 19-year old, 6'1" left-hander from Capistrano Valley HS in California. He was the Dodgers' 2nd round pick in the 2007 draft (#86 overall). Michael has a fastball, curveball, changeup repertoire, with his changeup grading out as above average already. He's a very good strikethrower and can move the ball around the zone as evidenced by his career 2.4 walks per nine innings and his 8.6 strikeouts per nine. We've also gotten tremendous reports on his makeup - competitive, tough, aggressive.

We're excited about adding these pitchers into the mix (Watt was actually scheduled to pitch against our Instructional League team today). Not only are these two interesting arms, but also they really complement our draft from this year. As many of you know, we targeted hitters in the early rounds of the 2008 draft, but with the trades that we made (Clark, Wolf, and Maddux), we've been able to add four young arms (two of whom are high school age) into the system - Scribner, Reineke, Perez, and Watt. That doesn't even include our international signings.

When looked at as a whole, our acquisition of young talent this year has turned out to be a nice balance of hitters, pitchers, high school age, and college age.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Organizational Consistency

When I was in 6th grade, my classmates and I spent the winter playing organized intramural basketball after school. My class comprised a league of four teams (my team nicknamed themselves Phi Slama Jama, though Drexler and Olajuwon were noticeably absent), and we played two games side-by-side on shortened courts. It wasn't until 7th grade that my class had tryouts for one real team that would compete against other schools on the regulation court.

The high school varsity coaches, however, weren't waiting until even the 7th grade to build a winner.

As it turned out, the varsity basketball coach of the high school was my homeroom English teacher in 6th grade. Every now and again we were able to coax him into talking basketball rather than the subject at hand, a diversion that in retrospect he probably enjoyed as much as we did. Those talks and those seemingly chaotic intramural games had one thing in common: the flex.

The flex was a complicated offense, well complicated for 6th graders who could barely discern the difference between man-to-man and a box-and-one. By many accounts, it was complicated for high school varsity players as well, as it involved crisp passing and a lot of coordinated movement away from the ball. So, this small school in Northern Virginia that wasn't necessarily competing for national championships started teaching the flex offense... in the 6th grade.

Guess what offense we ran in the 7th grade? 8th grade? And so on.

There were two primary results from this process: 1) by the time anyone reached the varsity basketball team the flex offense was second nature and 2) we won a whole lot of basketball games - many more than our talent (or certainly my talent) would have ever dictated.

The point of this is that organizational consistency is absolutely critical for any successful venture. I don't care if you're building cars, running a platoon, or rating debt; consistency and the resulting discipline and cohesion are fundamental elements of high achievement.

Notice here that I am not judging the process in place - the merits of the flex offense or the efficiency of the assembly line. That's because there isn't necessarily one perfect way to do things, at least not that we've been able to find. In baseball there have been many successful strategies in procuring players, developing players, and winning at the Major League level. Regardless of the plan, if an organization adheres strictly to their plan, it will lead to concerted execution, and that execution will more often than not lead to success.

Readers have asked that I comment about the resignation of our hitting instructor, and this is my way of doing so. If Wally really didn't believe in our philosophy, then he absolutely did the right thing for everyone involved. I'm sure it was not fun for him to swim against the tide, and he realized that it wasn't good for the organization either. Again, this is not offering any judgment on who is right or wrong - that's immaterial, and there really isn't a right or wrong philosophy. This situation is simply an acknowledgement from all parties that for the Padres to be successful we need to believe wholeheartedly in the philosophies and practices that we, as an organization, adopt.

This also does not imply that our philosophies are set in stone, so please don't quote Emerson in the comments. In fact, I personally hope that both our continued work and intellectual curiosity reveal evidence that would force us either to refine or to tear down our current beliefs. That means we're learning and getting better. If and when that happens, though, we need to be prepared to implement our new knowledge in the Dominican Republic, Lake Elsinore, San Diego, and everywhere else in between. That is how we will be successful in our quest to become a championship organization.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Confirmation Bias

In looking over Tom Tango's experiment with fielding grades, I couldn't stop thinking about one thing... confirmation bias.

Very simply, confirmation bias describes the act of accepting only those facts that buttress a pre-existing opinion while discarding those facts that run contrary to one's opinion. In short, we're much more comfortable continuing to believe what we already believe.

Here's the bad news: this affects every single one of us.

One example in the baseball world where confirmation bias bites us is during cut meetings in Major League spring training. In this setting the Major League coaching staff, a few front office members, and possibly a scout or two sit in a room to discuss all of the players in camp and decide which ones are going to back to the minor leagues.

First, some background: there are generally 50-60 players in Major League camp and all of these guys have survived an incredibly rigorous screening process over the previous five or ten years (high school, college, rookie ball, A ball, etc) in order to be invited to camp. Let's face it - every one of these players does something well enough to merit both the invitation and some enthusiasm from people in the room. On the flip side, there has never been a perfect player.

So, there we sit discussing the skills of a highly qualified and tested group where the distinction between players is very, very thin. However, what becomes clear is that for the players we want to keep in big league camp, we generally talk about what they can do. For the players we want to send down, we tend to focus on what they can't do, so the decisions seem obvious (which they're not). Understand, I keep using "we" because every one of us in the room is guilty - we can't help ourselves!

So, why do we do this?

I remember a time when Bill Parcells was in the midst of a so-called "quarterback controversy" where every week he was being asked about his quarterback. Week after week he had to answer the same questions in the same way, further committing to a certain QB. Then in one game in which they were losing, Parcells changed his QB in the second half, and they went on to win the game. Afterwards the press was grilling him about the QB change, attempting to get him to comment on the controversy, and saying, "I thought you said player x was your quarterback." Bill leaned into the microphone, probably as only Parcells can, and enunciating slowly, said:

"I changed my mind."

The fact is that it can be really difficult to change your mind, especially when you've taken a public stand on an issue. Nobody wants to be seen as a flip-flopper (I'll stay away from any partisan jabs) or someone without conviction. However, that mindset can often handicap us in making the best decision.

Circumstances change, rules change, new information becomes available. Many things can happen that should alter our position on a topic, but that's simply tough for us to do.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Time To Be A Scout

For anyone out there who is interested, Tom Tango, author of The Book, has run a study for the past few years that measures defensive ability by aggregating the opinions of fans who watch a particular team.

I'm including the link here for the Padres page, but if you're a diehard of some other team (we'll forgive you for now) you can navigate around. I'll be checking back in to see if your answers are correct. :) Kidding. Have fun with it.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Charlie Haeger and Scott Patterson

We've been active on the waiver wire in the past 48 hours as we've claimed two right-handed pitchers: Charlie Haeger from the Chicago White Sox and Scott Patterson from the New York Yankees.

Charlie is a young (24) knuckleballer who was originally drafted as a more conventional pitcher by the White Sox in the 25th round in 2001. After pitching two seasons, Charlie went on the voluntary retired list for all of the 2003 season. I believe the history is that Charlie decided to come back in 2004 armed with a new weapon - the knuckler. He then moved quickly through the ranks, reaching both AAA and the Major Leagues in 2006. Over the past three seasons Charlie has amassed nearly 500 innings in AAA with a 3.87 ERA and an additional 30 innings in the big leagues with a 4.85 ERA.

Quite frankly, this is a situation where fit matters. As is the case with most knuckleballers, Charlie can walk some hitters, and he can give up some fly balls. That's not a great combo in the American League, particularly in US Cellular in Chicago, but it's more palatable in our environment. Kevin Towers has said in the past that he's been intrigued with the idea of a knuckleballer in our park given the coastal weather conditions and the spacious outfield. In a more general sense, knuckleballers can also create some flexibility within a pitching staff due to their ability to pitch often and in a variety of roles.

Scott Patterson (29 years old) has taken an equally interesting path to the Major Leagues. The West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference pitcher of the year in 2002, Scott went undrafted and signed with the Gateway Grizzlies in the Frontier League. After a few successful seasons as a starter, an invitation to the Seattle Mariners minor league spring training, and a move to the pen, Scott really blossomed. In June of 2006 the Yankees signed Scott away from the independent leagues and sent him straight to AA Trenton. Over the next year and half Scott pitched 113 innings, allowed 71 hits and 23 walks while striking out 135 hitters. His performance enticed the Yankees to add him to the 40-man roster last winter.

2008 marked the first season that Scott began at the AAA level, and he broke through to the Majors pitching one inning for the Yankees. Despite battling pneumonia in the middle of the season, Scott's AAA totals over the past year plus are: 50 innings, 47 hits, 13 walks, and 55 strikeouts. A 6'6", 230 lb man, Scott has a deceptive delivery that has proven to give hitters all kinds of problems. Another flyball pitcher, Scott should be a good fit for Petco Park. Scouts Rich Bordi and Van Smith both have written positive reports on him, and we're excited to add him to our bullpen mix.

In addition to getting a chance to play all of our young players this September, the only other consolation to being in our current position is that it allows us to be aggressive on the waiver wire (we're near the front of the line). We plan to use that to our advantage, and we think both Charlie and Scott have a chance to help the Major League club going forward.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Lake Elsinore

It comes down to tonight for the Storm.

After winning their first playoff series in a quick two game sweep, they are now tied 2-2 in a best of five series with Lancaster to determine who is going to the Cal League Championship. Jeremy Hefner, called up after a fantastic season in Ft. Wayne, gets the ball tonight after throwing three shutout innings with six strikeouts earlier in the series out of the bullpen.

There have been a number of stellar performances so far as Mitch Canham, Luis Durango, Cedric Hunter, and Eric Sogard are all hitting .360 or better for the playoffs. Unfortunately, the Storm lost Kellen Kulbacki (who was hitting .333/.429/.833 in the playoffs) after he made a diving catch in the outfield. He re-injured his right (non-throwing) shoulder and will miss the rest of the year. James Darnell, our 2nd round pick this year, was called on to replace Kulbacki on the roster taking over the 3B duties while Brian Joynt, the regular 3B, has moved to the OF to cover for Kulbacki.

If you have to have more on Allan Dykstra, Cedric Hunter, Eric Sogard, Kellen Kulbacki, and James Darnell, check out the Padres Channel. New "first take" videos that include interviews with these guys as well as some highlights from Lake Elsinore's recent game at Petco have been uploaded.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Antonelli and LeBlanc

I thought I'd let this one be a surprise for everyone either watching the game last night or reading the box score this morning. By now you probably know that we've purchased the contracts of both Matt Antonelli and Wade LeBlanc.

Matt started last night for the Padres at 2B and notched his first big league hit, against Greg Maddux no less. Matt's struggles this year at AAA have been well-chronicled. After spending a good part of the season with a batting average on the interstate, Anto had an Antonelli-like August which pushed his final season numbers at AAA to .215/.335/.322. That certainly wasn't what anyone was expecting this season. However, Matt's line in August of .290/.391/.473 was precisely what we were hoping for at some point during this season. The encouraging thing throughout the year was that Matt never lost his plate discipline despite his overall batting line, which is a testament to his strong mental makeup. The fact is that we pushed Matt aggressively through the system, his most recent promotion to the big leagues being no exception. Remember, the Padres drafted Anto just barely more than two years ago.

The 2B position has been a tough spot for the Padres over the past four seasons. Starting with 2005, we've ranked 15th, 10th, 15th, and 15th in the National League at 2B in terms of OPS. That isn't the end-all, be-all stat, but it does indicate that we haven't been competitive with the rest of the league at 2B even after considering park factors. Certainly, Edgar Gonzalez's bat has helped, but we thought this was as good a time as any, probably the best time actually, to get Antonelli some Major League experience, because we believe he will eventually make a difference at that position for us.

Wade LeBlanc is joining the Major League rotation with his first start coming tomorrow night (Wednesday) against the Dodgers. Like Antonelli, LeBlanc was a 2006 draft by the Padres and has moved rapidly through the system. We knew we were pushing him by putting him in AAA at the beginning of the season, and his performance reflected that: a 9.27 ERA in April and a 6.56 ERA in May. However, Wade surged in June and over the final three months went 93 innings with 80 hits, 20 walks, and 103 strikeouts.

The most significant part of these two callups and what separates them from your typical September callup is the fact that neither player needed to be protected on the 40-man roster this winter. I know it may not seem like it, but that is a big deal. Bringing these two players now is a loud statement for the Padres. I'll expand on that thought in a later post.

Quick Update: Both AA San Antonio and High-A Lake Elsinore have pulled through and qualified for the playoffs! Additionally, short-A Eugene is still alive - one game back with two to play. Playoffs in AA and High-A begin on Wednesday.