The Padres are such an abject failure they will stand as a monument to what happens when talented individuals do not play team baseball.
The wait is over for the “run” we thought might be coming from this team. The Padres (67–77) are eight games out of a wild-card spot with 18 games to play. Their failure in the finer points of the game is epic. They are 0–11 in extra-inning games, 6–22 in one-run games and have never won four games in a row.
How could a team with the highest payroll in baseball outside of New York and with seven Silver Sluggers—six of whom have finished in the top six in MVP voting—turn out to be such a disappointing offensive club? This is what happens when there is not enough buy-in toward the greater good over individual numbers.
The Padres are the worst team in baseball at hitting in late and close situations, the worst team in baseball at hitting the ball the other way and the worst team in baseball when it comes to giving pitchers free strikes.
There is no excuse for what happened to San Diego. Not bad luck. Not injuries. They have five qualified hitters with an OPS+ better than average. Only the Braves and Phillies have more such regulars. No, the Padres earned every bit of their underachievement.
You want their season in a nutshell? Here you go: They have been lousy at almost every measurement of team offensive baseball.
Padres MLB Hitting Ranks
Late & Close
They have been historically bad when it comes to big spots.
Worst Hitting Teams Late & Close Since 1969
1. 2022 Angels (73–89)
T2. 2023 Padres (67–77)
T2. 2019 Padres (70–92)
T4. 2000 Cubs (65–97)
T4. 2012 Rays (90–72)
It’s not easy hitting in late and close situations. The rise of deeper bullpens, velocity and spin have dropped the batting average in those spots from .258 in 2006 to .234 this year. The four lowest late and close MLB averages in the wild-card era (since 1995) have all been in the past four seasons. That said, Trent Grisham (.096), Matt Carpenter (.121), Manny Machado (.125), Jake Cronenworth (.157), Xander Bogaerts (.206) and Gary Sánchez (.212) all come in well below league average in the big moments.
In addition to taking too many strikes and not using the whole field, San Diego’s problems include coaching instability. A.J. Preller is the only GM in baseball who has changed hitting coaches seven times since 2015. And over these nine years, the Padres have been last in the majors in hits, last in batting average and last in on-base percentage. Nothing takes root.
The average MLB team hits better with RISP (.257) than overall (.249). In simplest terms, hitters know in RISP spots they and their team can be rewarded by just putting the ball in play, whereas lower-leverage situations encourage selling out more for extra bases. The Padres have an inverse profile. They are worse with runners in scoring position (.237) than overall (.240).
But what if we are overrating batting with runners in scoring position? As the baseball equivalent of the NFL’s “red zone,” it’s a popular narrative in broadcasts. But does it really matter? How strong of a link is there between RISP hitting and winning? Check the RISP rankings of the past six World Series winners:
World Series Champions, RISP Batting Average Ranking
2018 Red Sox
The past six world champions have finished in the top five in RISP hitting. Who are the top five this year? The Orioles, Rays, Red Sox, Astros and Rangers. The Braves are eighth, which may seem like a vulnerability given the past six champions, but they have hit the most home runs in those spots.
Nothing changes an outcome like the home run. So why use batting average, anyway? Maybe you like OPS+ better when it comes to RISP. Let’s widen the scope and look for the best teams in the divisional era (since 1969) when it comes to OPS+ in RISP:
Highest OPS+, RISP since 1969 (Full Seasons Only)
T1. 1975 Red Sox
Lost World Series
T1. 2013 Cardinals
Lost World Series
3. 1969 Reds
T4. 1970 Braves
T4. 2018 Red Sox
Won World Series
What about the recency test of champions we saw with batting average? Here are how the past six champions ranked in OPS+ with RISP:
World Series Champions, OPS+ Ranking with RISP
2018 Red Sox
The correlation is even stronger. It turns out RISP hitting really does have serious value, especially in the bullpen-dominated game of this era, when hits are hard to get.
No team outside the top three in RISP as measured by OPS+ has won the World Series since the 2016 Cubs (ranked eighth at the time). Further, in every World Series matchup since ’14, the pennant winner with the better OPS+ with RISP won the series. Nine-for-nine.
Based on that history, if you want a peek at who is going to win the World Series this year, the best RISP teams as measured by OPS+ are the Astros (No. 1), Braves and Orioles (tied for No. 2). The Dodgers are fourth, and the Rays are fifth. If form holds when it comes to hitting in key spots, the next champion is likely to come from among that group.