A.J. Preller Wasn’t Crazy This Offseason

17
Sep

After the failures of the San Diego Padres this season—they sit at 68-78 as of this writing—it has become in vogue to look down on the moves that general manager A.J. Preller made in the 2014-15 offseason. That’s not a crazy thing to do. After all, the Padres have not succeeded despite their big investment in major league talent via trades and signings.

San Diego took on millions of dollars in salary between players like Melvin Upton and Matt Kemp hoping that Kemp would bounce back and in order to get Justin Upton from the Atlanta Braves. These moves were bold, but not crazy in the moment. The Padres were a very popular pick to go to the playoffs and be a dark horse contender for the World Series.1

Effectively Wild hosts Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller have discussed on several podcasts just how some of these moves should be viewed. The Padres took on a lot of money in the Kemp deal and gave away a quality catcher in Yasmani Grandal2 hoping that Kemp would return to form after three years of mixed seasons due to injury. Lindbergh and Miller point out that no one thought that Kemp would be a roughly replacement level player based on which version you choose—0.9 WAR and 2.7 WARP. Not pundits, not writers, and not many fans.

Preller was unlucky here and I’m looking to measure that a bit. In the tables below, you’ll see how the main position players and pitchers have done and did for the Padres in 2015 and then where their performance falls on Baseball Prospectus’s preseason forecasts for these players. The predictions, certainly not a perfect measure of how Preller and the rest of MLB may have seen these moves in the moment, are broken down by a percentile basis. If a player hits their 90th percentile projection, it means they did as well as could reasonably be assumed by a prediction formula. On the other end, if they’re in their 10th percentile projection, it’s almost as bad as they could do on the season.

I compared the base level stats to the preseason forecasts and chose which percentile to place the players in. There was no perfect fit, but some fit better in their chosen percentile than others.

 AVGOBPSLGOPS+WARP

Closest
Forecast
Percentile

Derek Norris - C.244.291.398911.3

20

Yonder Alonso - 1B.282.361.3811091.0

50

Jedd Gyorko - IF.243.294.399920.6

30

Will Middlebrooks - 3B.212.241.36166-0.5

20

Yangervis Solarte - 3B.274.327.4311111.7

80

Cory Spangenburg - 2B.266.317.383960.5

80

Alexi Amarista - IF.212.265.303590.0

20

Justin Upton - LF.252.337.4551203.5

40

Wil Myers - CF.270.328.4591181.0

70

Matt Kemp - RF.268.316.4431102.8

30

Melvin Upton - OF.244.310.4171020.9

80

Will Venable - OF.258.318.378950.2

40

 ERAERA+FIPDRAWARP

Closest
Forecast
Percentile

Ian Kennedy - SP4.28864.745.030.0

30

James Shields - SP3.80974.344.720.7

30

Andrew Cashner - SP4.27873.944.930.2

30

Tyson Ross - SP3.241143.083.453.3

80

Odrisamer Despaigne - SP5.79644.755.46-0.7

10

Craig Kimbrel - RP2.891293.013.290.9

10

You can sort those tables above by any stat you wish, but here’s the general breakdown: 2 in the 10th percentile; 3 in the 20th; 5 in the 30th; 2 in the 40th; 1 in the 50th; 1 in the 70th; and 4 in the 80th. That’s 12 below the 50th, one in the 50th, and five above the 50th.

Five is no small number of players to out perform their projections, especially when four of those five are as high as the 80th percentile. The biggest issue with the players that have done well are who they are. Yangervis Solarte, Cory Spangenburg, Melvin Upton, and Tyson Ross are the players that have outperformed their projections the most and they had low ceilings for the most part. Ross is the highest upside of the most successful stories.

Solarte, Spangenburg, and Upton have 1.7, 0.5, and 0.9 WARP respectively.

Players like Kemp, Justin Upton, Craig Kimbrel, James Shields, Ian Kennedy, and Andrew Cashner are all performing below expectations. This is far more damaging that the players discussed above doing well because of how many of the plate appearances and innings pitched that they’re taking up and how much higher their expectations were going into 2015.

Kemp

My breakdown above does not take account of every player on the team, that seemed . . . too taxing. But of the players studied above, 2,988 plate appearances or 55% of the Padres total plate appearances are from players below their 50th percentile forecast; 402 PA or 7.4% are at the 50th; 1,196 or 22% are above the 50th.

For pitchers; 683.5 or 52.5% of the Padres total innings pitched are below the 50th percentile while just 184 or 14.1% are above. Again, specifically with pitchers, these are only selected personally based on who pitched the most as starters and the closer in Kimbrel. Joaquin Benoit and Shawn Kelley have pitched well out of the pen.

This isn’t all-encompassing and isn’t perfect in any way, but it gives a nice view of how unlucky the moves have been for Preller. Viewed by the preseason forecasts, Preller’s most important signings and trades have mostly performed below expectations. If players performed at their 50th percentile projections, they’d likely be closer to the playoffs, though in the NL, it’s unlikely they’d make it regardless.

Wins are what matter and Preller failed in the overall moves that he made in his first offseason in charge of the Padres. He likely got the job by convincing ownership that he could turn this around in one year. It might have worked. It didn’t, but these moves weren’t crazy. The players have not performed for various reasons, both predictable and unpredictable. It’s not time to throw Preller out of the pundit pronounced list of smart GMs though.


  1. Most teams that make the playoffs are at least a dark horse for the World Series of course. 

  2. Grandal: .252/.365/.426 and a 120 OPS+ 

About the author: Colby Rogers

Colby is the Editor-in-Chief, Founder and Lead Contributor to Other League. Also a law student focusing on Labor & Employment law and intersections with law and sports. You can find him on Twitter via @Colby_OL.