by Joshua Worley
The Big Question, Part 1
Are the Padres better than the Dodgers? A lot of people would point to the team's current run differential as proof that the Padres are better than the Dodgers, and that it's just a matter of time until they pull out ahead. The Padres have a +79 run differential; the Dodgers are at +30.
I'm not impressed by this argument, though.
First, run differential only tells us what the teams have done, not what they will do. If the Dodgers were going with the same lineup and pitching staff all year, then I would be more concerned about the run differential. But Loney is now in the lineup, Kemp is in about half the time, and Tomko and Hendrickson have been exiled to the rump of the bullpen.
Second, one can go deeper than run differential to really look at how well a team has played, and in this measure the Dodgers now come out ahead of the Padres!
That link goes to the Baseball Prospectus adjusted standings, which lists real wins as well as first, second, and third order wins, the idea being that these higher order wins will do a better job of capturing how well a team has actually played so far. Anyone who cares to make the run differential argument in favor of the Padres is looking at only the first order wins. They aren't looking deep enough. The Padres are slightly behind the Dodgers in third order winning percentage.
Based on third order wins the Snakes should actually be last in the NL West, which supports my feeling that they're not going to hang around near the lead for much longer. If they can't get some more out of the young players, and if they can't keep Randy's back healthy, then they're likely sunk.
Let's imagine, for a moment, that the Padre team is a single pitcher. This pitcher has a great, awesome 97 MPH fastball. This fastball is the Padre bullpen. It's the best fastball around. But the problem is, this pitcher can't quite locate the fastball reliably. Oh, he can sometimes, maybe even often. But there are times, too many times, when this great fastball is left out over the plate and a good hitter can smack it for a home run. Kind of like the pitch Russ Martin crushed over the center field wall yesterday.
The Padre bullpen, as good as it is, has failed the team a lot. The Padres, as a team, just can't seem to leverage their great bullpen as effectively as they could. They've lost 15 games, to only 5 bullpen losses for the Dodgers. I made this point about all the Padre bullpen losses in my last preview of a Padre-Dodger series, and nothing has changed since then. A lot of the Padre 'pen losses can be written off as bad luck or bad late inning offense, of course. Now I also said last time that the Padre bullpen would be the better bet between the two teams moving forward. I'm not so sure of that anymore, and it has little to do with the win-loss records of each 'pen.
Team -- ERA -- ( W - L ) -- K/9 -- BB/9 -- HR/9
Dodgers -- 3.52 -- ( 13 - 5 ) -- 9.3 -- 2.8 -- 0.52
Padres -- 2.45 -- ( 12 - 15 ) -- 6.6 -- 2.8 -- 0.55
Sure, the Padre 'pen is a full run better than the Dodger 'pen in ERA. But in the three fielding independent measures of pitching, the Padre 'pen is not better. The teams are about equally brilliant in suppressing walks and home runs, while the Dodgers are far superior in striking out batters. And no, I haven't secretly removed Joe Beimel and his tiny strikeout rate from the Dodger 'pen stats.
So I'm saying it now: the Dodger 'pen is better than the Padre 'pen. They have been better, at least in terms of how much their brilliance has been "timely" and benefited the team, and they will be better, based on clearly superior fielding independent stats.
The Padre 'pen is still really good, though. Here they are, with full names, ERA, and throwing arm listed.
Roger Royce Ring -- 0.00 -- left
He's the new guy in the pen, just called up after Brocail went on the DL. He's only pitched 5 innings in the NL so far. Did very well in AAA. Think Tsao very early in his Dodger career.
Kevin John Cameron -- 0.36 -- right
Call him Mr. Lucky. He's only 20-16 in strikeouts to walks. Think a right-handed Beimel, an absurdly effective pitcher with a poor K to BB ratio.
Justin Michael Hampson -- 2.59 -- left
Beimel version 2, only he's also left handed. I should note that these two guys do have slightly better K rates than Beimel, and they haven't blown up like Beimel did in Tampa yet. But it's coming.
Olise Claiborne Meredith -- 3.38 -- right
Olise has piled up 5 losses. The 1.07 ERA wonderboy of last season has fallen back to earth this year. This is Tsao later in the year, right before he was injured, when he started getting hit more but was still decent.
Scott Cameron Linebrink -- 2.60 -- right
The Padres lead the league in Camerons. Here's another guy whose stats don't seem to quite add up. None of these relievers are making me think of Broxton, Saito, relief Billingsley, or even Seanez so far. Still, he has done well.
Heath Justin Bell -- 1.55 -- right
Ding ding ding! Ring the bell, we have a winner for Padres relief ace. Finally someone who can strike out batters at an elite rate. Think Broxton. Think a little better than Broxton, even.
Trevor William Hoffman -- 1.86 -- right
Think Takashi Saito with more walks and fewer strikeouts and more losses and blown saves and tons more hype. Look, the Dodgers don't want to ever see Hoffman pitch when the Padres have the lead, but right now Saito is clearly better.
The Padres infield defense is slightly above average, according to the hardballtimes.com team stats. Starters are listed with position along with AVG, OBP, and SLG.
Marcus William Giles -- 2B -- 0.257 -- 0.333 -- 0.358
This is what I fear Jeff Kent's batting line will look like next year if he plays.
Khalil Thabit Greene -- SS -- 0.242 -- 0.276 -- 0.477
He's like the Snakes's Chris Young, only without all the prospect-hype. Home runs and not much else.
Adrian Gonzalez -- 1B -- 0.282 -- 0.352 -- 0.506
He's cooled down a lot in June. He's still have a better June than poor Nomar. I'm really worried about Nomar now. What on earth is wrong with him? If I didn't know better, I'd think he'd been infected by an alien brain slug. He just seems to have no life.
Kevin Kouzmanoff -- 3B -- 0.217 -- 0.279 -- 0.374
He's the new Mr. May. After a great May with an OPS of 0.950, he's thudded back to earth with an Tony Abreu-level June. See, I was correct when I expressed some skepticism about Kouz back at the end of May:
Kouz is clearly no longer the automatic out he once was, though it's far too soon to say that he's going to go on to a successful year. But an important part of the Padres nice record of 18-9 in May was Kouzmanoff's surge.
An important part of the Padres going 13-11 so far in June was Kouz falling off.
Geoff Blum is the Padre utility infielder, with Branyan also seeing a little time at third base.
Another solid defensive unit, according to hardballtimes. But who is going to play here? It seems like it may well be Bradley in left, Cameron in center, and Giles in right.
Michael Terrance Cameron -- CF -- 0.264 -- 0.324 -- 0.444
He's hitting like Andre Ethier, more or less. Not that impressive, though Cameron is in center, not right, and plays half his games in a severe run-suppressing environment.
Brian Stephen Giles -- RF -- 0.276 -- 0.347 -- 0.347
It's not a good sign when the first thought that comes into one's mind when looking for a comparable is "Juan Pierre". Giles has one home run so far. Ouch. I love the matching SLG and OBP, though.
Milton Obelle Bradley -- LF -- 0.292 -- 0.373 -- 0.446
The deal still doesn't seem to be official yet. And I don't know if he's even healthy enough to play. But if he can play for the Padres, he immediately becomes their best outfielder.
Also, there is Sledge, Cruz, Branyan, and Bocachica in the outfield. They've all been mildly serviceable, except for Bocachica who will likely be the one to go when Bradley comes on board. Though Bocachica did kill the Dodgers in the last series.
It's the starting pitching matchups that will lead people to think the Dodgers are going to lose this series. I'm going to approach this game by game for this series. Coming up later today, a look at Kuo v Young.
The Big Question, Part 2
Are the Padres better than the Dodgers? No. But nor can we say with any confidence that the Dodgers are better than the Padres. These teams appear to be very evenly matched for the next three months. The Padres may take 2 of 3 in this series, but then they may go and lose the next two when old pitchers Maddux and Wells go. This series is going to be great, maybe epic, but it won't tell the story of the rest of the season.