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Walk the walk? Padres hope to boost OBP

Additions of Hosmer, Headley, Stairs made with eye toward improving plate approach
MLB.com @AJCassavell

SAN DIEGO -- The 2016 Padres hit more home runs than any Padres team had ever hit. A year later, the '17 club smashed that record.

And yet, in each of those years, San Diego slumped toward the bottom of the Majors in offense. It's no secret why.

SAN DIEGO -- The 2016 Padres hit more home runs than any Padres team had ever hit. A year later, the '17 club smashed that record.

And yet, in each of those years, San Diego slumped toward the bottom of the Majors in offense. It's no secret why.

"I like home runs -- you score every time you hit one," said Padres manager Andy Green. "But I'd like to score two or three runs every time we hit one."

And therein lies the most important issue facing the 2018 San Diego Padres: improving their on-base percentage. The Padres have finished last in the Majors in OBP each of the past two seasons. A year ago, they reached base at a .299 clip -- 10 points worse than the 29th-ranked Giants. During the offseason, every offensive move San Diego made was with an eye on improving that number.

The Padres signed Eric Hosmer (.385 OBP). They traded for Chase Headley (.352 OBP). They hired Matt Stairs as hitting coach (.356 career OBP), a year after Stairs filled the same role in Philadelphia and brought a patient approach to a similarly young offense.

Video: Preller on excitement over Padres signing Hosmer

"We're going to limit the at-bats we give away, which will up our on-base percentage," said Stairs, who was hired in October to replace Alan Zinter. "[If we do that] we're capable of a ton. Look at the talent we have, with power, with speed, with the ability to drive the ball to every part of the ballpark."

The Padres are still in the early stages of what they hope is a push toward annual playoff contention. They boast one of the league's youngest rosters and the sport's best farm system, according to MLB Pipeline. If their pitching struggles in 2018, it won't be catastrophic -- there are reinforcements in the Minor Leagues, and the rotation of the future hasn't really begun to crystallize.

But San Diego's offense of the future has. Hunter Renfroe, Austin Hedges, Manuel Margot and Wil Myers are clear pieces in the organization's long-term vision. In 2017, none of the four reached base at a rate the Padres were pleased with.

To some extent, they're young hitters, and those struggles were understandable. That doesn't diminish the need for change.

"We couldn't really string hits together," Renfroe said. "Some of it was, we were young, we were a little inexperienced. Now we've got a year under our belt. ... We're ready to punch back, and obviously we brought in guys like Hoz, Headley, who know what they're doing and get on base a lot. We're going to be better."

Video: 30 Clubs in 30 Days: Renfroe on improving at the dish

They have to be. If this Padres offense -- with the new personnel, deeper lineup and additional experience -- were to post similar on-base numbers, it'd qualify as disastrous.

The early returns, taken with the usual Spring Training grain of salt, are favorable. The Padres' 10.2 percent walk rate trails only the Yankees, Nationals and D-backs this spring. Green was quick to note that the addition of Hosmer and Headley has been an instant boost.

"It's always predicated on personnel," Green said. "You have [Headley] and Hosmer at the top, and you exchange two of your lower on-base-percentage guys out of the lineup, and you start to be an offense that churns a little bit quicker."

When Headley walked six times in his first four games, young teammates approached him, specifically asking for advice regarding his plate discipline.

"To a certain extent, hitters are either that way or not that way," Headley said. "But there are ways to get better. Some of these guys don't need to be as patient as I am. Part of the reason I'm as patient as I am is because I can't take that ball that's on the outer edge and hit a home run the other way. That's not my game. There are guys here that can.

"Wil Myers, I want him swinging more than I do. Same with Hunter. They've got that ability. Now, if we can get them to refine that approach, be more selective and not swing at balls out of the zone, we're going to make a lot of progress."

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.

San Diego Padres, Chase Headley, Eric Hosmer