Padres' lineup suddenly scary with Manny

February 24th, 2019

PEORIA, Ariz. -- In case you hadn't heard, the Padres signed Manny Machado this week. Don’t look now, but the San Diego lineup -- with Wil Myers, Eric Hosmer and a host of young talent to surround their new superstar -- might actually be good.

"It feels like a playoff-contending offense," said Myers. "We have not had that since I've been here."

Myers has only been with the Padres for four years; it’s been much longer than that since the Padres were legitimately good offensively. Even during their most recent run of success from 2005-07, pitching played a bigger role in their victories.

If we define "good" as top-half-of-the-Majors in runs, the Padres haven't done that since 2001. But -- you're probably saying -- they play in Petco Park, a notorious pitchers' paradise.

Well, recent data suggests Petco has played much fairer over the past few seasons. But for the purposes of that argument, let's turn to Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) -- an all-encompassing hitting metric that adjusts for league and ballpark and uses 100 as a baseline. Anything over 100 is above league average. The Padres haven't had a wRC+ above 100 since 2004, their first season in their current East Village home.

So, yeah, it's been a while.

And the 2019 group is determined to buck the trend.

"It's a really deep lineup," said catcher Austin Hedges. "We've got weapons, whether it's speed or it's power, that really complement everyone else in the lineup."

Opening Day lineup: (1) Manuel Margot, CF; (2) Manny Machado, 3B; (3) Eric Hosmer, 1B; (4) Wil Myers, LF; (5) Hunter Renfroe, RF; (6) Ian Kinsler, 2B; (7) Luis Urias, SS; (8) Austin Hedges, C

Understandably, most projection systems aren't as high on the Padres' offense as the Padres are themselves. But those systems rate the club much better than it's actually been over the past few seasons.

Using Steamer to project wRC+ for this season, the Padres' current projected Opening Day lineup averages 102 -- or two percent better than league average. (Here’s where Machado's projection of 130 -- a whopping 43 points better than Ty France -- makes a serious impact.)

The Padres, however, are quick to point out that it’s not just the starters who could provide a boost this season. The San Diego offense might have some legitimate depth this year. Current Steamer projections have outfielders Hunter Renfroe, Franchy Cordero and Travis Jankowski opening the season either on the bench or in the Minor Leagues. All three were regular starters at different points last season, and Renfroe might've been the team's best hitter.

"We're starting to stack some guys up on the runway who can play and impact the big league team," said manager Andy Green. "That type of depth is ultimately what gets you to a championship. There has to be a next-man-up philosophy. You just have too many injuries over 162. You watch these guys in camp, and we're starting to get more and more depth. That's necessary."

But depth isn't merely about filling holes when injuries arise. Manuel Margot has struggled against lefties, and Cordero has struggled against righties. Imagine a platoon between the two in center field (with Margot, who has a much better glove, slotting back into center as a late-game defensive replacement).

There are other platoon options in the middle infield and at catcher. And perhaps the biggest effect of Machado's arrival -- a year after Hosmer joined the fray -- is that Padres batters will be hitting where they probably should be hitting in the lineup.

"We have guys in the six-, seven-hole that we're really excited about being in the six-, seven-hole," said Green. "Before, maybe they were hitting in the three-, four-hole. There's length to it now, there's some excitement."

Make no mistake, there are strides to be made. The Padres have still finished last in the Majors in on-base percentage for five years running. Their offense has thump, but it needs discipline. And Machado is known much more for the former.

There's also the matter of a rotation that finished last in the Majors in ERA last season. If the Padres are going to win this year, they're probably going to have to score a lot. In their 50-year history, that's not something they've done with any regularity.

Still, there's no denying Machado’s impact. Renfroe summed it up rather succinctly:

"You've got to pick who you want to pitch to in that lineup," he said. "Everybody goes through stretches where you struggle. But the more studs you have in the lineup, the less time you're going to spend losing."

That's the crux of the Machado effect. The Padres have a stud in their lineup. Around him, the rest of the offense might finally fall into place.