What Is Wrong With The Padres Pitchers?

San Diego's staff giving up HR at a historic rate

When the Padres finished Spring Training in Peoria, AZ, a couple of months ago we knew they were a much-improved team, but certainly not a perfect team. There was a long list of things that could make them struggle this season, including (but not limited to):

-    All the new pieces not fitting together
-    Lack of offensive production from the infield
-    Sub-par overall team defense
-    Injury concerns
-    Lack of a “true” leadoff hitter
-    Lack of an everyday starting shortstop
-    Not knowing where to play everyone or who fits best in to certain roles
-    A sink hole opening in the East Village and swallowing Petco Park
-    Zombie Apocalypse

What is not on the list is the San Diego Padres allowing the most home runs in Major League Baseball. After Tuesday night’s batting practice session where the Mariners hit six dingers, the Friars staff has surrendered 50 HR in 34 games. Seriously, the Zombie Apocalypse would have been more believable than this happening.

It comes completely out of nowhere. This staff only allowed 117 long balls for the entire 2014 season, and with the additions of James Shields, Brandon Morrrow and Craig Kimbrel you would have thought it got even better. Check out the home run totals for the Padres pitchers every year since Petco Park opened in 2004:

-    2014 = 117
-    2013 = 156
-    2012 = 162
-    2011 = 125
-    2010 = 139
-    2009 = 167
-    2008 = 165
-    2007 = 119
-    2006 = 176
-    2005 = 146
-    2004 = 184

This season they’re on a pace to allow 238 home runs, more than twice as many as last year. Want to know how crazy that potential number is? The National League record for most home runs allowed in a single season is 239, which was set by the 2001 Colorado Rockies.

We’re talking about Coors Field in the pre-humidor days, back when it gave pitchers nightmares. Has Petco Park really become akin to that launching pad a mile above sea level? Or is there something else at play here?

While we don’t have definitive answers yet there are plenty of things that are not working. One is on the pitchers themselves. One interesting statistical quirk is the Brewers have given up 49 homers, right behind the Padres. Care to take a guess which teams lead the National League in strikeouts?

If you said the Padres and Brewers, give yourself a hand. In fact, the high strikeout rate is very likely tied to the high home run rate. Pitchers who throw hard tend to get a lot of whiffs, but are also susceptible to giving up more home runs. That’s just physics; if you throw it harder and the batter connects it’s going to fly farther.

So far in 2015 the Padres pitching staff is averaging 93 MPH on its fastballs (average between 4-seam and 2-seam), making it the hardest-throwing staff in all of baseball. Last year, when they only gave up 117 long balls, the Padres staff averaged 91.7 MPH, putting them in the bottom third of the league in velocity.

The harder you throw, the farther it goes. But only if you’re not putting it where you want to, which brings us to another problem.

"I think, overall, we've been in too many bad counts and too many fastballs and breaking balls left out over the plate,” Padres manager Bud Black told mlb.com writer Corey Brock after Tuesday’s loss. “Right now, overall, the first month and a half here, too many pitches not executed. We've got to do a better job of making pitches.”

Far too many times the Padres pitching staff has left pitches up in the strike zone, where they’re able to be lifted out of the park. When you add the extra oomph on the heater to putting it in a spot where hitters can reach it, you have yourself a recipe for disaster.

Now, perhaps this is just an anomaly and revered pitching coach Darren Balsley will get his guys back under control. But if it really is a season-long issue and the Friars continue to watch opposing teams launch souvenirs in to the bleachers, then that new offense will have to figure out how to score runs on a more consistent basis to keep San Diego in playoff contention.

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