Tommy Pham had a point. When the outfielder played against the Padres as an opposing player in past seasons, he observed that Padres hitters “didn’t do a good job controlling the strike zone” and didn’t “make the pitcher work” for outs.
With Pham and others in tow in 2020, the Padres’ offense underwent a startling transformation. San Diego improved dramatically in several crucial metrics, including on-base percentage, OBP versus righthanders, out-of-zone swing rate and OPS with two strikes. In short, the 2020 Padres clearly controlled the zone and made pitchers work.
The numbers in parentheses indicate overall rank among all 30 MLB teams.
|Season||OBP||OBP vR||O-Swing%||2-strike OPS|
|2018||.297 (30th)||.298 (28th)||31.9 (21st)||.480 (29th)|
|2019||.308 (26th)||.301 (27th)||31.3 (14th)||.491 (27th)|
|2020||.333 (8th)||.337 (7th)||27.2 (3rd)||.577 (t-4th)|
How did the Padres do it? Four reasons stand out.
(1) First-year manager Jayce Tingler and his coaching staff are sticklers for fundamental play and competitive at-bats, and Tingler himself is a skilled communicator with players from all backgrounds.
(2) Core veterans Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers improved dramatically. The trio combined to hit .255/.322/.436 with a 99 OPS+ in 2019. With three games left in the 2020 season, the trio was hitting .298/.360/.584 with a 156 OPS+, even though Hosmer had missed time on the injured list.
(3) The Padres’ supporting players, many of whom were acquired in the offseason, dramatically outplayed their predecessors, particularly in terms of reaching base. The primary outfielders and second baseman in 2019 were Hunter Renfroe, Manuel Margot, Franmil Reyes and Ian Kinsler. That group combined for a .297 OBP and 95 OPS+. Their successors in 2020 were Trent Grisham, Jurickson Profar, Jake Cronenworth and Tommy Pham. The new quartet combined for a .349 OBP and 116 OPS+, even as Pham had struggled amid injuries.
(4) Young shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. played like an MVP candidate, continuing his ascendancy as one of the game’s best.