Those of us who follow the Cubs a little too closely know by and large what to expect from the 2012 version: mediocrity will hold sway. Bountiful and unabated mediocrity. The question that has kept us on the edge of our seats over the past roughly five months is: “how will the new front office put its stamp on this team?” The answer is still unclear, but seems to involve terms like “incrementally” and “deliberately.” Since we’ve been talking about playing time around here lately (there’s still time to enter the OVBlog over/under challenge), I decided to poke around the pasts of our front office heroes and see if anything could be learned about what to expect on the field.
Playing Time Distribution
My first instinct in confronting questions like these is always to put my nose in a spreadsheet and take in the sweet numerical aroma. While Theo’s Red Sox never looked like anything resembling this year’s Cubs, Jed’s Padres are a fair comparison. They, like the Cubs, have been short on impact talent (on the offensive side, at least), and have experimented with a variety of players in trying to fill that void.
Hoyer took over the Pads following the 2009 season and kept a low profile. Despite a surprising run at the playoffs in 2010 and the splashy Anthony Rizzo trade the following offseason, his name was rarely mentioned in national circles right up until rumors of his imminent hiring with the Cubs started to swirl.
One of the nice things about Hoyer’s time with the Padres, for those of us trying to tease out his influence in the product on the field, is that longtime manager Bud Black was retained by the new GM. Any changes in playing time following Hoyer's arrival are likely to have been influenced (directly or indirectly) by Hoyer’s guidance than by the whims of a newly-arrived manager. As an initial look at the Hoyer-era Padres, I focused only on the offense, and compared the distribution of plate appearances for the two years pre-Hoyer to his two years with the club. The results are not altogether unexpected.
Lots of Experimentation, Few Iron Men.
Hoyer’s Padres weren’t shy about mixing it up on the field. In 2011, only Jason Bartlett managed 600 plate appearances; in 2010, that mark was reached by two players, Adrian Gonzalez and Chase Headley. There was thus lots of room for experimentation. In 2010 and 2011, the Padres averaged 12.5 players with between 150 and 550 PAs, as compared to 10.5 (slightly above league average) in the two years prior.
The distribution of these plate appearances ran the gamut of the player universe. Veteran “contributors” Ryan Ludwick and Miguel Tejada were acquired for the 2010 stretch run. Fringy younger players like Jesus Guzman, Kyle Blanks, and Tony Gwynn Jr. were given extended looks. Retreads like Jerry Hairston, Chris Denorfia, Jorge Cantu, and Alberto Gonzalez filled out the bench, and found their way on the field more often then one might hope. The Pads even managed a seemingly successful reclamation project in stealing underachieving Cameron Maybin from the Marlins.
One of the side effects of this mix and match strategy is that very few players ended up in the 1-49 PA bucket. In fact, the Padres had the fewest number of “1-49ers” in the league in ‘10 and ‘11, after being among the league leaders in ‘08 and ‘09. I’m not sure there’s a whole lot to make of this, and it may be due in part to limiting the at-bats of relief pitchers (always a good thing).
Implications for the Cubs
We have already seen the Cubs experiment in a variety of ways. Sabermetric darling David DeJesus looks to be the regular right fielder for the next two years. Ian Stewart is currently playing the role of reclamation project, and will most likely get a full season’s worth of at bats on the chance that he turns things around. The first baseman’s job, on the other hand, is currently PCL-oldster Bryan LaHair’s, and don’t be surprised if he only gets 200 PA to prove himself. Even then, someone not named Rizzo could very well be given a shot, especially if the young first basemen starts out cold in the PCL. If the Padres are any guide, I expect to see lots of turnover, time-shares, and chances taken in the years to come.