By MARK SIMON
Padres pitchers took a no-hit bid into the seventh inning in their first game of the season and a no-hit bid into the eighth inning of their second game of the season.
They allowed five hits or fewer in each of their first four games of the season and eight times in 14 games overall.
That’s great pitching. But it’s also great infield defense.
Through 14 games, the Padres have converted 87% of groundballs and bunts into outs. This is easily the highest rate in MLB. The Mariners rank second at 82%.
The Padres are one of the most aggressive defensive shifting teams in MLB. Just under 79% of balls put in play against them have come against a shifted defense. That’s the fifth-highest rate in MLB.
The payoff for that usage comes in the form of a 91% out rate on groundballs and bunts when the Padres use a shifted defense. That’s 92 instances in which they’ve recorded at least one out on the 101 groundballs they’ve faced.
Credit where due to the Padres starting infielders: first baseman Eric Hosmer, second baseman Jake Cronenworth, shortstop C.J. Abrams, and third baseman Manny Machado, all of whom are off to a strong start.
Machado has a strong track record, though his best defensive seasons are circa 2013 to 2016. Cronenworth has 10 Defensive Runs Saved in just over 1,200 innings at second base. Abrams has looked credible while replacing injured shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. Hosmer’s history at first base has had mixed results but all has been fine so far in 2022.
The Padres numbers, both overall and when using shifts, are a bit aberrational and will likely level off at least a little bit with time. The highest out rate on groundballs and bunts in MLB last season was 77% by the Cardinals. The highest out rate on grounders and bunts when shifted was 78% by the Indians.
But thus far it has been harder to reach base on a ground ball than it typically is. The average groundball and bunt out rate in 2022 is 76%.
Just to illustrate, practically speaking, how much better the Padres have been than average. If they had turned batted balls into outs at a 76% rate overall, they would have converted 101 of 133 overall. They’ve made 116 plays – 15 more than the expected rate.
And to show how much better they are than the team that ranks last in groundball and bunt out rate, here are the numbers:
The Reds have converted groundballs and bunts into outs at a 70% out rate.
If the Padres matched the Reds’ conversion rate, they would have converted 93 groundballs and bunts into outs. They’ve made 23 more plays than that.
This is a team that has gotten the nickname “Slam Diego” for its penchant for hitting grand slams. The way it’s playing, it might need a new nickname. Can we suggest “San Defensive Runs Saved?”