Maxx Wayne: Why Every Team Should Fear the San Diego Pitching Staff

This article is written by guest author Maxx Wayne

The San Diego Padres are a historically underperforming baseball team, but this seems to be changing. They are one of the youngest and most promising teams in MLB. A lot of this potential comes from their pitching staff.

Starting Rotation

In 2019, they had one of the youngest starting rotations in all of baseball, with their 7 most used starters having an average age of 24.7 years old. Their staff was led by breakout rookie Chris Paddack:

GSIPERAFIPK/9BB/9WHIPLOB%
26140.23.333.959.791.98.9876.9

Paddack was a pleasant surprise for the club because most thought he would not make the Opening Day roster but after a strong spring training, he started the season as the #3 in the rotation. Paddack excels at locating his fastball and changeup. This is shown through his low walk rate and high LOB%, especially for a rookie. In most seasons, Paddack would likely be in the conversation for NL ROY, but it was a loaded field behind Pete Alonso, Mike Soroka, Bryan Reynolds, and fellow teammate Fernando Tatis Jr. Although Paddack was not the only young pitcher who pitched well in 2019. Joey “Fuego” Lucchesi and Dinelson Lamet were two other standouts. Here are their major league stat lines:

Joey Lucchesi:

YearGSIPERAFIPK/9BB/9WHIPLOB%
2018261304.084.3110.042.981.2978
201930163.24.184.178.693.081.2273

Dinelson Lamet:

YearGSIPERAFIPK/9BB/9WHIPLOB%
201721114.14.574.2010.944.251.2469.2
201914734.073.9112.953.701.2673.6

At first glance, this may seem rather demotivating. It doesn’t appear that they will be part of a lights out pitching staff soon, however, Lucchesi and Lamet, who are each 27 years old with minimal major league experience do have bright futures. Lucchesi started his MLB career quite strong but failed to repeat his success in 2019. This can be attributed to his decrease in K/9 and LOB%. He is still a rather inexperienced pitcher and I see him increasing both metrics in 2020 due to improved control of his coveted curveball.

Padres starter Dinelson Lamet pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first inning of a baseball game, Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017, in Pittsburgh.
Cred. Keith Srakocic

Lamet is more of a wild card pitcher than Lucchesi. He is typically more of a fastball/slider pitcher, with his fastball clocking in the mid to upper 90’s. The effectiveness of his velocity can be seen through his near 13 K/9 in 2019. This is astounding for a pitcher who had just recovered from Tommy John surgery after 2018 Spring Training. However, this increase in K/9 cannot only be attributed to his fastball/slider combo, but also his newly acquired sinker. He decreased his 4-seam fastball usage by nearly 20%, opting for more sinkers. Lamet and Lucchesi still have plenty of room to grow and will be hitting their peak when the Padres need them the most.

The Padres signed Garret Richards after the 2018 season to a 2 year/$15.5 million contract, knowing he would miss almost the entire 2019 season due to Tommy John surgery. Richards had a successful 2018, pitching 76.1 innings through 16 games, until getting injured. He only pitched in 3 games in 2019 for the Padres, late into the season, and frankly performed well below his typical “pre-Tommy John” self. Albeit this is a small sample size and he had just recovered, so I will not harp on those 3 games too much. Richards is expected to be the veteran anchor to a young rotation in 2020, however, if he does not perform well, do not expect him to stick around long.

Eric Lauer was the opening day starter for the 2019 Padres. After a successful sophomore season, he was traded to Milwaukee Brewers along with former top 30 prospect Luis Urias in exchange for Zach Davies and Trent Grisham.

Davies had been a solid starter for Milwaukee over the past few seasons:

YearGSIPERAFIPK/9BB/9WHIPLOB%
201633163.13.973.897.442.091.2572
201713191.13.904.225.832.591.3574.2
201813664.774.396.682.861.3369.3
201931159.23.554.565.752.871.2975

Davies is an accuracy pitcher who’s repertoire is mostly made up of sinkers, changeups, and cutters. He does not strike out many batters and allows walks at about the average rate. Where Davies excels is minimizing damage, which can be shown through his career 1.03 HR/9. He has progressively increased his LOB%, excluding an injury-plagued 2018 stint. Davies will never be a front end starter for the Padres, but he will offer consistency in the back half of the rotation, which is something they have been searching for.

Two other young starters received some opportunities in 2019 and had somewhat inconsistent results. These two pitchers are Cal Quantrill, son of former MLB pitcher Paul Quantrill, and Nick Margevicius. They both had weaker MLB debuts, but each pitched some promising starts. Quantrill is a former #8 overall draft pick in the 2016 draft, while Margevicius was a 7th round pick in 2017. They will continue to grow and improve as young pitchers in the renowned San Diego farm system in 2020, and most likely be the “sixth men” of the rotation, meaning if there is an injury or underperformance by one of the main 5 pitchers in the starting rotation, one of these two will be called up.

Quantrill has been known for getting batters to ground out in the minors, which is something he will eventually be able to bring to the table for the big-league club. He is not much of a power pitcher, but rather has a wide arsenal of pitches that he can throw effectively including a 4-seam fastball, sinker, slider, changeup, and curveball.

See the source image
Cred. Jasen Vinlove

Margevicius started March and April in 2019 with a 3.23 ERA and impressive .285 wOBA against through 32.2 innings pitched. He slowed down in the later months of the season and was sent down to the minors. However, he showed a lot of promise as a 23-year-old getting his first shot in the major leagues. Quantrill and Margevicius will not have much of an impact on the big league club in 2020 but expect them to grow and do some damage in the future, potentially after Richards and Davies are gone.

The Bullpen

San Diego had the 6th best bullpen in 2019 based on fWar. This is largely due to the domination of their closer Kirby Yates. Kirby was a part of the inaugural 2019 All-MLB team and arguably snubbed of the NL reliever of the year award by Josh Hader. Kirby was the Friars only All-Star in 2019, which marked the third year in a row their only All-Star was a relief pitcher. Kirby signed a team-friendly $7 million contract in the offseason to stick around in San Diego. Here are his stats from the past two seasons:

GIPSBSERAFIPK/9BB/9WHIPLOB%
65631212.142.6412.862.43.9287.7
6060.24131.191.3014.981.93.8980.8

If you weren’t convinced that Kirby was one of the best relievers in baseball already, then those numbers should persuade you. If that is not enough for you, he averaged .3 HR/9 in the “juiced ball” 2019 season. That outright proves how effective Kirby has been using his fastball/splitter combo. It may be unrealistic to expect Kirby to continue this kind of domination in the future, but we can still expect well above average innings from him.

Craig Stammen is another veteran reliever that was a staple in San Diego’s elite bullpen in 2019. He is more of a junk ball pitcher who utilizes a sinker, slider, and knucklecurve. His fastball averages only 93mph, but that does not limit his ability to get strikeouts. He has averaged 8.8 K/9 over his three years in San Diego. He has accumulated 65 holds, and only blown 16 saves over that period, cementing himself as one of the more reliable setup men in the game. In 2018, Stammen gave up a mere 3 home runs against 317 batters, for a minuscule .34 HR/9. In the off-season, the Padres extended Stammen for 2 more seasons at $4 million per season, with a team option in 2022. Stammen will not be anything spectacular over the next few seasons, but he should be able to maintain his consistency in the San Diego bullpen even as he ages through his mid-30’s

San Diego also has an array of young 98+ mph throwing relievers including Andres Munoz, Trey Wingenter, Michel Baez, Javy Guerra, and Anderson Espinoza. Munoz and Wingenter received the most MLB playing time in 2019.

See the source image
Cred. Chadd Cady

At 20 years of age, Munoz was third in the entire MLB for average fastball velocity. Munoz would regularly break 100mph, with his fastest pitch clocking in at 102.8mph but a perceived speed of 103.6 from the batter’s perspective. Wingenter and Baez are the tallest of the bunch, measuring 6’7″ and 6’8″ respectively. Guerra is a recently transitioned shortstop, who’s fastball averaged 11th fastest in MLB in 2019. Although, he only threw 8.2 innings as a September call up. Nonetheless, this was his first season pitching in professional baseball! Anderson Espinoza is a former top 100 prospect but has recently been plagued by injury. If he can stay healthy and maintain his 100+ velocity, he will become a force to be reckoned with in the future. It is improbable that all of these young pitchers will have fruitful MLB careers, but there is certainly a lot of potential in these young, powerful arms.

Emilio Pagan and Drew Pomeranz were acquired in the off-season to cement the San Diego bullpen as the best in the league. Pagan was traded in February from Tampa Bay to San Diego in exchange for Manuel Margot and prospect Logan Driscoll. Pomeranz was signed as a free agent, returning to San Diego for $8.5 million a year over four years. Pagan has been successful in all three of his major league seasons so far:

YearIPS+HBSERAFIPK/9BB/9WHIPLOB%
201750.1813.223.2810.011.43.9373.3
201862604.354.929.152.671.1979.9
2019702782.313.3012.341.67.8394.8

Pagan’s best season was 2019 with the Rays, where he recorded an astounding 94.8 LOB%. The one argument against Pagan may be too high of a BS/S+H ratio, but when he was used as a regular reliever rather than a closer, he had few blown saves. With the Padres, Pagan will most likely be used more like a setup man rather than a closer. Pagan may not maintain his excellence on the bump in 2020, but he will surely be an effective reliever for the Friars.

Pomeranz is less predictable than Pagan. He will be making his return to San Diego, after being traded during an All-Star season in 2016 to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Anderson Espinoza. Pomeranz had been a starter for almost the entirety of his professional career, but after a weak 2019 from the starting rotation, the Brewers moved him to the bullpen where he found much more success. Here are his 2019 splits:

UsageIPERAFIPK/9BB/9WHIPLOB%
Starter75.15.975.6010.394.301.6674.2
Reliever28.21.881.6715.702.51.8490.9

Pomeranz had typically been a “strikeout pitcher” throughout his career but struggled with control at times. In 2019, he walked a lot of batters when he started the game, but nearly cut his walk rate in half once he moved to the bullpen. Pomeranz started to veer away from his sinker and use his fastball more, pairing it with his knucklecurve. Pomeranz was close to lights out when used out of the bullpen, but it is a small sample size. The Padres felt confident enough in Pomeranz to offer him the most lucrative contract of his career. Pomeranz will most likely be used as the lefty set up man for the Padres in 2020.

Jul 2, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Padres starting pitcher Drew Pomeranz (13) pitches against the New York Yankees during the first inning at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Cred. Jake Roth

The Prospects

The San Diego Padres are known to have the deepest farm system in MLB currently. This is certainly true when it comes to their pitching prospects including MacKenzie Gore, Luis Patino, Adrian Morejon, Ryan Weathers, and Joey Cantillo. Gore is the most highly touted in the group, coming into the season as the #5 prospect in baseball and the #1 LHP prospect. He was the third overall pick out of high school in the 2017 draft. His big leg kick will make a lot of baseball fans nostalgic of another Padre, Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman. Although, Gore is a starting pitcher who excelled in A+ ball in 2019, with a 1.02 ERA through 15 starts. Gore is a potential call up in the 2020 season, but at the age of 21, don’t expect him to make any major impact in the big leagues until 2021 or 2022.

Patino is the righty counterpart to Gore, as the #27 prospect in baseball. He has accrued a sub-3.00 ERA every season in the minor leagues. Patino started to gain a lot of recognition in 2019 when his fastball started clocking in at 98+ mph. With this velocity and improvement of his control as he rises through the San Diego farm system, Patino may very well be an elite starter someday. Even younger than Gore, at 20 years of age, Patino is on a similar timeline, most likely making his first major impacts at the big-league level in 2021 or 2022.

Adrian Morejon is a former top 100 prospect, who got his first taste of the big leagues in 2019. He has been a starter throughout his minor league career, but it may be hard for him to find a spot as a lefty in a crowded Padres rotation. Morejon is developing a splitter, which he is finding more confidence with each season. At only 21 years old, Morejon is more of a project for the Friars, but he has the potential to be an All-Star in the future.

Ryan Weathers was the 7th overall pick in the 2018 draft, however, he is not as highly touted as Gore. He is not much of a strikeout pitcher like the previous three but offers more of a controlled, low walk-rate approach. Weathers is still far from an MLB debut, but he can bring balance to a future strikeout heavy rotation.

Padres prospect Joey Cantillo pitching for Fort Wayne TinCaps
Cred. Jeff Nycz

Joey Cantillo is the biggest hit or miss of the San Diego pitching prospects. Unlike the previously mentioned prospects, Cantillo was a 16th round pick in 2017. He is another hard-throwing starter who struggles with control at times. One area Cantillo has excelled in is restricting home runs, allowing a mere 3 through 168.2 innings pitched. Cantillo is still only 20 years old, which gives the Padres plenty of time to groom him into a successful major league pitcher.

These five pitching prospects all have high ceilings and a good chance of making an impact in MLB. Stay aware of this San Diego farm system, they have a lot of young, electrifying arms.

Summary

The San Diego Padres had one of the best bullpens in 2019 and built on that in the offseason. They also have one of the youngest starting rotations in the league, with plenty of youthful arms developing in their farm system that will contribute at the MLB level in due time. 2020 will be another year of growth for this young pitching staff, who will rely on veterans like Kirby Yates, Craig Stammen, and Garrett Richards to lead them through the season. In the near future, the Padres will be known as the pitching staff that strikes fear into each of their opponents.