On Friday afternoon, the San Diego Padres finally got their first run, and their first win, with a 13-6 victory over the Colorado Rockies. After a demoralizing opening series sweep against the Dodgers, the Padres offense came to life, and the pitching staff did enough to preserve the win in the end. Despite the positives that come with the win, and the fact that the Padres finally got on the scoreboard, there were some negatives from the start.
The Padres offense excelled against Rockies right hander Jordan Lyles, and really every bullpen arm the Rockies brought out, but Padres starter Colin Rea struggled quite a bit against the vaunted Rockies offense. Even with the Padres offensive success, Rea was unable to get the victory because he only last four and a third innings after giving up a total of five runs, walking five batters, and throwing 109 total pitches.
At face value, it would seem the biggest concern for Rea from his opening day start was the five walks. In only four and a third innings of work, Rea threw 109 total pitches, an average of around 25 per inning. Even worse for Rea was his 40+ pitch first inning in which he walked the bases loaded. After walking the bases loaded, Rea worked out of the jam by striking out the final two batters on the inning.
Following his first inning struggles, Rea once again walked the leadoff hitter to start the second inning. Rea would follow the leadoff walk by giving up a single, collecting two strikeouts, and allowing a single and a double in a row, plating two runs for the Rockies. Rea cruised through a one, two, three third inning before giving up three runs in the fourth inning on three hits before being replaced by Robbie Erlin.
Despite his struggles with command, and several hard hit balls, there were a few bright spots for Rea in his first start of the 2016 season. Above all else, Rea’s velocity on the day was quite impressive. According to Baseball Savant, Rea’s average two seam fastball velocity was 93.06 for the day, a whole mile per hour faster than his average velocity last year. His four seam had a similar velocity increase, an average of 93.19 on the day. Finally his splitter was up almost four miles per hour from his average velocity in 2015. Beyond that, Rea’s max velocity was over 96 mph on both his fastball and his sinker. The chart below shows his velocity increase.
It was reported during spring training that Rea had added on 15 or 20 pounds of muscle in the offseason, and it appears to be paying off for his fastball velocity. However, despite the added velocity, his fastball was arguably his least effective pitch on Friday, coming in at 3.1 runs below average according to Fangraphs. By comparison, his cutter was almost a full run above average, while his curve was almost a full run below average. Even with his increased velocity, Rea was still getting hit relatively hard on the pitches that were catching the strike zone.
So what do we make of all these numbers? While it’s clear that Rea is throwing harder this season, which is always a good sign, he is having trouble locating the ball inside the zone, and when he does locate the ball in the zone he is being hit relatively hard. Clearly one game is too small of a sample size to jump to any conclusions, at Coors Field no less, but Rea is extremely reliant on his control, which he lacked on Friday afternoon against the Rockies.
Going forward, Rea needs to not only operate with more pinpoint control around the zone, but he also needs to attack the zone and induce more swings and misses. Rea is never going to be a strikeout pitcher, or an overpowering one at that, but his velocity increase should help him operate better in that role in 2016. If he continues to develop his secondary pitches, and maintains his velocity increase, Rea should be a key part of the back of the Padres rotation in 2016 and beyond.