The Padres had success in the bullpen last season. Are they positioned to be better in 2023?
Any team that has World Series aspirations needs to have a solid bullpen. The Padres made a big move to bolster their bullpen during the stretch run of the 2022 season, trading for All-Star closer Josh Hader.
Hader is back for the 2023 season among a host of familiar faces mingled with a few new ones.
The Friars had seven relievers make at least 40 appearances last season. It takes a village to put together a championship-caliber bullpen. Do the Padres have what it takes?
Let’s take a look at the situation in the bullpen.
This is the easy one. The three-foot gimme putt. Josh Hader should still be considered one of the top five, if not top three best closers in baseball. The three-time Trevor Hoffman NL Reliever of the Year award winner is still in tip-top shape.
After a rocky first month with the Padres, he settled in. In the final month of the regular season, he posted a stellar 0.87 ERA in 11 appearances. That continued in the postseason, where he tossed 5 1/3 innings of shutout ball. In the NL Division Series against the Dodgers alone, he appeared in three games, earning three saves.
There are few, if any, relievers the Padres would rather have as their closer in 2023.
Who gets the ninth inning is a foregone conclusion. After that, some pieces can be moved around. Down the stretch, Robert Suarez became the fire-breathing dragon Bob Melvin unleashed for the eighth inning in a close game. His fastball was in the 94th percentile for velocity. He threw 15 pitches that registered at 100.0 mph or faster in 2022.
While there was an adjustment period for Suarez, having never faced big league pitching, he settled in to the tune of a 2.27 ERA and 166 ERA+ in 45 games. Batters had a tough time against him from either side of the plate. Neither righties nor lefties hit above .181. This season, if he builds on that success, he could become one of the premier setup men in all of baseball.
The Padres signed him like one, dishing out a three-year, $30 million deal to keep him.
This is where it gets a little fuzzier. For the moment, it appears to be soon-to-be-36-year-old Luis Garcia handling the seventh frame. He earned it, after a solid 64 appearances last season, pacing the Padres squad, with a 3.39 ERA. He posted a 1.93 ERA in four playoff appearances for San Diego as well.
Melvin may opt for more platoon matchups in the seventh inning over just handing the ball to Garcia blindly every time. From the left side, Tim Hill has show he is more than capable of handling big moments. Hill has been an absolute workhorse for the Padres for two years running, totaling 133 appearances since the start of 2021, with an overall ERA of 3.59.
Lefties had a putrid .236 slugging percentage against the wily southpaw. Batters hit .226 off him with runners in scoring position. Plus, he never allowed a run when entering a tie game.
Garcia and Hill look to be a solid platoon for seventh inning duty.
Other Solid Contributors
As mentioned, it takes more than a two or three solid hurlers to make up a World Series-caliber bullpen. Depth is key. Steven Wilson became a viable option. From July 29 to the end of the regular season, he had a 1.57 ERA in 21 games. Hitters failed to get consistent contact against him, as he ranked in the 96th percentile for expected batting average against and 90th in expected slugging.
Every good team needs a Nabil Crismatt. While he isn’t going to blow anyone away with electrifying velocity or devastating breaking balls, the 28-year-old Columbian just knows how to get outs. He improved immensely from his solid 2021 campaign to somewhat of a breakout 2022 season. His ability to miss barrels merited a 2.94 ERA and 128 ERA+ in 50 games last year.
Don’t Sleep on Them
Adrian Morejon is only 23 years old. Read that again. Morejon is younger than Fernando Tatis Jr. The former highly-touted prospect still has room to grow. He flashed his immense potential in spurts after returning from Tommy John surgery. His fastball spin rate ranks in the 96th percentile. He went 10 straight outings without allowing a run in August. The young Cuban can still become a star, health willing.
Speaking of health, Drew Pomeranz could use some good fortune in that department. After signing a four-year, $34 million deal ahead of the 2020 season, at this point, it has been a colossal bust of a contract. However, that has not been due to lack of ability on the mound. When healthy, he is still one of the better lefty relievers in baseball.
Between 2020 and 2021, in 47 total games, he owned a 1.62 ERA and All-Star level 250 ERA+. That being said, his flexor tendon surgery and subsequent lost 2022 season will cause some pause. If he can regain his pre-injury form, the Padres have yet another lethal weapon from the left side.
The Padres have yet another lefty waiting in the wings as a possible sleeper. Jose Castillo also has battled his share of health issues lately. The towering 6-foot-6 southpaw posted a 3.29 ERA in 37 games back in 2018. He has not been able to stay healthy since. However, his stuff is tantalizing.
The Padres claimed Sean Poppen off of waivers from the Diamondbacks in early December. He made 29 appearances for Arizona in 2022, to mixed results.
Craig Stammen signed a minor league deal, in hopes to return to the Padres for a seventh consecutive season. For a while, he was the model of consistency in that bullpen. He is just two years removed from a 3.06-ERA campaign in 2021. Last season, he was less effective (4.43 ERA). With how talented the group is now, he has an uphill battle to make the squad. If he does, his veteran experience can be valuable.
On paper, it looks like the Padres have a bullpen that can carry them to lofty heights. Of course, a lot of this relies on good health, which can derail even the greatest rosters. While perhaps top-heavy, with Hader spearheading the attack, this bullpen is good enough to lock up piles of wins in 2023.