An analytical look at the 2020 San Diego bullpen

Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

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Credit: AP Photo

Andres Munoz

2019 Stats: 23 IP, 3.91 ERA, 3.17 FIP, 3.77 xFIP, 3.72 SIERA, 0.4 fWAR

After pitching at both Triple-A El Paso and Double-A Amarillo in 2019, the Padres wanted to see what Munoz could bring to the major league table, calling him up to The Show on July 12. The 20-year-old native of Los Mochis, Mexico, immediately made an impact, striking out Brian McCann for his first big league strikeout and reaching 101 MPH with his fastball.

Armed with a four-seam fastball that averaged 99.9 MPH and a wicked upper-80’s slider that made mincemeat out of opposing batters’ knees, Munoz struck out batters at a 30.9% clip, but with high velocity comes poor control. Yes, the strikeouts are nice, but Munoz also walked batters at a less-than-stellar 11.3% rate.

He also showed some fatigue at the end of the season, allowing six runs and two home runs in 1.2 innings. Those 1.2 innings raised his total ERA from 1.69 to 3.91 on the season. After those two outings, manager Andy Green pulled the plug on Munoz’s season to save his arm for the future.

In his young career, Munoz has lived by the strikeout and will probably die by the strikeout. It’s a good thing that he generated a 14.5% swinging strike rate while getting hitters to chase at 31.3% of pitches. A lot of hype rightfully goes to his fastball,  but his primary weapon for strikeouts has been his slider.

Out of 416 total pitches Munoz threw in the big leagues, 135 of those pitches were sliders. The pitch was nigh unhittable as only two hitters managed to get a base hit off of it, and only one went for an extra-base hit. With a 13 MPH difference between his fastball and slider, Major League hitters couldn’t get adjusted, and Munoz picked up 18 of his 30 strikeouts with his slider. To make the pitch even more unfair, the slider averaged a spin rate of 2369 RPM with 32.8 inches of vertical drop to generate a Whiff% of 46.3 percent.

Munoz still has room to grow even stronger as he ages. Should he learn to harness the sheer velocity of his fastball/slider combo with a dash of control, Munoz has the makings of a truly phenomenal closer. For now, he will be a valuable set-up man in Tingler’s bullpen and will be molded as the heir to Yates’ throne.

Matt Strahm

2019 Stats: 114.2 IP, 4.71 ERA, 4.41 FIP, 4.27 xFIP, 3.95 SIERA, 1.2 fWAR

After a successful debut with San Diego in 2018, the Padres decided to stretch Strahm out as a starting pitcher to see if they had something special in the left-hander.

The decision came with mixed success. As a starter, Strahm pitched to an ugly 5.29 ERA, 5.06 FIP, and a 4.62 xFIP in 81.2 innings and allowed at least four earned runs in five straight starts before getting moved back to the bullpen.

With the move back to the pen, Strahm looked more like the pitcher he was in 2018, collecting a 3.27 ERA, 2.79 FIP, and a 3.42 xFIP in 33 total innings. Strahm had developed a bad habit of surrendering home runs as a starter, and those ailments started to fade after the move, as he allowed 19 home runs as a starter but only allowed three as a relief pitcher.

Despite getting a slight bump in ground balls (36.6 percent in 2019), Strahm gave up much more hard-hit baseballs in 2019 as opposed to 2018. The 28-year-old surrendered hard contact on 43.8% of all contact, and his exit velocity jumped from 85.8 MPH in 2018 to 88 MPH in 2019.

Strahm also saw the effectiveness of his fastball diminish once he became a starter. His fastball steadily lost velocity the later he pitched in games and averaged 91.4 MPH by the end of the season. Opposing hitters barreled up on the ball on 16.7 percent of swings and hit it out of the park at 91.5 MPH. Add that all up, and it equates to 14 out of the 19 home runs Strahm gave up came against his fastball.

The story of Strahm’s success in 2020 will be much like Stammen’s: limit walks and get groundballs. Despite all of his issues, Strahm posted a career-best walk rate of 4.5 percent despite a decrease in strikeouts. Like Stammen, Strahm still got opposing hitters to swing at more pitches both inside and outside the strike zone while inducing just as much contact (67.2 percent O-Contact and 84 percent Z-Contact).

There is still plenty of potential in the left arm of Strahm, but 2020 will be the year to determine whether or not he can truly stick in the bullpen going forward. He will be a candidate to start as an opener should Tingler opt for a bullpen day, but he will mostly see action in the middle-innings.

Jose Castillo

2018 Stats: 38.1 IP, 3.29 ERA, 2.64 FIP, 3.13 xFIP, 4.25 SIERA, 0.9 fWAR

First, let’s get some housekeeping out of the way: Castillo’s 2018 numbers have been posted instead of his 2019 numbers due to him missing virtually the entire season with injuries. After coming off the 60-day IL, Castillo went back on the IL after tearing a ligament in his throwing hand in August.

Initially acquired in the same three-team deal that sent Wil Myers to San Diego and Trea Turner to the Washington Nationals, Castillo made his major league debut on June 2, 2018, against the Cincinnati Reds and announced his presence with authority. Facing the heart of the order, Castillo struck out Joey Votto for his first Major League strikeout, then rung up Eugenio Suares and Adam Duvall on K’s.

When he was pitching, Castillo was electric. He posted a 34.7 K% as opposed to an 8.0 BB% while throwing a first-pitch strike in 71.3 percent of at-bats. Armed with a mid-90’s fastball and a tight low-80’s slider with an average 41.1 inches of vertical drop, Castillo was a promising part of the Padres’ future until he was cut down by injuries.

Like Munoz, Castillo utilized his slider to collect a majority of his strikeouts. Castillo got an overall swing-and-miss rate of 41.1 percent while getting hitters to chase at an out-of-the-zone slider, and miss, at a staggering 63 percent.

Of course, Castillo still has to recover from the injuries that plagued him in 2019. Should he return to full strength and pick up where he left, Castillo would pair up with Munoz to form an electrifying duo for seasons to come.

One last spot

Should Castillo be unavailable due to his injuries, the number of open spots will jump to two. One is assumed to go whoever fails to win a place in the starting rotation, which is presumed to be either Joey Lucchesi or Cal Quantrill. Either one will act as the long reliever should one of the starters gets knocked out of a game early.

With one spot left, there are multiple pitchers ready to vie for the spot in Spring Training. Luis Perdomo, David Bednar, Gerardo Reyes, and Trey Wingenter will all be clashing for the spot while minor league signings Jimmy Yacabonis, Kyle Barraclough, and Chih-Wei Hu are all considered long shots for the Major League roster.

Even if an injury downs one or two relievers for San Diego, there is no question they have the potential to be an elite group that will rival some of the best bullpens in San Diego history.

2 thoughts on “An analytical look at the 2020 San Diego bullpen

  1. “suitable for 6th best in the league. Out of the five teams that finished higher, only one (the Boston Red Sox) failed to make the postseason in some capacity.” – VERY Confusing. In the league infers National League. Boston is in the American League. So were the Padres the 6th best in the National League. Or they were 6th best in the Major Leagues, which one?

    1. MLB long ago virtually eliminated the league presidents, combining AL and NL league offices into one under the Commissioner. They just never got around to renaming the two former leagues “conferences”. In this case, “league” is easier to type than “Major League Baseball”. I used MLB, and differentiate the two former leagus as AL and NL.

      The cite of Boston should havee cleared up the confusion, indicating the “6th best” was in the majors, not one of the historical leagues. A quick look at ESPN stats confirms that’s what the author meant.

      When the AFL merged with the NFL, the AFL teams became the American Conference, the NFL teams became the National Conference, and the league became the NFL. Blame the Baseball Commissioner (and owners) for continuing to imagine that the leagues are still separate. The only real difference is the DH – even the formerly separate umpires now work both the NL and AL.

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