The San Diego Padres starting rotation looks to be improved in 2020, and Joey Lucchesi is an X-factor.
With the addition of Zach Davies via trade, the health of Garrett Richards and the unshackling of Chris Paddack, the 2020 starting rotation projects to be better than the 2019 version, which ranked 18th in starter ERA and WAR.
A vital component of the rotation and just how far the Friars can ascend this season may depend on the progress of Joey Lucchesi. Without Lucchesi, the Padres do not have a left-handed starter. This is just a season removed from the rotation seemingly being too lefty-heavy, with the now-departed southpaws Eric Lauer, Nick Margevicius, and Logan Allen getting starts last year.
It is essential to mix up the rotation between right-handers and lefties to keep the opposing lineups off-balance. The Padres need Lucchesi to be a big part of the rotation to offer that different look.
Early returns this spring are concerning for the Newark, CA native as he owns an 11.57 ERA in three starts in Peoria. In his most recent start, he was unable to get out of the first inning, issuing four walks and allowing three hits, which led to four runs.
Lucchesi has allowed at least one run in each of his outings thus far. Spring stats, to an extent, do not matter; however, this is a concerning trend. The Padres need Lucchesi to be part of the rotation moving forward.
The 26-year-old southpaw showed improvement last season from his rookie campaign in 2018. During his rookie year, he tossed 130 innings with a 0.5 WAR and 94 ERA+. He improved all of those numbers last season, hurling 163 2/3 innings with a 2.0 WAR and a 101 ERA+, meaning he was actually a slightly above-average pitcher.
If Lucchesi can improve off of those numbers, this Padres pitching staff can go far. As of now, he looks to be the fifth starter in the rotation, and a two-plus WAR season from the bottom of the rotation will be most welcome.
Cal Quantrill is the biggest threat to Lucchesi’s status in the rotation; however, being a righty, Quantrill replacing Lucchesi would make the San Diego rotation completely full of right-handers, which is not ideal.
Quantrill is making a solid case for himself thus far in Peoria, allowing just one run on two hits with nine strikeouts in seven innings.
It is well documented that Lucchesi struggles with an opposing lineup a third time through, where hitters have a .943 OPS against him. He has to improve that to stay in the rotation long term.
There is, of course, another lefty in the organization that is nipping at the heels of Lucchesi for a rotation spot; that is star prospect, MacKenzie Gore. The former third overall pick has pitched one and two-thirds and has surrendered three runs, but the team has been cautious in bringing him along nevertheless. However, if Lucchesi struggles and Gore sets the world ablaze once more in the minors, a change may be imminent.
Lucchesi showed improvement from 2018 to last season, and there is hope he can improve again in 2020. If the Padres truly have aspirations of playing meaningful games at Petco Park in September, Lucchesi needs to step up.