Bet on bounce back year for Padres’ Dylan Cease

Sep 17, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Dylan Cease (84) delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning at Guaranteed Rate Field. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

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Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The Padres swung a big trade on Wednesday, landing White Sox ace Dylan Cease. The starting rotation gets a huge boost.

“Padres’ Dylan Cease,” that’s fun to say, isn’t it?

News broke on Wednesday of yet another blockbuster trade for A.J. Preller and the Padres.

Yes, the Padres parted with a handful of promising players. Drew Thorpe and Jairo Iriarte are highly regarded arms in the system. Samuel Zavala is a rising young hitter. Steven Wilson got some big outs for the Padres over the last few seasons.

None of them, however, have the track record of Cease.

Yes, Cease had a very down 2023 season by his standards. Between 2021 and 2022, he made 64 starts with a 3.01 ERA and 138 ERA+. His 2.20 ERA over 184 innings in 2022 earned himself the title of AL Cy Young runner-up.

Then, in 2023, he cratered to the tune of a 4.58 ERA and 97 ERA+.

Was that a sign of a decline or a one-off? Is he bound for a rebound with a new team?

To quote the timeless toy, the Magic 8-ball, “signs point to yes.”

First, the low hanging fruit of his ERA versus his FIP. If there is a large disparity, that usually implies luck, good or bad. With a 4.58 ERA, he posted a 3.72 FIP, suggesting some bad luck.

While he saw increases in his hard hit rate and exit velocity allowed, he still maintained an elite whiff rate in the 84th percentile. He also still missed barrels at an above-average rate, in the 78th percentile.

Among 58 pitchers who threw at least 150 innings last season, he ranked eighth in whiff rate. Despite subpar numbers, he still induced swings and misses at a high rate.

The concerning part is a slight dip in velocity, with his four-seam fastball averaging 95.6 mph instead of the 96.8 mark he posted in 2022. Other than that, the spin rates, while slightly down, are still solid.

All this while pitching most of the time at Guaranteed Rate Field, which ranks 17th in Statcast’s “Park Factor” over the last three years. Meaning, it has been the 17th-most hitter-friendly ballpark in baseball.

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Meanwhile, Petco Park slides in at 29th, as in second-to-last for hitters. Cease is coming to a significantly more pitcher-friendly park when he dons the brown and gold.

There is another thing pointing in the Georgia native’s favor- Ruben Niebla.

The Padres pitching coach is no stranger to getting established veteran pitchers back on track. Blake Snell went from two fairly average seasons in San Diego to winning the Cy Young in year three.

Michael Wacha and Seth Lugo both found success last season in the rotation, exceeding expectations.

Who is to say Niebla couldn’t work wonders with a guy who has already shown he can have Cy Young-caliber stuff?

Per Eno Sarris’ “Stuff+” metric, Cease has a score of 114. That means his “stuff” (release point, velocity, vertical and horizontal movement, and spin rate) is above average. That is the highest mark on the Padres staff now.

For reference, both Yu Darvish and Michael King check in just below him at 107, being the previous top “stuff” on San Diego’s staff.

All that aside, Cease also has been one of the more durable pitchers in baseball. He has not missed a start in three straight seasons. Since 2021, nobody has made more starts than Cease’s 97.

The 6-foot-2 righty also had a strong start to Spring Training this year, with a 2.16 ERA in just over eight innings.

When you combine Cease’s above-average “stuff,” the friendlier ballpark, the likely better luck, his elite whiff rate, a good spring, along with working with Niebla, the needle is pointing up for Cease in a Padres uniform.

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