While the biggest news of Thursday was obviously the trade of Odrisamer Despaigne, the Padres may have found themselves another possible starting pitcher.
— Corey Brock (@FollowThePadres) February 4, 2016
Like Brandon Maurer before him, one of the newest Padres, Carlos Villanueva, will get his shot to earn a rotation spot in Spring Training. He joins Maurer, as well as other possibilities such as Robbie Erlin, Brandon Morrow, Drew Pomeranz, Colin Rea, Luis Perdomo, as options behind the top three of the rotation in James Shields, Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner. Even with the trade of Despaigne, the Padres could still have up to ten or eleven guys vying for rotation spots next year, or at least seven players vying for spots at the back of the rotation.
While the Padres appear flush with options at this point, all the players mentioned above come with question marks because of inexperience or injury. Out of all the options, Carlos Villanueva may be the most experienced and consistent of all the names mentioned. While Erlin, Rea, Maurer, Perdomo, and Pomeranz lack much in the way of big league starting pitching experience because of age, and Morrow lacks enough experience because of health, Villanueva has both age and health on his side.
Originally signed way back in 2002 by the San Francisco Giants as an Amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic, Villanueva has spent a majority of the last ten seasons pitching for four teams, including for the Cardinals in 2015. Last season was probably the most successful of Villanueva’s career, pitching to a 2.95 ERA over 61 innings with the Cardinals. His peripheral numbers were not as strong, a 3.74 FIP and 4.06 xFIP, but Villanueva was still a consistent member of the Cards bullpen in 2015.
The key here though is Villanueva’s experience as a starter, as he appeared only as a reliever for the Cardinals. The two years previous to that Villanueva served as both a starter and reliever for the Cubs, appearing in 89 games in total, with 20 of those coming as the starting pitcher. Villanueva also made 71 appearances between 2011-2012 with the Toronto Blue Jays, with 29 of those coming as starts. While not expansive, Villanueva does have some notable starting experience.
While the experience is there, Villanueva’s performance in a starting role is an important consideration. What follows is a table that includes Villanueva’s performances in both a starting and relieving role over the last two seasons he operated as a starter in some capacity.
Based on these splits, it is safe to say Villanueva struggled as a starter in his most recent stints as a starter. Obviously there was a lack of consistency, as Villanueva jumped back and forth between the two roles over the course of really four seasons, but the struggles were still there. In his most recent season appearing as a starter in 2014, Villanueva pitched to an ERA over 10.00 in 19.2 innings pitched over five starts. In 2013, the result was not nearly as bad over a larger sample size, but still an ERA over 4.00 (4.50 to be exact) in 90 innings pitched. Once again not inspiring numbers, but certainly slightly better over a larger sample. As simplistic as ERA numbers are, in both years the peripheral numbers weren’t much better.
So where does this leave Villanueva for next year? It’s really impossible to say what kind of pitcher the Padres will get if Villanueva is used in an exclusive starting role next season. Villanueva has been good in the bullpen recently, but it remains unclear if that success will translate to the starting rotation next season. Obviously he would have to earn a job in Spring Training, but it remains an uncertainty. At this point he’s no more of an uncertainty than any other pitcher the Padres are trying out for the back-end of their rotation. Behind Ross, Shields, and Cashner the Padres are hoping for some certainty among the uncertainty for 2016.