A look at San Diego Padres’ relief pitcher Dan Altavilla.
As a Padre, Altavilla was quickly added to the bullpen and appeared in nine games, pitching 8.2 innings for a bullpen that desperately needed a fresh arm. While he didn’t pitch in the National League Wild Card Series against the St. Loius Cardinals, he made two more appearances in the National League Divisional Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He allowed a single run in two innings.
He finished the season with the Major League roster and entered his first year of arbitration at 28-years-old.
After arriving in San Diego, Altavilla posted better numbers than he did in Seattle. In an albeit small sample size, Altavilla pitched to a 3.12 ERA, 2.61 FIP, and a 4.39 XFIP compared to the 7.71 ERA, 5.93 FIP, and 4.91 XFIP in Seattle.
This can be attributed to an increased ability to strand runners on base, leaving 72.7% of runners on base in San Diego. A higher groundball rate (33% as a Mariner vs. 40% as a Padre) and more contact on pitches outside the zone (56.3% O-Contact rate) are both factors in the uptick inefficiency.
Altavilla saw a slight uptick in his strikeout rate while wearing the brown and gold. Armed with a four-seam fastball that averaged 97.3 MPH, Altavilla struck out 28.6% of batters while walking 14.3% of those batters.
Advanced metrics and Statcast were not kind to Altavilla during 2020. While he had better groundball rates as a Padre, he saw a 10% decrease in groundballs in 2020 while his flyball and line-drive rates went up by 2% and 7%, respectively. Tie that with a hard-hit rate that jumped from 29.4% in 2019 to 47.2% in 2020, and Altavilla finished the season with a 4.37 SIERA, which Fangraphs deems “Below Average.”
Statcast, meanwhile, painted an even worse picture of the reliever. Altavilla ranked in the bottom 20% of the league or lower in the following categories: exit velocity, xwOBA, xERA, xSLG, Barrel %, and BB%.
That hard-hit rating led to an alarming increase in both exit velocity (91.1 MPH) and launch angle (17.4 degrees). While his fastball has plenty of velocity, it also got hammered. Batters were expected to hit .291 and slug .602 when given a fastball to hit from Altavilla.
Altavilla will have to compete with others such as Javy Guerra and Trey Wingenter to make the 2021 roster out of Spring Training. His chances of making the roster will be boosted if San Diego chooses to keep the bullpen the way it is and not replace Trevor Rosenthal or Kirby Yates. Without Minor League options, the Padres will have to put him on waivers to send him down, meaning another team can claim his services.
Altavilla will have to continue his success as a member of the Padres and replicate that form in 2021. If he reverts to how he performed in Seattle, his days with San Diego may be numbered.