Struggles with the Padres bullpen are coming.
Early in the 2015 season, the San Diego Padres looked like they finally turned their program around, and finally looked like a playoff team. With key additions like Matt Kemp, Derek Norris, Will Myers, James Shields, Justin Upton, and Craig Kimbrel, the Padres finally looked set. So they made the playoffs right? Not quite.
The Padres finished with a 74-88 record, finished 4th in the N.L. West, and missed the postseason for the 10th straight season. This offseason, the Padres went in complete rebuild mode once again, and traded away/let big free agents walk.
Justin Upton, their best hitter, was not resigned. Arguably one of the best closers in baseball, Craig Kimbrel, was traded to the Red Sox for prospects. So what exactly happened to the Padres?
Their pitching was not the best. Their starting rotation ranked #10 in the National League. Tyson Ross and James Shields were not their normal selves. Andrew Cashner went 6-16, and the last two starting rotation spots were atrocious and inconsistent. Having a struggling starting rotation is a bad thing, but having a bullpen that is worse backing them up does not help the case.
Last year, the Padres bullpen ranked #18 in all of baseball. They finished with a 26-22 record, 495 innings pitched, and 41 saves. There 4.02 ERA was one of the highest in all of baseball. A bullpen that was anchored by Craig Kimbrel, Joaquin Benoit and Brandon Maurer looked like it could have a potential bright future if one or two more pieces were added to the puzzle.
After Kimbrel was traded, the Padres bullpen was left completely depleted. Here are the Padres current bullpen relievers and their statistics from last season. Keep in mind these are the statistics of the Padres relievers from last season, or relievers that were recently acquired:
- Brandon Maurer: 7-4, 53 games, 51 IP, 6.88 K/9 innings, 2.65 BB/9 innings, 3.00 ERA
- Kevin Quackenbush: 3-2, 57 games, 58 IP, 8.95 K/9 innings, 3.09 BB/9 innings, 4.01 ERA
- Carlos Villanueva: 4-3, 35 games, 61 IP, 8.11 K/9 innings, 3.1 BB/9 innings, 2.95 ERA
- Brad Hand: 4-7, 38 games, 93.1IP, 7.18 K/9 innings, 2.48 BB/9 innings, 5.30 ERA
- Fernando Rodney: 7-5, 16 saves, 68 games, 62.2 IP, 8.33 K/9 innings, 4.16 BB/9 innings, 4.74 ERA
The Padres have not had a good bullpen since 2010, when they won 90 games. Luke Gregerson, Joe Thatcher, and Ryan Webb were very strong relievers for the Padres then. Mike Adams was the best setup man in baseball, and Heath Bell was among the league leaders in saves. That bullpen was the number one in all of baseball, and that was what made the Padres so dominant.
Let’s take a look at the Padres bullpen this season. Brandon Maurer was the best the Padres bullpen had to offer last year (except Kimbrel). He came into pitch when the Padres needed him the most, appearing in the second most games all season.
Maurer has strong control of his pitches, allowing a low 2.65 BB/9 innings. Carlos Villanueva was a strong long reliever last year with the Cardinals, and the 32-year-old is going to be accepting the same role this year. However, the Padres may need him to step up and close some games out if closer Fernando Rodney struggles.
Villanueva is a predominant fastball pitcher, throwing the pitch 49% of the time. He is going to need to lower that percentage, and mix in some more pitches in order to have a really good season. Brad Hand was the long reliever for the Miami Marlins last season, who happened to have one of the worst bullpens in all of baseball. Hand started 12 games last year, and was demoted to the bullpen after struggling mightily. However, his past as a starting pitcher shows that Hand has the stamina to go two to three innings out of the pen, and that can be extremely valuable for the Padres.
Kevin Quackenbush is accepting the role as setup man for the Friars this season. Quackenbush, who appeared in 57 games last year, is arguably the team’s best reliever. He is a two pitch pitcher: Fastball and a Knuckle Curve. Quackenbush does not throw hard (93 mph tops) but it is the movement on his junk that makes him effective. He is a ground ball pitcher, and that is the role Mike Adams had five years ago as the setup man. Quackenbush has the ability and potential to be a good reliever this year.
Last season, former all-star Fernando Rodney had one of the worst seasons possible by a closer. He only had 16 saves, appearing in 68 games. His 4.74 ERA was among the highest of all closers in baseball, and after starting off awful, Rodney was demoted as the closer for the Seattle Mariners, who finished last in the A.L. West. Rodney has the potential to be good as he has in the past, but the 38-year-old veteran will more than likely not be the closer for the Padres come the end of the season.
Case in point, the Padres do not have a strong bullpen. Sure, there is some talent there, and there is some big talent in their farm system, but they do not have the bullpen built to be successful in the 162 game marathon that a Major League Baseball season is. They need to make a trade and add one or two young relievers for the future.
I think Maurer and Quackenbush are going to have good seasons, and in the end, Villanueva will be the closer for the Friars. I feel Rodney will be demoted to long reliever after a weak start of the season. There is a slight chance Andrew Cashner could also be demoted to the bullpen, as Drew Pomeranz, Colin Rea, and Robbie Erlin may have better seasons than him. It will be interesting to see what the Padres will do with their pen, but whatever they do, they need to make changes and improvements.
Diego works at Prep Baseball Report as an Area Scout in Illinois and Missouri. He graduated this spring with a Bachelor Degree in Communications and played four years of college baseball, logging nearly 50 innings of work in a relief role. Diego hopes to work in an MLB front office one day and has been a Padres fan since he was six years old.