Padres Rotation Outlook: What’s in store for 2023?

Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

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Mandatory Credit: Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

The San Diego Padres are coming off one of their best seasons in franchise history.

One of the biggest factors in their success was the dominance of the starting rotation. The front end of the rotation of Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove, and Blake Snell was always a challenge for opposing lineups, and San Diego will hope that the three-headed monster can continue its 2022 dominance. 

Darvish had another strong season as a Padre in his second year in San Diego. His ERA improved from 4.22 to 3.10, and although his strikeout numbers dipped a little bit (10.8 to 9.1 K/9), he became much more of a workhorse for the rotation, pitching 194.2 innings in his age-35 season. 

Darvish will be 36 entering the 2023 season and is playing at the top of his game. His 0.95 WHIP ranked fourth in the league last season, and he will likely be slotted in as the Opening Day starter again. If Darvish can maintain his 2022 form rather than his 2021 form, the Padres will have their ace for the upcoming year. This is Darvish’s final year under contract. 

Joe Musgrove, also entering his third season as a Padre, has been their most consistent arm in the rotation over the past two seasons. The San Diego native lowered his ERA from 3.18 to an astounding 2.93 last season and was named to his first career MLB All-Star Game after a phenomenal first half. 

After signing a five-year, $100 million extension with the Padres in August, Musgrove is locked down, entering his age-30 season and coming off the best year of his career. 

Snell also turned 30 over the offseason (same day as Musgrove) and is coming off a huge bounceback year for San Diego. Snell did not throw nearly as many innings (128 IP in both 2021 and 2022) as Darvish and Musgrove, but he held a huge role as the No. 3 starter with a 3.38 ERA. 

Credit: AP Photo

Snell’s strikeout numbers were insane once against this past season, with a 12 K/9 after 11.9 K/9 in 2021. His command was a lot better as well, lowering his BB/9 from 4.8 in 2021 to 3.6 in 2022. Snell, a free agent after the 2023 season, would be a huge plus in the rotation if he could maintain his success with a little bit of uncertainty behind him. 

The Padres downfall last season began in Game 4 of the NLCS when Mike Clevinger allowed three runs without recording an out, and Sean Manaea allowed five runs in only 1.1 innings of work. 

With Clevinger and Manaea both signed elsewhere, the back end of the rotation is where it gets a little questionable. The Padres did not sign a legitimate starting pitcher and instead signed former New York Met Seth Lugo to a two-year, $15 million deal with a player option for 2024. The other rotation spot will likely be Nick Martinez.

Although this was not the preferred outlook for the back of the Padres’ rotation, Martinez and Lugo are coming off of solid seasons, albeit both mostly out of the bullpen; Martinez started ten games for the Padres, and Lugo has not started a game since 2020 when he had seven starts. His only season as a full-time starter was in 2017, when he had 18 starts and owned a 4.71 ERA. 

Both pitchers’ careers show that they are much better in the bullpen than in the rotation. Martinez owns a 4.93 ERA over 425.1 IP as a starter and a 2.62 ERA over 96.1 IP from the bullpen. Lugo, who has much more experience from the bullpen, holds a 4.35 ERA as a starter (194.2 IP) and a 2.91 ERA in the bullpen. 

It was interesting that the front office decided to sign Lugo as a starter rather than go after a legit starting pitcher, but the organization believes to have faith in both Martinez and Lugo in the rotation… at least for now. 

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Should either of them falter and be moved back to the bullpen, it will only strengthen the depth of one that is already one of the most elite in baseball. With Drew Pomeranz returning from injury, along with Luis Garcia, Robert Suarez, and Josh Hader, this San Diego bullpen will be dominant once again.

If Martinez or Lugo do not live up to the expectations in the rotation, that could also give a shot to Adrian Morejon as a starter. The 23-year-old did not start any games last year but threw a career-high 34 innings as he became more comfortable in the majors. 

It looks like the Padres will ride with Martinez and Lugo for at least the first half of the season, but a trade for a back-of-the-rotation arm seems very likely later in the season near the deadline. For now, San Diego owns a World Series-caliber roster with a great lineup, elite bullpen, and very quality arms in the rotation.

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