Padres should convert Dinelson Lamet to high-leverage bullpen arm

Padres Dinelson Lamet

Credit: Orlando Ramirez, USA Today Sports

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Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

The Padres can get value out of flamethrower Dinelson Lamet as a reliever.

Everyone saw what Dinelson Lamet is capable of during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

In 12 starts, he stifled hitters to the tune of a 2.09 ERA and a whopping 201 ERA+, finishing fourth in NL Cy Young voting. His slider is one of the most electric pitches in the entire game of baseball. In 2020, hitters batted .080 against his filthy slider.

The 29-year-old Dominican seems to be set on being a two-pitch pitcher.

Usually, that does not project well for starting pitchers since they expose themselves to the entire opposing batting lineup multiple times. Batters can pick up on one or two pitches faster than if they had to worry about a third option. Plenty of pitchers have success with just two pitches, most of them relievers. Brewers All-Star closer Josh Hader has churned out a stellar career by primarily using a fastball and slider combination, much like Lamet.

The four-year righty has struggled to stay healthy,  the only knock on his game so far. However, the talent and stuff are clearly there. The Padres were very cautious with him in 2021, limiting him to just 47 innings in 22 appearances. He never really got fully stretched out to his 2020 self last season. He even made 13 appearances out of the bullpen.

Perhaps moving Lamet into the bullpen full-time would allow him to remain healthier. In addition, the Padres could use a lethal strikeout machine out of the bullpen like Lamet. Plus, as a reliever, he could empty the tank faster with his dynamite fastball to go along with his magic act of a slider.

A success story for Lamet to model this transition after would be Andrew Miller. He began his career as a starting pitcher in the Tigers’ organization. He eventually moved to the Marlins and even made 20 big league starts for Florida in 2008. Once he arrived in Boston in 2011, they decided to convert him into a nasty lefty reliever instead, which is when his career took off. In 73 appearances during the 2014 season, between the Red Sox and Orioles, he posted a 2.02 ERA with 103 strikeouts compared to 17 walks in just over 62 innings.

His peak came in 2016 and 2017. The Cleveland Indians acquired him amid their run to the AL pennant in 2016 to aid their bullpen. All he did was pitch to a 1.55 ERA down the stretch and had four scoreless outings in the 2016 ALCS for Cleveland, earning himself ALCS MVP. He earned an All-Star bid in 2017 with a 1.44 ERA in 57 games.

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Lamet has the stuff to be that type of dominant, feared late-game reliever. Mark Melancon just declined his option for 2022 and will be a free agent, leaving the Padres’ closer spot vacant. Could Lamet even develop into the next great closer? If so, that is one less question mark for San Diego heading into 2022.

The same organization that turned a failed shortstop prospect into a Hall of Fame closer should be able to develop an uber-talented Lamet into a prized weapon out of the bullpen.

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