In 2016 the Padres put 14 different starters on the mound. There was a grab bag of veterans, rookies, and castoffs that took the hill to fill in rotation voids caused by injuries and trades. The season appeared to be a lost cause at a relatively early point. Sure, every team faces adversity during the course of a baseball season, and injuries happen, but for the Padres it was like a comedy of errors.
An analysis of the things that the Padres should not repeat in 2017 would have to include fielding an inconsistent starting rotation. The team was not a total disaster offensively in 2016, in fact it even formed an identity as a home run hitting, aggressive-on-the-base-path unit. Likewise, the bullpen proved to be a pleasant surprise with players like Ryan Buchter, Brad Hand, and Fernando Rodney coming out of nowhere and putting up solid numbers. On the other hand, the starting rotation had no identity whatsoever. A team can’t win without leaders at every post on the field, especially in the rotation, which was one reason for last season’s demise.
The Padres’ starting rotation of 2017 is all but figured out. Right now, the players tagged to compete for the spots are Jhoulys Chacin, Clayton Richard, Christian Friedrich, Luis Perdomo, Jared Cosart, Cesar Vargas, Tyrell Jenkins, and Paul Clemens. Not to mention, there has been some serious speculation that the team is interested in Jake Peavy, Doug Fister, and Jared Weaver. Not exactly a list of perennial all-stars but a group that could produce some consistency under the right circumstances. Basically, it’s going to boil down to a survival of the fittest during spring training, hopefully leaving some serviceable depth in triple-A.
Paul Clemens was one of the players listed above. This rest of this write-up will focus on him and analyze his chances of snagging a starting spot in 2017.
Clemens is a right-handed pitcher. He came to the Padres in June 2016 when they claimed him off of waivers from the Miami Marlins. He will be 29 on February 14, which aside from being Valentine’s day, is also the day that pitchers and catchers report to spring training this year. He relies heavily on his four seam fastball and his curve. He also has a change-up but uses it sparingly. He finished the season with a 4.04 ERA and a 1.444 WHIP. He started 14 games (all with the Padres) and made 4 appearances out of the pen as a Padre and a Marlin. Out of his 14 starts, Clemens only produced one quality start, on October 2 against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He had 53 strikeouts and 31 walks. As a starter, he had a win-loss record of 4-5. He went 2-3 at home and 2-2 on the road. Against NL West opponents, he went 4-2. In his last seven starts of 2016, he held a 3.18 ERA and a 1.294 WHIP, ending the season with some momentum.
Clemens also provided a bit of comic relief in 2016. On August 6, against the Philadelphia Phillies, he somehow globbed a season’s worth of pine tar all over his jersey preparing for an at-bat in the bottom of the third inning. The umpire instructed Clemens to put on a new jersey before taking the mound in the fourth. Since there were no backup jerseys with his name available, he had to settle for the next best thing: a generic jersey with the name “Player” #91. So that’s what he wore on the mound in the top of the fourth. Later, in the fifth, Paul Player was pulled from the game by manager Andy Green after failing to run out a bunt. So it was a slightly humorous game for fans, and an awkward game for Clemens.
Clemens’ outlook to snag a spot in the 2017 starting rotation is questionable. If the Padres decide to go with the pool of starters that they already have, then I think he would be one of the stronger candidates. If the team does decide to sign either Peavy, Fister, or Weaver, they will in all likeliness be signing major league contracts and move to the top of food chain as far as the competition goes. Clemens would really have to make strides in spring training and prove himself worthy of a remaining spot. From the way he ended last season, he may have what it takes to elevate himself. If Perdomo and Vargas end up getting sent down to El Paso for a little more seasoning, that could help Clemens’ cause. In the case of Perdomo, yes, he is MLB ready at this point, but after seeing initial success it might be beneficial for the Padres to send him down to protect service time. There’s the possibility that Clemens could claim a role in the pen, maybe as a long-reliever. If this is where he ends up, it could be a good way for him to segue back into the starting rotation at a later date.
At this point, it’s all speculation. As previously mentioned, during the upcoming weeks, names may be added to the current pool of players vying for rotation spots. Even then, during spring training anything could happen. After much deliberation, Drew Pomeranz was given a spot in the rotation in the 11th hour of spring training. We all know how that ended up. If Clemens can return to form from late last season, he has as good a shot as anyone to earn a spot somewhere on the Padres 25-man roster on opening day.