Taking a look at the 2020 San Diego Padres’ starting rotation.
After a pair of trades to start the winter off-season, A.J. Preller and the Padres’ front office has made their intent to win in 2020 crystal clear.
A vital component of a winning team in the upcoming season will need to be an improved and more consistent starting rotation.
There are plenty of in house candidates and some still on the open market that should be vying for the five rotation spots come Feb. 10 when pitchers and catchers report to spring training.
Opening Day Starter: Chris Paddack
One year after making the Opening Day roster with only a brief stint above high-A Lake Elsinore, Chris Paddack stands today as the favorite for the number one spot in the rotation among the incumbents.
Paddack quickly won over the hearts of Padres fans in 2019 with his pregame attire, high stirrups, “sheriff” moniker, competitive drive, and above all, his production. Scouts touted his fastball-change up combo as one of the best in the minors before his debut, and he showed it off from day one in San Diego. His curve looked at times to be a serviceable pitch, but he never quite showed consistent command of the pitch.
Known as a control artist in the minors, Paddack continued to attack the zone at the major league level. The better competition took advantage of that aggressiveness as they were able to foul off pitches, extending at-bats and rapidly raising his pitch count, limiting Paddack’s ability to work deep into games.
With the arrival of Larry Rothschild as the new pitching coach, look for Paddack to potentially begin to develop a slider. During Rothschild’s tenure in New York, the Yankees became one of the most slider heavy staffs in the league. If Paddack can develop a third out pitch, that will go a long way towards elevating him to the next level and bolstering a pitching staff looking for a top of the rotation option.
2019 was also Paddack’s first full season back from undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2016. As a result, Paddack’s usage was limited as the Padres switched to a 6-man rotation for much of the second half of the season and kept close track of his pitch count in his outings. In 2020, the reigns should be entirely off, and Paddack will look to attack opposing hitters with the same tenacity he did in his rookie campaign, this time entirely free and healthy.
Lucchesi will be going into his third year at the major league level but will need to make significant strides in 2020 to remain a starter in this rotation beyond the upcoming season.
At times, Lucchesi has flashed the potential of a number two or three pitcher in a talented rotation, but his struggles once he starts facing opponents for the third time in a game have been well documented. Over his first two seasons, the opponent’s OPS jumps over 250 points to a ghastly .943 when Lucchesi faces a batter for the third time in a game.
His K/BB ratio also suffers mightily as it drops over two points down to 1.36. Lucchesi has yet to show growth in his ability to pitch deeper into games, and his ability to remain in the game is going to be the key to his future in San Diego with younger options knocking on the door.
Some Padres fans have suggested Lucchesi may be best served as a multi-inning guy out of the pen who can provide reliable help in the middle frames. But there may be another solution that keeps him in the rotation.
Cal Quantrill is another pitcher who has numbers that show a significant drop off as he hitters got multiple looks at him. His early struggles after his call up played a part in a temporary move to the bullpen that saw him post an ERA under 1 in 11.1 innings. Eventually, he was moved back into the rotation, where he showed signs of improvement.
Still, he ERA skyrocketed again when he hit a stretch in August and September, where he gave up eight earned runs in three consecutive starts. The Padres may be best served by piggybacking Lucchesi and Quantrill to keep hitters from getting too familiar at the plate as they’re forced to adjust to two opposite-handed pitchers with very different pitch mixes.
Even with his struggles, Lucchesi is one of the more accomplished and experienced candidates among the Padres’ current rotation options, and barring any significant transactions, he is essentially a lock for the opening day rotation.
Much like Paddack, Lamet is going to be looking to head into 202o fully healthy after recovering from Tommy John surgery and seeing a few months of action in 2019. Lamet’s stuff has long been the epitome of what scouts dream about. His fastball blows hitters away and is paired with a slider that seems to disappear as it approaches the plate. When these pitches are working together, Lamet has shown the ability to generate high strikeout numbers. Unlike Paddack, Lamet isn’t exactly known for his control, and that’s plagued him at times in the majors.
Lamet displayed better command of his pitches this past year compared to his first taste of big-league pitching in 2017. He limited walks to the tune of a one-point jump in his K/BB ratio to 3.5, continuing to do so in 2020 gives the Padres a valuable young piece to help anchor the rotation.
Despite struggling with walks at times, Lamet pitches fairly well deeper into games as his command improved the longer he stayed in 2019. Though his strikeout rate dropped, his K/BB ratio jumped nearly two points each additional time he faced a batter.
Projection systems aren’t exactly high on Lamet, but a big part of that is the limited usage they see him getting in 2020. If he’s able to stay healthy and contribute a full starter’s workload, he should be poised for a big jump and should be one of several exciting starters pitching for the Padres next season.
4. Zach Davies
Acquired in the same deal that brought over Trent Grisham, Davies will essentially replace Eric Lauer in the rotation after he went to Milwaukee in the trade. Davies has managed to put together some solid seasons over the first years of his major league career, but his peripherals suggest that he has been seriously over performing.
In 2019, arguably the best year of his career so far, Davies’s ERA was over a full run lower than his FIP, suggesting that the Brewers defense may have helped him out quite a bit. Davies has shown a sustained ability to limit walks throughout his career, something that we’ve already discussed some of the rotation candidates have struggled to do, but he struggles to miss bats, striking out 0.70 batters per inning.
Additionally, Davies has only pitched more than 165 innings once his career despite average 26 starts over the past four seasons. In many ways, there was much more to be optimistic about with Lauer than there seems to be with Davies.
With the incoming arrival of Gore and Patino, 2020 should ultimately be Davies’s only season in the opening day rotation, and it would certainly be a surprise to see him last through the year without being relegated to a relief role.
Garrett Richards can be a pretty intriguing option for the fifth spot in the Padres rotation if he can get over the big hurdle of staying healthy.
Once a touted pitching prospect with the Angels, Richards has only made it through two full seasons as a starter as he’s been plagued by injuries throughout his career, including a recent recovery from Tommy John surgery.
In one of those seasons, he threw over 200 innings while racking up 176 strikeouts and a 3.65 ERA; he seemed like he was finally turning into the top of the rotation arm the Angels needed. But he was then limited to just six starts, albeit solid stretches, in his next two seasons.
In 2018, his last year with the Angels, he threw 76.1 innings over 16 starts with 87 strikeouts before being diagnosed with a torn UCL that ended his season and resulted in the aforementioned surgery.
That offseason, he signed a two-year deal with the Padres with the hope that he would recover in time to see limited action over the last month of 2019, but with most of his work coming in 2020. He did return in time to make three short starts in September, never pitching past the fourth inning.
Richards has never been a huge strikeout guy, but his rates are certainly higher than Davies, and his rates have trended upwards in the limited action that he’s seen over the previous few seasons. Going into 2020, the hope is that Richards will be able to maintain that trend along with his health and provide valuable innings to a team that is looking to be playing .500 baseball for the first time in a decade.