Projecting the Padres Muddled Rotation Part 4: Who Will Fill the Rotation?

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It’s been well established that the 2017 edition of the San Diego Padres won’t be good. While there may be quite a few bright spots, as a whole the team should struggle to win many games. Not only is the offense not good, but the pitching staff might take a step into a whole new level of mediocrity. In fact, the Padres may make a real good case for the worst pitching staff in recent memory.

It’s pretty clear the Padres lack a staff ace. They may have had one in Tyson Ross, and they certainly were looking for one in James Shields, but at this point that was a long time ago. The Padres may not even have a pitcher who would fill the number two spot in most rotations. Or the three spot for that matter. Going into 2017, the Padres have a staff full of four or five pitchers, with a pretty heavy tilt to five pitchers. Perhaps even more alarming, only one or two of the guys vying for rotation spots have a real chance at being impactful big leaguers for the Padres long-term. The Padres’ rotation of the future is likely the group of guys the team has in Low-A and High-A, and perhaps some players who have yet to enter the organization.

As it stands, the 2017 season could be a historically ugly one for the Padres’ pitching staff. With that being said, it’s still worth talking about for however bad it may be. This week here at East Village Times I have discussed the Padres returning options, their new options, and their depth options. With all these players discussed, now is the time to make some sort of prediction as to what the Padres’ rotation will look like come opening day. Using last year’s performance and a projection of the upcoming year, I hope to pick five names to fill what will be a ragtag Padres’ rotation.

Based on these numbers, it’s pretty clear that a majority of the Padres’ current pitchers were not very successful in 2017. Clayton Richard was good in a limited capacity, but those numbers may be unsustainable under a bigger sample size. As for Trevor Cahill, all those numbers were accumulated in a relief role in Chicago. For Miguel Diaz, those were low-A minor league numbers in the Milwaukee Brewers’ farm system. For the rest of the options, only two had ERAs below four while the rest had ERAs over five, with some getting closer to, or over, six. All in all, not the best numbers.

Credit: USA Today Sports

However, these numbers illuminate some things, and potentially a few spots in the Padres’ rotation. Although not quite as effective as he once was, Jered Weaver showed that he could still effectively eat innings like no one else in 2016. On the other hand, Zach Lee struggled mightily in 2016, even though all his 2016 innings were pitched at the Triple-A level. Finally, Miguel Diaz pitched only in the low minors with a good amount of success, but it’s hard to imagine him having similar success in the bigs, even though Luis Perdomo made it through the entirety of the 2016 season on the Padres’ big league roster.

Given these 2016 numbers, it seems fair to give a rotation spot to Jered Weaver, simply based on the fact that the Padres likely promised him as much when he agreed to sign the contract, and eliminate both Tyrell Jenkins and Zach Lee from consideration given their apparent need for further Triple-A development and lack of big league experience. This leaves eight players for the remaining four potential spots. From those remaining options, let’s take this one step further and look at the Steamer projections for the upcoming season.

For those who do not know, Steamer is a projections system created by Jared Cross, with help from others, that is used by Fangraphs to project player performance prior to a season getting underway. Let’s take a look at the projections of those remaining eight pitchers, as well as Jered Weaver.

These projections tell us a similar story, although there are a few caveats that must be made about these projections. First off, Trevor Cahill is only projected for 18 innings under this system. Given that, it’s hard to really project what kind of pitcher Cahill would be if he operated as a starter, a role he hasn’t filled in several years. Beyond that, there aren’t too many surprises, with Jhoulys Chacin and Luis Perdomo near the top of the innings projections with some of the best all around numbers. Beyond them, Clayton Richard, Christian Friedrich, and Jarred Cosart follow.

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With all this information, now is the time to make some sort of guess on how the Padres’ rotation could look come Opening Day. Let’s start off by saying Jered Weaver will likely be the team ace, for no other reason than he chose to sign with the Padres this off-season, likely because the team promised him a rotation spot. Let’s also assume the Padres choose to try to hide Miguel Diaz in the bullpen for a majority of the season in order to gain full control of his rights per the rules of the Rule 5 draft. This leaves seven players for four rotation spots.

Let’s assume both Jhoulys Chacin and Clayton Richard are given rotation spots as well, not only because they both chose to sign with the Padres to be starters, similarly to Weaver, but also because both had fairly good performances in 2016, and could have the most upside. Now we are down to picking from five players for the final two rotation spots. Although Trevor Cahill had intentions of being a starter this year, I could see the Padres using him in a long relief, multi-inning role this season. From the remaining four guys, the Padres probably should send both Paul Clemens and Jarred Cosart to the bullpen, or to the minor leagues as additional depth, as both struggled in 2016. In fact, many have speculated Cosart could be a dominant bullpen arm if the Padres choose to use him in that capacity long-term. This would leave Luis Perdomo and Christian Friedrich as the final members of the rotation, although the Padres could choose to utilize Cosart or Clemens in the rotation and give Perdomo a chance to develop further in the minor leagues.

If I was a betting man and had to take a guess, I would guess that the Padres’ Opening Day starting rotation would include some combination of Jered Weaver, Jhoulys Chacin, Clayton Richard, Christian Friedrich, and Luis Perdomo, with Paul Clemens, Jarred Cosart, and Trevor Cahill being the most likely options to jump in. With almost four weeks remaining before Opening Day, a lot can still change, as it is a fluid situation. Someone could get hurt or someone could impress, leaving the rotation with a lot different look than what I outlined here. Either way, the remainder of spring training will be very interesting to watch as this story plays out.

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