Starting pitchers worth consideration for the Padres

Credit: USA Today Sports

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

The San Diego Padres are starting to kick the tires on starting pitching options.

While the addition of young arms such as Jhony Brito, Randy Vasquez, and Drew Thorpe certainly bolstered the rotation, the need for more veteran and proven arms remains paramount.  

A name the Padres have recently been linked to includes that of former Yankees starting pitcher Domingo German. While some might say taking a “flyer” on German could make sense, there is truthfully no reason for the Friars to attach themselves to a player such as German.

For those unaware, German served an 81-game suspension in 2020 for violating the MLB’s personal conduct policy following a 2019 incident that saw German slap his girlfriend at a team charity event. Upon their return home, German was intoxicated and became physically violent toward his girlfriend until she hid in a locked room. 

The franchise should not tie itself to someone like German. An offender such as German has no place in the league, and there is no reason for the San Diego Padres franchise to entertain the idea of signing a player whose behavior is disgusting, inexcusable, and unworthy of a contract with the Padres. 

So if the Padres rule out German, then where else would they look for starting pitching help?

Fortunately for the Friars and their fans, there are viable options and alternatives out there.

Let’s take a look. 

 

Michael Kopech, SP, Chicago White Sox

Just a few years ago, 2019, to be specific, Michael Kopech was a prospect and name viewed as an untouchable or can’t-miss. He was the No.18 Prospect in baseball and regarded by scouts as possibly the next dominant right-handed starter in the MLB. 

Fast forward to 2023, and things have shaken out differently than expected for the 6-foot-3, now 27-year-old Kopech. This past season was admittedly ugly for Kopech. A 5.43 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, chase rate, whiff rate, barrel rate, BB rate, and xERA, all in the bottom 10th percentile among major league starting pitchers. As well, Kopech’s season ended early due to season-ending knee surgery to remove a cyst from his right knee.

So why should the Padres come knocking for a player some in Chicago have called broken? Because Kopech still has some underlying numbers worth betting on for the right price. 

Kopech’s fastball and slider still show signs of life, with 116 stuff+ on his FB and 102 stuff+ on the slider in 2023. Also, on his fastball, Kopech had a 26.4% whiff rate and maintained a fastball in the 71st percentile and elite extension that was good enough to land him in the 84th percentile, according to Baseball Savant. The point being, even in a down season, his heater was still close to elite. 

Furthermore, if Kopech can fix his command issues, he could become deadly. When Kopech got ahead in the count last season, he held hitters to a .200 BA, 3.33 FIP, and 20.7 K-BB%. Contrast that to a .260 BA and 10.4 FIP when he fell behind 1-0 to opposing hitters. 

Kopech is a reclamation project, but considering the Padres would still have two+ years of control and one of the best pitching coaches in Ruben Niebla, the 27-year-old is worth a trade.

 

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Jakob Junis, SP/RP, Free Agent 

Padres fans should be very familiar with Junis, as the 31-year-old right-hander has spent the last two seasons in the Bay Area as a member of the San Francisco Giants. Junis had a career year in 2023, posting a 3.87 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 40 appearances. While the Giants had him move to the pen in the latter half of 2023, there is still reason to believe he has room to grow as a starting pitcher. 

For starters, Junis posted a career-best season in part due to seeing a jump in his velocity. In 2023, he sat closer to 94 mph on his sinker, a nearly three mph increase from sitting at 91 mph in 2022. 

Credit: USA Today Sports

Along with the improved velocity, Junis displayed the ability to command the zone and miss barrels as he claimed ownership at 26.2% K-rate, 31.8% chase rate, a hard hit rate in the 75th percentile, and a walk rate of just 5.7 percent, good enough to land him in the 87th percentile. 

But Junis really makes hitters look silly with his slider, which he threw 62.5% of the time in 2023. Against the slider, opposing hitters managed to hit .216 and post a xSLUG of .365 xWOBA of .271, while generating a 32.5% whiff rate on the pitch. 

Junis has also continued to put in work this offseason, working with Premier Pitching and Performance Lab, who have reported Junis Averaging 33.6 inches of horizontal separation between the sinker and slider in bullpens.

Not only does Junis provide upside and possible starting pitching or relief versatility, but he also falls under the Padre’s need for a cost-effective/on-the-dollar player. At 31 years old, Junis is a player who could get on a two-year 12-14 million dollar deal, good for an AAV of around six to seven million a year. 

 

Hyun Jin Ryu, LHP, FA

Much like Junis, Padres fans should be very familiar with 36-year-old Ryu. The free-agent lefty spent the first six seasons of his career with the LA Dodgers before spending the last four in Toronto with the Blue Jays. 

Ryu missed much of the 2023 season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, but when he returned to the bump on August 1, he was reliable and consistent. In 11 starts, he posted 3-3, 3.46 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, and xERA of 3.85. He won’t strike hitters out, as he posted just a 21.1% whiff rate and 17% K-rate and averaged 88.4 mph on his fastball this past year. 

Still, at age 36, Ryu is efficient, throws strikes, and eats innings. Those are three things this Padres rotation can use next season. One number some Padres fans are sure to love is Ryu’s elite BB rate of just 6.3%

Ryu missed barrels this past season as he held opposing hitters to an average. exit velo of 87.5 mph, which ranked him in the top 75th percentile in the MLB. The soft contact would also result in a 46.2% ground ball rate and a hard hit rate of 36.8 %.

Those numbers could continue to be improved even further as Ryu would be playing in a much more pitcher-friendly ballpark in Petco Park. The Rogers Center, the home of Ryu for the last four seasons, Ranks 15th in ballpark factor with a score of 100. Which would rank it as an average hitter park. 

Meanwhile, Pecto ranks 30th in the MLB with a Park Factor of 95, meaning it is one of baseball’s most pitcher-friendly ballparks. Something that could help a softer throwing Ryu. 

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