Three Padres that need to improve the most in 2021

Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The Padres had plenty of players step up and produce at a high level in 2020. However, there were some that lagged behind. Which ones need to rise up in 2021? 

Spring Training is less than a week away, and the Padres will begin perhaps the most anticipated season in franchise history. The franchise has lofty goals for this upcoming season. For them to achieve these goals, they will need even more players to step up than did in 2020. Which players need to improve from 2020 the most? The simple answer to this question would be “all of them that didn’t have career years.” Let’s dive a little deeper and rank three Padres that need an encouraging Spring Training and a rebound regular season the most.

The criteria for a player needing improvement are that, first, they had an average or below-average season for their standards in 2020 (no, MVP finalists Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado are not on this list). This means they previously had success at the big league level and need to find it again. Secondly, they are young enough to still improve and grow as a player. Lastly, their success will be vital to the Friars’ championship hopes for 2021.

3. Emilio Pagan

When the Padres acquired Pagan from Tampa Bay just over a year ago, they gave up their previous everyday center fielder in Manuel Margot. This meant the Padres expected Pagan to be a vital part of the bullpen. For most of the season, he was anything but steady. He got off to a very rocky start during his first four appearances when he owned a 12.27 ERA, or five earned runs in 3 2/3 innings. In save situations, he made 14 appearances with a 7.24 ERA and allowed four home runs. He set a career-high with 3.7 walks per nine innings and went from the 93rd percentile in whiff rate to 50th.

This all came just a season removed from a stellar performance in Tampa Bay. In 2019, he had a borderline All-Star season with a 2.31 ERA and 192 ERA+ in 66 games, including 20 saves. At 29 years old, Pagan has plenty left in the tank to rebound and find his 2019 form again. It shouldn’t be overlooked that he found his footing towards the end of the season, posting a 2.57 ERA in his last seven regular-season games of 2020. As an encore, he pitched five scoreless innings in San Diego’s two postseason series. If he can just harness that, he will become a critical part of the back end of San Diego’s bullpen, especially since, as of now, they have not re-signed Trevor Rosenthal.

2. Tommy Pham

To some extent, Pham’s struggles last year were due to injuries, not just inexplicable poor play. Pham missed half of the season due to a broken hamate in his right hand. This affected his ability to grip a bat and swing. It was clear it bothered him even after he returned. Between 2017 and 2019 with the Cardinals and Rays, Pham averaged a .856 OPS and 130 OPS+ over 410 games. Those numbers plummeted to .624 and 74, respectively, with San Diego in 2020. His discipline at the plate is superior to most, and the Padres brought him back for 2021 in hopes he puts together a regular “Tommy Pham” type of season in the left-field slot.

Fielding, Pham has averaged about 4 Defensive Runs Saved in the outfield. In 2020, that bottomed out to -1, with a lot of that due to being slowed by that injury. If the 32-year-old can recapture his career average form, the Padres will have a reliable on-base threat setting the table for the big thumping bats in the middle of the lineup. It appears that all Pham needs is to remain healthy, and he should return to form.

1. Chris Paddack

Paddack is easily the returning Friar that needs to improve the most. After a stellar rookie campaign in 2019 that saw him post a 3.33 ERA and 126 ERA+ in 26 starts, he fell flat in 2020. All across the board, Paddack’s numbers were worse than his rookie year. He struggled to find command and ended up allowing the fourth-most home runs per nine innings among pitchers who tossed at least 50 innings. His 4.73 ERA and 91 ERA+ were far below what he displayed in 2019. He went from the 73rd percentile for exit velocity allowed and 81st for hard-hit rate allowed in 2019 to 10th and 5th percentiles, respectively, last season. The batting average against his fastball skyrocketed from .204 in 2019 to .308 last season due to a lack of location consistency and a lower spin rate.

Rumor has it Paddack is putting in the work to be better in 2021, perhaps adding a new pitch. One would assume, with his hard-nosed attitude, he is motivated to put his 2020 season well behind him. With the recent acquisitions in the starting rotation, the pressure is off of Paddack to be a leader and ace of this staff, and he can just focus on his craft. With the additions of Blake Snell, Yu Darvish, and Joe Musgrove, along with the emergence of Dinelson Lamet to stardom, Paddack is now the fifth starter in the rotation. If he can find his 2019 self again, with perhaps a new wrinkle or two added to the mix, the Padres will have a starting rotation that looks set for a championship run.

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Nick Lee
Native of Escondido, CA. Lived in San Diego area for 20 years. Padres fan since childhood (mid-90s). I have been writing since 2014. I currently live near Seattle, WA and am married to a Seattle sports girl. I wore #19 on my high school baseball team for Tony Gwynn. I am a stats and sports history nerd. I attended BYU on the Idaho campus. I also love Star Wars.

2 thoughts on “Three Padres that need to improve the most in 2021

  1. There isn’t much reason for concern with these 3.
    Pagan is reliever and relievers are prone to good seasons and bad seasons, due simply to small sample sizes. A few bad outings can ruin a players overall numbers.
    Pham, as you wrote, simply needs to remain healthy. And Paddack might have had a case of the sophomore jinx. He’s still young, and there is talent lined up behind him.
    The most important player for 2021 is Eric Hosmer. He puts up numbers like last season and he’s playable, though only passable in the middle of the order, and the Padres are a dangerous lineup. He puts up numbers like 2018 and 2019 and he’s a blackhole where there should be a professional hitter. Although no indication has been given that management is considering this, what really needs to happen is to platoon Hosmer. Even last year he was useless against lefthanded pitching, posting a wRC+ of 63, against a 160 score against righties. This is going to be important against the Dodgers, with 3 lefties in their rotation.
    The club has had a great off season, but still has 2 obvious holes: no backup CF, and no right handed hitting 1B to platoon with Hosmer. Even playing Myers at 1B against lefties and playing someone else in RF would be a big step in the right direction.

  2. Nice article, spot on. As you said, we need everyone to play well. We cannot have these three improve just to see three more take their place.

    I am hoping a full spring will allow them all to bond and start with that kid-like enthusiasm that seemed to fuel the team throughout the year. Chemistry is important and we need everyone pushing each other as they did last year.

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