Who Is Pitching for the Padres?

The Padres are going to be bad next year.

There, I said it. I know, it’s a controversial stance, and I’ll likely be roasted on a spit in the comments for so boldly stating it at the top of the article like that. But I’m a man of principle, damn it. I stick to my guns. The Padres are going to be bad and I’m not afraid to say it.

Of course, that’s not a controversial take, at all. In fact, it hasn’t been a hot take to say that the Padres are going to be bad since, oh, 2011. San Diego won 90 games in 2010 and haven’t topped 77 wins since then. Some of us got a little excited before the 2015 season because A.J. Preller showed up and decided to spruce up the joint with some interesting warm bodies, but then we quickly realized, no, wait, Matt Kemp can’t play defense, Wil Myers can’t play center field, and one can’t rely on James Shields to lead a rotation anymore. Oops.

So here we are, two years later. The Padres are once again rebuilding after their first effort crashed and burned. Myers and Brandon Maurer are the only remaining members of that group of players that was brought in. The Padres are going to be bad, but at least they won’t be entirely uninteresting.¬†Austin Hedges, Manny Margot, Hunter Renfroe and a few others will be getting the keys to the car this time. The kids are here, and they’re going to play. These could be good players at some point. The Padre lineup could be worth keeping an eye on.

Each member of the Padre pitching staff has the air of an extra in Major League, each with the body of a real player, but a face one can’t immediately place. Quick, without looking, how many of the Padres’ starting pitchers can you name off the top of your head? One? Two?

Here’s what the club’s official depth chart looks like. Here’s what ZiPS thinks of that group.

That’s not great, Bob. But really, who are these guys? As in literally, who are they? I’m glad you asked.

The man with the honor of appearing first on that chart is one Christian Friedrich, about whom you’ve likely heard either if you’re a Rockies fan or were around for his roughly 130 innings of work in a Padre uniform this year. Friedrich has a 5.37 ERA in 296.2 big-league innings since he first came up in 2012. His 4.16 FIP this year was promising, but he has always been one to underperform his FIP. His 5.23 DRA tells us to not rush to by stock in Friedrich Inc. Friedrich would be a fine fourth or fifth starter on a team in transition like San Diego. Indeed, moving from Coors Field to Petco Park is a blessing for him. As a possible Opening Day starter, Friedrich is woefully miscast. This is through no fault of his own. He surely tries his best, and the man is a pitcher in the big leagues. He’s pretty much already won the game of life.

The second starter, Luis Perdomo, is a Rule 5 success story from last year and may be the most interesting of the bunch. He managed to post a 4.02 DRA in 146.2 innings. That’s really good for someone who’d never pitched above A-ball last year! Steamer likes him to put up 1.9 WAR next year, while ZiPS is… less enthused. That’s all a way of saying we don’t exactly know what Perdomo is going to do next year, but he’ll at least be a source of interest. Perdomo should not be confused with another pitcher named Luis Perdomo, who actually threw 61 innings for the Padres between 2009 and 2010.

Former notable prospect Jarred Cosart is the player here of whom you’ve probably heard. He appeared on a couple of Baseball America’s top-100 lists as a younger player. Baseball Prospectus considered him to be one of the 50-best prospects in the game in 2012. He’s now 26 years old and a member of his fourth organization, and hasn’t topped 100 innings since 2014. What’s gone wrong? Besides being bitten by the injury bug, Cosart walks too many batters and strikes out too few. That’s not a good problem to have as a pitcher, but Cosart has pedigree in his corner if nothing else. A healthy season at Petco Park could go a long way in helping him rebound a bit. Cosart went to high school in League City, Texas, and was therefore probably always destined to play in the big leagues.

Paul Clemens is not Roger Clemens. He is 28 years old, not 54. He’s not one of the 10-best pitchers of all time; then again there are only 10 guys who can claim that, so that’s not a slight on him. Like Cosart, he’s bounced around a bunch. Clemens has fewer than 200 big-league innings to his name, including 61 innings with the Padres this past year during which he put together a 3.67 ERA. His FIP and xFIP give us some concern, and he figures to be about replacement level in 2017. What he could do, however, is get Roger to touch a magic baseball and steal his talent, Space Jam-style. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen?

For our fifth starter, Cesar Vargas, I’ll do my best to not make any Shakespeare references, or any salad jokes. Vargas was a Yankees farmhand until signing with San Diego as a minor-league free agent last winter. He made his debut, threw 34 innings, and had a 1.65 WHIP. Since I come here neither to praise Cesar nor bury him, I say that his position as the fifth starter may be naught but window dressing, and that the acquisition of another starter would likely force him into the bullpen to serve as a swingman.

I should probably also mention Zach Lee, who was just claimed on waivers. Lee is another former prospect of note. He came up through the Dodgers system and always just seemed on the precipice of getting a shot. He got just that in 2015, a 4.2-inning cameo about which the less is said, the better. Lee was last seen posting an ERA over 7 with the Mariners’ Triple-A affiliate in Tacoma. He might break camp with the big-league team because he doesn’t have any options remaining. He might get passed through waivers. He might steal some of Roger’s magical essence from Paul. There’s a lot of possibilities.

Again, this isn’t to knock these pitchers. These guys are better at something than you or I will ever be at anything, and they’re good at something¬†cool. They’re paid to play a game, for goodness’ sake. They’ve got it good.

Unfortunately, they currently make up the most underqualified rotation in the league by a country mile. And even if Renfroe, Margot, Myers, Hedges and Travis Jankowski are actually all pretty decent in 2017, it’s not going to mean anything if the pitchers are giving up four or more runs every game. It’s not going to mean anything if the starters can’t provide length because they keep getting knocked out early. Perdomo could be decent, but there’s not much hope beyond him. There’s no hotshot pitching prospect waiting in the wings at Triple-A. There’s no Ginny Baker. This is it. These are the guys.

This will be a long year for the Padres. The rotation has a few months yet to be improved, but right now, it looks as if the group will struggle to top 5 WAR. The team will probably be good again one day. It’ll at least be better than this.

For now, though, these guys are going to get their shot. And that’s what every kid dreams of, at least for a second, when they pick up a baseball for the first time.

Nick is a columnist at FanGraphs, and has written previously for Baseball Prospectus and Beyond the Box Score. Yes, he hates your favorite team, just like Joe Buck. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets, and can contact him at stellinin1 at gmail.

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