For the San Diego Padres, 2020 was the culmination of a lengthy rebuild that saw the team make its first postseason since 2006. Now, after assembling what is arguably the best starting rotation in baseball, they look primed to do so once again. With the 2021 season actually starting on time, and teams set to play a full 162-game season, pitchers will get a chance to properly stretch out this time around. With that, here is a look at the Padres’ projected 2021 pitching rotation.
1.) Yu Darvish
With Mike Clevinger set to miss 2021 with Tommy John Surgery, it’s Yu Darvish who will slot into the no. 1 spot. After stealing him from the Chicago Cubs, the Padres are expecting another Cy Young worthy season from the 34-year-old. The all-time MLB leader in strikeout rate at 11.1 K/9 is continuing to age like a fine wine. 2020 was arguably his greatest season yet as he recorded career-bests in ERA (2.01), FIP (2.23), WHIP (0.961), homerun rate (1.6 HR/9) and walk rate (1.7 BB/9). This culminated in his second runner-up Cy Young finish.
Looking ahead to 2021, Darvish will hope to continue his dominance as he moves from the band box of Wrigley Field to the pitcher-friendly Petco Park. For starters, it’s a good bet that he’ll continue to use his cutter at a high rate this season. In 2020, it became his primary pitch as he threw it a whopping 43.7% of the time. Conversely, he used his four-seam fastball at its lowest rate ever (15.2%). When combining this adjustment with his improved command, elite spin rate and deadly swing-and-miss stuff, the expectation for 2021 is that Darvish will take another crack at winning the ever elusive Cy Young award.
2.) Blake Snell
The second pitcher the Padres traded for this offseason also happens to be their new no. 2 starter. An ace on most teams, Blake Snell comes to San Diego after another great, albeit uneven, season. While the 2018 AL Cy Young winner posted a 3.24 ERA and 11.3 K/9 in the regular season last year, he had some middling peripherals as well. From a 4.35 FIP to a career-worst 1.8 HR/9, Snell also saw his barrel rate nearly double from 4.7% in 2019, to 9.8% in 2020. This coincided with a 36.9% hard hit rate, the worst of his career.
For 2021, the Padres will hope that these peripherals were just an anomaly resulting from the shortened season. When Snell’s in the zone, he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball. While he might not be able to return to the heights of his 2018 season, he still has the arsenal to be an elite presence at the top of the rotation.
3.) Joe Musgrove
Not content with trading for two star pitchers this winter, the Padres went ahead and gained another team’s ace. While Joe Musgrove doesn’t have the track record or postseason experience of Darvish and Snell, he has the potential to be one of the best middle-rotation guys in the league. He had a career year in 2020, putting up a 3.86 ERA, 3.42 FIP and a monstrous 12.5 K/9. While a triceps injury sidelined him for most of August, he returned better than ever in early September. If Musgrove can maintain his newfound strikeout potential, expect a breakout year from him.
4.) Dinelson Lamet
Speaking of breaking out, that’s exactly what Dinelson Lamet did last year when he emerged as the Padres’ top starter. After dropping his curveball and changeup, Lamet started relying on his slider more than ever, throwing it 53.4% of the time. The results speak for themselves as he put up a 2.09 ERA, 2.48 FIP and a miniscule 0.855 WHIP. With a fourth-place NL Cy Young finish under his belt, Lamet looks primed to build on his success, this time over a full season.
That said, Lamet did miss the postseason last year after sustaining an elbow injury which almost required Tommy John Surgery. On top of that, he’s never pitched more than 114 innings in a season. There’s every reason to assume that the Padres will take things slowly with Lamet in 2021, possibly even putting him on a soft innings cap.
5.) Chris Paddack
Rounding things out is Chris Paddack, the youngest member of the rotation. At just 25, Paddack is already looking to turn things around after a disastrous 2020 undercut his promising rookie season. Going from a 3.33 ERA and 0.981 WHIP to a 4.73 ERA and 1.220 WHIP is not what one hopes from their sophomore effort. The main culprit here was a dangerous amount of hard contact given up by Paddack, including a 90.9 mph average exit velocity, 11% barrel rate and a 47.4% hard hit rate which ranked in the bottom 5% of the league. A noticeable decrease in spin rate and command in his four-seam fastball is one potential cause of this. Likewise, a lack of a solid third pitch may also be to blame after he unsuccessfully experimented with a cutter last year due to the unreliability of his curveball.
If Paddack can regain his control and figure out his curve or cutter, he might be able to return to form in 2021. If he does, then no batter should feel safe going up against this Padres rotation.
Featured Image Courtesy of the K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune
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