Player Profiles 2020: San Diego Padres Starting Pitchers
Throughout the winter months of the offseason, the Pitcher List staff with be creating profiles for every fantasy-relevant player for 2020. Players will be broken up by team and role through starting pitchers, bullpen, lineup, and prospects. You can access every article as it comes out in our Player Profiles 2020 hub here.
Updated 1/15 with the signing of Jerad Eickhoff.
Padres At A Glance
The Padres’ starting pitching staff is interesting. You have Chris Paddack and Dinelson Lamet, who have both flashed brilliance. You have Garrett Richards, who was great in 2014 and 2015, but we haven’t gotten a full season out of him since then. Joey Lucchesi is steady, if not unspectacular, and the same goes for Zach Davies, although he lacks spectacularity even more than Lucchesi.
We should see some Cal Quantrill, who is solid, but what I’m interested to see is how the Padres handle MacKenzie Gore—he could get Paddack treatment and skip Triple-A altogether, although I think they’ll take it slower with Gore. In any case, I expect to see him by the end of the year, which is a much more aggressive timeline than I think most people envision.
Chris Paddack – Locked Starter
Nickname: The Sheriff
2019 In Review
I wrote about Paddack in early May. He has his flaws, but his 2019 was incredibly encouraging. He got whiffs, he limited walks, and relative to his peers, his home run rate wasn’t bad. Just 24 years old, Paddack spent just 37.2 innings in Double-A and skipped Triple-A altogether, so it’s hard to not be completely satisfied with what the year that he had.
Fastball (61% usage)
With a 10.2% swinging-strike percentage, Paddack’s fastball is one of the most valuable pitches in the league. It ranks just below Blake Snell‘s fastball in pitch value, and ahead of Justin Verlander‘s. It’s fantastic, and it allows him to make up for the fact that he basically only throws two pitches—it accounts for over half of his strikeouts. He throws it to the top of the zone with frequency and commands it super well there. We could see some regression with his fastball, as he had a .243 BABIP with the pitch in 2019.
Changeup (29% usage)
Visually, Paddack’s vulcan changeup is sick. By velocity, spin rate, and movement, it’s pretty ordinary, although it has a little more than one tick above the average changeup. What separates Paddack is his ability to command it. Mixed with his fastball, they make quite a formidable pairing. It’s a borderline Money Pitch, as he just misses the 40% mark with his zone percentage. However, with a 48.4 O-Swing%, I’m not sure he needs to throw it in the zone any more than he does now. As with his fastball, his changeup’s BABIP is significantly lower than league average (i.e., .274), so regression is likely here too. Even with a rise in BABIP baked in, this a really good, really fun pitch.
Curveball (10% usage)
To me, this is really the focus for Paddack. In its current form, it’s a pretty textbook get-me-over pitch. He uses it to steal strikes early in the count, but he doesn’t use it at all when he’s ahead. In terms of similar curveballs, there aren’t any other pitches that get a lot of swings and misses. There’s Mike Clevinger‘s curveball, but it gets more horizontal movement. Clevinger uses his sparingly too, but he’s more likely to use it when he’s ahead.
So, as is, I’m not as optimistic as others that this is going to develop into the third pitch Paddack needs. He’s said that he wants to get it firmer, which I think would be a fantastic start, but its shape just isn’t what he needs, to me. A harder, less loopy curveball would greatly benefit him, which is a change that Shane Bieber is thriving because of. As is, the pitch is good enough to not get beat up, which is almost assuredly because he seldom uses it and commands it so well.
Although I didn’t speak about him in the most fond way, there’s a lot to love with Paddack. All signs point to a high-3s/low-4s ERA, with a lot of strikeouts, very few walks, and a manageable home run rate. That’s assuming that he doesn’t progress, which might be a silly assumption considering he’s 24 this month. He probably doesn’t increase his innings total that much, but there is a ton of upside considering his curveball needs improvement and his changeup still has room to grow. Expect an increase in BABIP, and thus ERA and WHIP.
Realistic worst-case projection: 3.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 25% K rate in 160 IP
Realistic best-case projection: 3.20 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 28% K rate in 180 IP
Nick’s reluctant Chris Paddack 2020 projection:
3.60 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 26% K rate in 170 IP
Garrett Richards – Locked Starter
Nickname: The Grich Who Stole Our Hearts
2019 In Review
Richards pitched in just three games in 2019, all of which were 3.2 innings or less. The good? Lots of whiffs, and his spin rate was up on all of his pitches. The bad? Lots of walks, and his velocity was the lowest it’s been in quite a long time.
Slider (39% usage)
Part of the reason why Richards’ 2015 was such a good year was that he threw his slider more than his fastball. In 2018, Richards did this again, before going more fastball-heavy in 2019. It’s a Money Pitch, and so Richards would be best suited going with a slider-heavy approach moving forward, especially as his fastball declines. We don’t have much to pull from, but he reverted back to throwing his fastball 40% of the time in 2019. He should…not do that.
Fastball (31% usage)
If you look at Richards’ Statcast profile, you’ll find that his fastball looks incredible. In 2018, his fastball velocity was 89th percentile, while his fastball spin was 99th percentile. Surely that should lead to a lot of whiffs. Well, that’s sort of true. But even his 8.4% swinging-strike percentage in 2015 (his best year, and his best year for his fastball) isn’t as elite as you would expect from a pitch with such high spin. That’s because the pitch has really, really poor active spin. In other words, his fastball spins a lot, but because it’s made up of mostly inactive spin, it doesn’t give it the backspin that gives fastballs perceived rise.
As a result, Richards’ fastball gets almost no horizontal movement—it’s in the 1st percentile in horizontal break. This is why, despite his high overall spin rate, he’ll always underperform his peers who have better active spin, even though he has good velocity too. Since 2016, Richards has allowed a .380 wOBA on his fastball. That’s in the territory of Dylan Bundy, Chris Archer, and Michael Pineda. Not good!
Sinker (19% usage)
Like his four-seam fastball, Richards’ sinker gets very little horizontal movement. In fact, he gets the least in the league, although it’s possible that it’s the better of his fastballs at this point. Increased usage may expose it—especially because he doesn’t throw it in the zone nearly as often as his four-seamer—but his sinker has a .363 wOBA since 2016. As shown above, his four-seamer has a .380 wOBA, so his sinker is a slight improvement. They’re basically the same pitch, except his sinker gets about nine inches of ride, while his four-seamer gets none. This all comes with the caveat that, because his Zone% is so low, his sinker has a career 21.99% strike percentage.
Curveball (11% usage)
Richards’ curveball doesn’t get very many swings outside of the zone, nor does he throw it in the zone often. His career O-Swing% is 25.2%, which is worse than that of his four-seamer and sinker, and his career Zone% is 33.4%. That’s not a very good combination, which is why his curveball has an abysmal 23.88% strike percentage over his career, so there’s a good reason he doesn’t throw this more.
Richards’ slider isn’t quite Patrick Corbin level, but he can put up something like a 27 K% and 10 BB% at this point. Steamer has him projected for 165 innings (which is awfully gracious), but given these past four seasons, I would take the under.
Realistic worst case projection: 4.40 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 23% K rate in 60 IP
Realistic best-case projection: 3.70 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 27% K rate in 160 IP
Nick’s reluctant Garrett Richards 2020 projection:
4.00 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 24% K rate in 130 IP
Zach Davies – Locked Starter
Nickname: Not Hendricks
2019 In Review
Despite a career 98 FIP- and 105 xFIP-, Davies has managed to put up a career 91 ERA-. 2019 was no different, as he put up an 80 ERA-. This time, though, his FIP- and xFIP- were 102 and 117, respectively, and he’s continued his trend towards more fly balls.
Sinker (52% usage)
Despite the league average for sinkers being a .370 wOBA, Davies has put up a .339 wOBA on his sinker since 2015. This is all despite a 3.2% swinging-strike percentage and 91.6% contact percentage. How does he do this? Command. Davies has a 116 Command+, which is the eighth-best number in the league. His ability to consistently back-door his sinker against righties and front-door it against lefties is special.
He has accrued a mere 3.7 pVAL (0.1 pVAL/C) on the pitch, so, in terms of run expectancy, it’s been a pretty neutral pitch. It doesn’t help him, and it doesn’t hurt him. When you’re Zach Davies, you take that.
Changeup (31% usage)
Although it doesn’t qualify as a Money Pitch, Davies’ slider meets the two more important of the three criteria: The pitch has a career 47.8% O-Swing% and 19.1% swinging-strike percentage. Few utilize their changeup as often as Davies. Notably, there’s Trevor Richards at 38%, Luis Castillo at 31%, and Kyle Hendricks at 28%, so there’s probably not much wiggle room for him to increase his changeup usage, although it’d be nice.
His command of his changeup is great, too. He goes below the zone to his glove-side against righties, and below the zone arm-side against lefties. It’s a perfect pairing to go with his sinker, as he simply locates it below it.
Cutter (12% usage)
There’s not a lot to say. This isn’t a good pitch, but it’s not the worst. It doesn’t get swings and misses, and hitters don’t offer at it outside of the zone. It kind of plays the role of his sinker as just another pitch that’s good enough. (Interestingly, this pitch actually gets arm-side movement instead of glove-side movement, which is peculiar for a cutter.)
Curveball (4% usage)
I’m not convinced Davies can’t throw this more. Granted, it’s a slow, loopy curveball, which I’m generally not a fan of, but I think he could at least throw it, say, 10% of the time—Kyle Hendricks does, and Davies’ is better. By swinging-strike percentage, it’s been similar to the curveballs of Zack Greinke and Wei-Yen Chen. By wOBA, it’s been as effective as Matthew Boyd and Max Scherzer‘s. Throw it a touch more!
To me, Davies is Kyle Hendricks, but not good. They both have low velocity fastballs, good contact management skills, and they have similar repertoires. Hendricks is just simply better across the board—but there’s still value here.
2019 marked the fourth time in five seasons that Davies’ wOBA has been lower than his xwOBA. At this point, you can basically chalk him in for a league-average wOBA, 1.30ish WHIP, and somehow manage a sub-4.00 ERA, However, he’s getting a downgrade when it comes to his defense and potentially his park. I think we see a down year from Davies.
Realistic worst-case projection: 4.50 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 15% K rate in 160 IP
Realistic best-case projection: 3.80 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 18% K rate in 190 IP
Nick’s reluctant Zach Davies 2020 projection:
4.20 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 15% K rate in 180 IP
Joey Lucchesi – Locked Starter
Nickname: Baby Kanga
2019 In Review
Joey Lucchesi is weird. So, so weird. His delivery is funky. Every website gives his pitches a different name, because his pitches are super weird. At the midway point, Lucchesi had the third-worst Command+ in the league for starters, and by the end of the year, his 88 Command+ was one of the worst in the league for starters. That’s worse than that of Dinelson Lamet, who had a Command+ of 89. Lamet, as you may know, is known for his command and walk issues. Lucchesi, though, has a career 3.03 BB/9 and had an 8.2 BB% in 2019, which aren’t as bad as his Command+ would suggest. He’s weird! These are quite respectable numbers, and both are just a touch worse than the league-averages in 2019.
It was a solid year for Lucchesi. He finished a touch above-average in ERA-, FIP-, and xFIP-, and K/BB+. On the other hand, he also finished with a below-average WHIP. On his prospects report, FanGraphs has him listed as a league-average starter in his prime, and I see no reason to think he’ll be much better than that. He certainly didn’t show that he’s capable of more in 2019.
Sinker (51% usage)
This is Lucchesi’s only pitch that can be confidently labeled. It’s a low velocity, average spin sinker that gets a decent amount of whiffs given the pitch it is, but it grades out well nonetheless. In 2019, it accrued a 9.7 pVAL and 0.7 pVAL/C.
Lucchesi allowed just a .314 wOBA and .305 xwOBA with a .288 BABIP on his sinker in 2019, so while he may not limit hitters to that degree moving forward, Lucchesi’s sinker is a solid offering, despite not drawing many whiffs.
Changeup (35% usage)
I labeled this pitch a changeup—FanGraphs, Baseball Savant, and Brooks Baseball do too—but Lucchesi refers to it as a “churve.” It’s pretty simple—it’s a changeup that he throws like a curveball. As you can imagine, it’s unlike any changeup in baseball, and for all intents and purposes, it’s a curveball.
This is far and away Lucchesi’s best secondary pitch, although it fails to qualify as a Money Pitch since it falls short in O-Swing% and Zone%. At 35% thrown, it’s probably thrown about as much as Lucchesi can, for the same reasons it’s not a Money Pitch. Whether you classify it as a changeup or curveball, it grades out well by pitch value.
Its .235 BABIP is quite low, and so are its wOBAcon and xwOBAcon, so I would expect some regression for his churve in 2020, unless it starts missing a lot more bats.
Cutter (14% usage)
Another weird pitch! It’s labeled as a cutter, but it doesn’t have glove-side movement. It’s basically a four-seam fastball, but it gets much less arm-side movement than is typical. It gets fewer whiffs than a typical four-seam fastball, and far fewer than a more conventional cutter.
Again, with a BABIP of .254 for his cutter, there’s likely some regression coming. Because the pitch is so weird, I can buy Lucchesi having a lower-than-average BABIP on his cutter, but not this low. League average BABIPs for four-seam fastballs and cutters are .307 and .288, respectively, so I’m not buying this.
There’s plenty to like and dislike here. The good? Lots of ground-ball pitches, he’s weird, and you know what to expect with him. The bad? Only three pitches (and only one is actually good), poor Command+, home run issues, and I don’t see an avenue for much improvement. This is mostly who he is, but there’s value in guys like Lucchesi.
Realistic worst-case projection: 4.50 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 20% K rate in 160 IP
Realistic best-case projection: 3.90 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 25% K rate in 180 IP
Nick’s reluctant Joey Lucchesi 2020 projection:
4.30 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 23% K rate in 170 IP
Dinelson Lamet – Locked Starter
Nickname: The Down Low
2019 In Review
Compared to his 2017, Lamet saw his K% jump up and his BB% go down. He struck out ten or more hitters in four games, but he also walked quite a few hitters. The home runs and walks are still an issue, but Lamet still finished the year with a respectable 4.07 ERA, 3.91 FIP, 3.44 xFIP, and 3.61 SIERA. Although, I will note that Lamet seems like one to consistently underperform his peripherals.
Fastball (36% usage)
As with Lucchesi, there are some pitch classification issues with Lamet. In any case, his four-seam fastball wasn’t good in 2019, nor was it good in 2017. The good news is that his .366 BABIP on the pitch probably will not persist. The bad news is that his swinging-strike percentage on the pitch is a poor 7.2%. It’s not as bad as Richards’ fastball, but Lamet has a 77.8% active spin percentage, which ranks in the 25th percentile for fastballs. As you’d expect, it got really poor grades. Pitch Info has his wFA at -8.2 and wFA/C at -1.79.
Curveball (32% usage)
By active spin, Lamet’s curveball is much more slider than curveball. By movement, his curveball also seems like a slider. The difference between his slider and curveball, though, is that his “curveball” gets a significant amount of horizontal movement, while his slider is more of a conventional slider. It’s a unique pitch, but you can make comparisons to Marcus Stroman or Walker Buehler‘s sliders.
Overall, it’s a similar pitch, by results, to his slider, too. It’s close enough to a Money Pitch that I’m going to call it one (especially because of inconsistencies across sites). A 39.7 O-Swing%, 42.6 Zone%, and 22.8% swinging-strike percentage make it an elite offering, which is why he uses it so often.
Sinker (19% usage)
There’s a lot of overlap between his four-seamer and sinker, so the data isn’t super reliable, but it’s just another slop pitch that he can use against lefties. It’s better at getting strikes than his four-seamer, but it also gets hit harder and fewer whiffs. Meh.
Slider (12% usage)
Another quasi-Money Pitch! With a 38.9 O-Swing%, 39.1 Zone%, and 24.6% swinging-strike percentage, it’s probably the slightly-inferior pitch to his curveball, but it’s obviously quite solid. He mixes this pitch in pretty sparingly, but it’s a nice change-of-pace from his curveball to keep hitters off-balance and give them a different look.
Despite Lamet’s flaws, Steamer currently has him projected for the lowest ERA of all Padres starters. I have a hard time trusting pitchers with his profile, but when he’s using his curveball-slider combo this much, he won’t walk as many hitters as his 89 Command+ would suggest. I’m not as rosy as Steamer when it comes to his HR/9, BB/9, or WHIP, but perhaps this is a blind spot for me. Either way, his upside is clear.
Realistic worst-case projection: 4.40 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 25% K rate in 150 IP
Realistic best-case projection: 3.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 32% K rate in 180 IP
Nick’s reluctant Dinelson Lamet 2020 projection:
4.00 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 30% K rate in 170 IP
Cal Quantrill – Fringe Starter
Nickname: So-So Cal
Despite being not-very-far-removed from Tommy John surgery, Quantrill was pretty solid in 2019. Despite three pitches that project as average or worse and command that projects to be average (via FanGraphs), Quantrill wields a slider and changeup that both get whiffs, and—between his four-seamer and sinker—has a serviceable pair of fastballs. His slider is a good pitch, and he should throw his four-seamer instead of his sinker.
MacKenzie Gore – Fringe Starter
Nickname: Mac and Cheese
There’s a chance that Gore never sees the majors leagues in 2020, but I think the Padres are going to move him along quickly. With four pitches that grade out as average or better with plus command (per FanGraphs and Baseball Savant), Gore is as good-looking of a prospect as it gets. While he has only just reached Double-A and is just shy of 21-years-old, he hasn’t really skipped a beat at any level. I think he’ll make it up by the end of the year and look advanced for his age.
Jerad Eickhoff – Fringe Starter
Nickname: The Icon
2018 gave us a moment of bliss where an injured Eickhoff presented us with a glorious curveball in very few innings. We had a bit of hype in 2019 if he got a fair shot in the rotation and…it didn’t go so well. His curveball is still really good, though, and hey, maybe he gets a shot for the Padres and becomes a surprise streamer once again.
Chris Paddack: The Sherriff. His actual nickname for whatever reason.
Garrett Richards: The Grich Who Stole Our Hearts. A plan on The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.
Joey Lucchesi: Baby Kanga. A “Joey” is a baby kangaroo (or any marsupial for that matter).
Dinelson Lamet: The Down Low. His initials are DL.
Cal Quantrill: So-So Cal. He’s okay and located in Southern California. And also named Cal.
MacKenzie Gore: Mac and Cheese. He’s Mac and throws cheese.
Jerad Eickhoff: The Icon. When he’s not Eickhoff, he’s Eickhon. Say it out loud and groan with me.
Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)