The 2012 Padres Rotation Will Be Just Fine

Sunday April 8th, 2012

Sam Evans: From what I’ve heard around baseball about the Padres rotation, the Padres have no chance of contending in 2012. This was surprising to me, when actually the Padres slim chance of contending this year is due to their abysmal offense. The Padres rotation is fairly average compared to the rest of baseball. Obviously, losing your ace would hurt any MLB pitching staff. But I believe that the 2012 Padres rotation is almost criminally underrated.

At the forefront of the Padres rotation is newly acquired right-handed pitcher from the Reds, Edinson Volquez. Volquez was one of the players included in the Mat Latos trade in December. He was always a highly esteemed pitching prospect coming up in the Rangers minor league system, the problem always being his command. After being traded to the Reds following two average seasons with the Rangers, Volquez had a breakout year with the 2008 Reds. He threw 196 innings with 206 strikeouts, a 3.21 ERA, and a 4.3 BB/9. Due to his ridiculous first half of the season, Volquez made the 2008 National League All-Star team. The next year, Volquez got off to a decent start, but then was forced to miss the rest of the year with Tommy John surgery. Coming back from Tommy John surgery is not an easy thing, but multiple MLB pitchers have come back from the surgery, pitching just as good (if  not better) than they did when they were healthy before.

Heading into the 2010 season, I was interested to see if Edinson Volquez could return to his pre-surgery form. Unfortunately, Volquez’s debut was delayed due to a 50 game suspension for using a performance-enhancing drug (oops). It had been a while since we had seen a pitcher suspended for using a performance-enhancing drug and various people around baseball were surprised. Actually, MLB probably didn’t give Volquez the suspension he deserved. MLB’s current policy regarding performance-enhancing drugs needs to be updated to encourage players to stay away from these dangerous drugs.

When Volquez returned from his suspension, he wasn’t overly impressive. Nonetheless, how much can you expect from a pitcher that hadn’t faced competition for more than one year? In 2011, Volquez was pretty bad, to say the least. His 5.71 ERA and 5.29 FIP over 108 innings were some of the worst numbers from any National League starter last year. He also had a career low LOB% (69%), and a career high BB/9 (5.4) and HR/9 (1.6).

For 2012, Volquez gets a new start in San Diego. A perfect buy-low, low-risk and high-reward player. I’m pretty convinced that there’s no chance Volquez can be as bad as he was last year by now pitching in Petco Park for half of his starts. ZiPS, a trusted projection system, sees Volquez having a 3.98 ERA and 1.47 WHIP in 2012. I think that if Volquez can establish better control and with a little luck on his side, he can exceed those projections. Overall, Padres fans might not be thrilled with Volquez being their Opening Day starter, but it’s not as bad as it looks.

Falling behind Volquez in the rotation is the 6’4’’ lefty Cory Luebke. Luebke was drafted 63rd overall in 2007 out of Ohio State University. Luebke was never the top pitching prospect that Volquez was, but a lot of prospect people thought he could be a solid #4 starter. In 2011, it’s fair to say that Luebke exceeded all expectations. He had a 3.29 ERA in seventeen starts, but his 2.93 FIP suggested that he was actually better than his ERA might show.

In Luebke’s first start on Friday, he struggled against the Dodgers hitters. He only lasted 4.2 innings and he gave up nine hits and five earned runs. While it wasn’t the debut Luebke was looking for, Padres Manager Bud Black shed some light on Luebke’s start after the game. Black explained that Luebke’s two off speed pitches to Andre Ethier were what hurt him. Out of the five earned runs Luebke allowed, Ethier drove in four of them. Luebke just ran into a good hitter and he made a couple of mistakes with his pitch location. Not to mention, both of Ethier’s hits came with two outs.

According to Fangraphs, Luebke was worth $10.8 million dollars last year. While he probably wouldn’t get that much on the open market, the Padres are lucky to have Luebke under team control until 2017. This year could be the year when Luebke takes a huge step forward developmentally and starts to get more recognition. While he might not have the ceiling of a #1 starter, I think he has the chance to be a decent number two.

The Padres plan on using Dustin Moseley as their number three starter this year. Moseley is a thirty-one year old right-handed starter who has bounced around during his career. Moseley is a former first-round draft pick who boasts a fastball in the low 90’s, and a couple of average off speed pitches. After three decent years as a reliever for the Angels, Moseley signed a one-year contract with the New York Yankees for 2010. That season Moseley got nine MLB starts and wasn’t very impressive at all.

Last year, Moseley finally got his big chance with the Padres. He had twenty starts and posted an impressive 3.30 ERA. His 3.99 FIP shows that he probably wasn’t as good as his ERA, but he was still an above-average starting pitcher, which is a fairly rare commodity these days (health permitting).

I’m not too high on Dustin Moseley compared to the other Padres pitchers. I think that at best, he is a number four starter. But more likely, he doesn’t deserve a spot in the Major League rotation. In Petco Park, anything can happen, as proven by Moseley’s great year in 2011. He relies primarily on control and command, and as long as he stays in control of the hitters he’s facing, Moseley should be just fine. Hopefully, Moseley can find a way to use Petco Park to his advantage and keep the ball in the ballpark. Moseley took a no-decision last night against the Dodgers, giving up 5 ER in 5 innings pitched.

Following Moseley is the 6’5’’ lefty Clayton Richard. Richard was acquired in a trade with Chicago back in 2009. He is coming back from a season-ending surgery last year, and this spring, he has finally been deemed healthy. Obviously, a left-handed pitcher with the frame that Richard has just has to throw strikes to be successful. Unfortunately, that’s not as easy as it looks.

In his three MLB seasons, Richard has never been able to keep the walks down. 2010 was his best year, only because he stayed healthy and threw 201 innings. That year Richard was merely a league-average pitcher. Still, any pitcher that can throw over two hundred innings, even if they are not overly impressive, that is a huge asset to a ballclub. 2012 is a career year for Richard. If he can stay healthy, the Padres might reward him with a multi-year contract. If not, he’ll probably be out of a role as a Major League starting pitcher in 2013.

Tim Stauffer was supposed to be the Padres Opening Day starter until he was placed on the 15 day Disabled List with a strained right elbow. You never know what will happen with elbow injuries, but I don’t expect Stauffer’s elbow issues to be too much of a problem. Getting Stauffer back will be a huge boost to this rotation. He was projected to be the Padres #5 starter but on April 4th, the Padres placed him on the DL. He reportedly looked awful this spring, and he was having problems with his mechanics.

Last year, Stauffer threw 185 innings and he had a 3.73 ERA. Stauffer barely strikes any hitters out, but he makes up for it with a tiny walk rate. Stauffer is a solid pitcher who the rest of the Padres rotation should model after. He has shown that it is possible to succeed in Petco Park without striking anyone out. Stauffer’s success is highly reliant on the Padres defense, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If Stauffer’s injury isn’t as serious as the Padres have made it sound, he should be a solid bet to throw 150 quality innings in Petco Park.

The Padres are yet to announce who will take Stauffer’s position in the starting rotation while he is gone. My bet is that it is in between Anthony Bass and Micah Owings. Owings, who was signed to a minor-league deal this spring, is a righty that was 8-0 with a 3.57 ERA in 63 innings with the D-backs last year. On Friday, Owings looked impressive throwing 3.1 shutout innings out of the bullpen. Still, the Padres have Monday off, so that shouldn’t prevent him from pitching in the #5 spot if needed.  My guess is that Anthony Bass will win the final rotation spot. Bass is a twenty-five year old righty who was a quick riser through the Padres minor league system. Last year, Bass had a 1.68 ERA in 48 Major League innings. Out of his twenty-seven appearances, only three of them were starts, so we haven’t got an in-depth look at Bass as a MLB starter.

If this Padres team played half of their games at Coors Field, they would probably be one of the worst rotations in baseball. The Padres front office has done a great job finding players that can use the dimensions of Petco Park to their advantage. The Padres have shown that is possible to have an above-average rotation without a true ace. While their rotation might not be the best in the N.L. West this year, the pitching staff isn’t what’s preventing this San Diego ball club from contending this year.

***Today’s feature was prepared by our Baseball Writer, Sam Evans.  We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers.  You can also follow Sam on Twitter.***

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About samevans87

I love writing, talking, watching, and playing baseball. I am a baseball writer for MLB Reports and Fish Stripes. "No game in the world is as tidy and dramatically neat as baseball, with cause and effect, crime and punishment, motive and result, so cleanly defined." -Paul Gallic

Posted on April 8, 2012, in MLB Teams: Articles and Analysis and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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