Apr 30, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Diego Padres starting pitcher Robbie Erlin (41) pitches against the San Francisco Giants during the fourth inning at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Weekend Coffee with James Krueger: Don’t Mourn the Hitters, Praise the Pitchers


I understand it, I really do. The offense hasn’t just been bad. It’s been terrible, atrocious, abominable, bad, and just about any other synonym you can think of. But the underperforming hitters aren’t the only players on the 25-man roster. Even though Chase Headley is bordering on the Mendoza line, third string catcher Rene Rivera is the third best hitter on the team and Jedd Gyorko is literally the worst player in baseball, there’s still reason to be excited under the bright lights in San Diego.

The Padres pitching staff is one of the most electrifying in the game. Backed behind young starters such as Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross, plus veteran leadership from Ian Kennedy they have the sixth best FIP and third best xFIP in the major leagues (both are ERA predictors which are much more accurate of a team’s true pitching performance). Their collective strikeout rates of 21.4% and 7.3% walk rates rank in the top third for each, as well as their ground ball and home run rates.

Ian Kennedy makes up one of the best stories on the entire staff. His jump of 5.4 percentage points in strikeout rate is the fourth best in the Show, and his 3.5% decrease in walk rate is the best in the majors. He’s pitching to the beautiful tune of a 2.94 FIP and leading the team with 1.6 fWAR. Kennedy’s resurgence back into a top flight starting pitcher is welcomed by the team, but having a great pitcher on the staff is not exactly a new story for the team.

Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross round out the rest of the Padres’ triumvirate of front line starters, and despite both only being 27, they’ve combined to add 2.3 fWAR. They’ve achieved success by utilizing their sliders well, throwing the pitch 29.4% of the time. They’ve used their wipeout pitches to strikeout 21.6% of batter faced, get 58.8% ground balls and allow a minuscule 0.54 HR/9, one of the best tandems in the majors.

Tyson-Ross5
For most teams, outside of their top three pitchers are just league average players. But the wonder of the Padres’ rotation it its incredible depth. Robbie Erlin, despite a minor elbow injury and barely 50 innings into his major league career, has been fantastic as a number four starter. His 4.53 ERA is misleading, thanks to some bad luck. His 3.29 FIP is a much better indicator of what Erlin really is, an above average starting pitcher, and an elite number four.

Even the number five pitcher spot has some hope, as long as we can stop using Eric Stults in pretty much any situation ever. Jesse Hahn was a quiet acquisition over the off-season in the deal that sent away Logan Forsythe and brought back Alex Torres, but Hahn could be the biggest name in the deal. Throwing a hard, mid-90s fastball and a fall off the table curve, he has the stuff to become a true strikeout pitcher at the major league level. His road to the majors jumped a few levels, as he only pitched as high as High A ball before 2014, and can help explain his rough first start with the Friars. But Hahn has been a hot prospect with the Rays for a while, despite his injury history, and has the ability to round out the rotation as well as any.

There’s a lot to dislike about the Padres right now, but it’s all from one side of the box score. The pitching has been absolutely sparkling, and is only getting better. There’s hope for the bats down in the farm and from regression, but if you need to get your baseball fix on right now the best place to look is where it all starts, the pitching mound.

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