Developing an Ace: Do the Padres Have a Number One Starter?


A comment from reader, Justme1103, on the question regarding what’s missing with the Padres sparked a thought.  This was Justme1103’s comment:

"Quentin’s defense scares me. The middle infield is terrible, but there are no better options on the current roster. I think we need another starting pitcher. In my mind we have two #3 starters (Luebke, Stauffer) a #4 (Volquez) and two #5’s (Moseley, Richard). If we can’t have a true 1 or 2, it’s probably best to upgrade your 4’s and 5’s to 3’s."

The fact is, he* has a point.  Does a team need a true ace?  Probably not.  However, each of the play-off teams last season had an ace (Dbacks – Ian Kennedy, Brewers – Zack Greinke, Cardinals – Chris Carpenter, Philadelphia – Roy Halladay & Cliff Lee & Cole Hamels & Roy Oswalt, Ranger – C.J. Wilson, Tigers – Justin Verlander, Rays – David Price, Yankees – C.C. Sabathia).  Do they Padres have anyone on their projected 25-man roster who can even develop into a number one starter?

*I’m assuming Justme1103 is a male.  Perhaps that is sexist of me because women clearly love this great sport, and women clearly love this great team.  Feel free to correct me. 

Tim Stauffer has the most consistent track record.  In years where he started at least 14 games (2005, 2009, 2011) he has had just one with an ERA over 4.  His walk rate is consistently low with a career average of just 3, and that number is continuing to fall.  His strikeout numbers will never be great, but they are consistently hovering around the 6+ mark per nine innings.  Stauffer’s pitches are pedestrian when you look at the numbers.  According to Pitchfx, his fastball averages about 90.3 mph, his slider 85.2 mph, his cutter 85.9, his curve 76.4mph, and his change up 80.7 mph.  His stuff is solid, but far from ace-like.

Clayton Richard has never quite delivered the way many fans hoped he would.  When batters make contact with Richard’s pitches, they have a very high average.  Richard allowed, over the past two seasons, BAbip’s of .311 and .294.  Last season, before his injury, he gave up far too many ground balls.  He posted a GB rate of 50.2%.  In PETCO, it’s preferable to let fly balls drop into the outfielders’ gloves.  In two years with the Padres, Richard’s FIP has averaged out to league average at best.  The defense behind him and the park in which he pitches has been doing a lot of the work.

Dustin Moseley broke onto the scene last season.  He started 20 games and posted a respectable 3.30 ERA and a better-than-league-average 3.99 FIP (League average FIP is about 4.08).  Moseley’s GB rate was still a bit high at 49.5%, but his allowed BAbip of .273 helped.  Moseley is what many commonly define as a finesse pitcher.  All that truly means is that he doesn’t have an overpowering fastball or a devastating curve.  His fastball averages about 89.3, and his curve ball comes in at 76.7.  Moseley could be as good as a number three starter, but he is a far cry from an ace.

Cory Luebke offers the most promise of the pitchers covered thus far.  Last season, he posted a 3.29 ERA.  Pretty solid, but his FIP was even better at 2.99.  The defense did him no favors in his starts.  His FIP puts him in the top 10% of all Major League pitchers.  He throws a fastball, a slider, a curve ball, and a change up.  Each pitch is above average in velocity and movement according to data provide by Pitchfx.  His fastball is clearly his best pitch and he uses it often.  Luebke gets a lot of swings outside the zone and the contact percentage for batters swinging at those pitches drops off the table.  For batters swinging at Luebke’s pitches in the zone, the contact percentage is 85.6%.  However, when batters swing at pitches outside the zone, the contact percentage is just 61.8%.  These numbers show Luebke as a solid number three style pitcher with the ability to become a legitimate number two.  However, if he can maintain the 9+ strikeouts per nine innings, Luebke can become an ace.

Edinson Volquez has the stuff that would allow him to be a true number one.  His command though kills that.  Volquez will have to come into San Diego and prove he can find the plate.  His career K% of 21.7% is very nice, and his strikeouts per nine innings of 8.67 is promising.  However, Volquez walks almost five batters per game.  In PETCO, he should be able to recover from a few walks, but he gives teams too many opportunities when he walks that many batters.  Volquez has a plus fastball, averaging out at about 93.6 mph.  He a slider at 81.9 mph, a change up at 82.4 mph, and a curve ball at 78.2 mph.  Value-wise, Volquez’s curve ball and change up have been his best pitches.  Yet, if he can work on his control, his fastball should be his best pitch by far.  Volquez has the skill to be a number one starting pitcher in this league.  He proved that in 2008 with the Reds.  Injuries and control issues have bumped him down to a likely number four starter, but don’t be surprised if he earns the title of ace while in San Diego.

In all, I like Justme1103’s comments as to where each pitcher projects.  Luebke and Volquez are the two pitchers on the staff that have a shot at earning a number one title, but for now, the team doesn’t have an ace.  They may be able to get by like this, but eventually they will need to promote someone from the farm or go out and get another starter.