With a Fastball and a Prayer: Padres 2014 Pitching Preview


Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

To recap what has come before, I’ve been going over the Padres lineup in order to figure out whether Josh Byrnes has done enough to get his team into the playoffs. By my math, he needs to add 16 wins to last year’s total in order to get into the playoff hunt. After looking at the hitters, I figure that the Padres, with everyone healthy and off any recreational pharmaceuticals, should add 9 wins to their total.

So that means they’ve got to add 7 more to their pitching staff.

Let’s start off with the Starting Pitchers:

Andrew Cashner

For those of you who say things like “we should trust the front office, they know what they’re doing”, let me present this key piece of evidence against that. Every offseason, players and management have to go through the arbitration process. This is something neither side enjoys – the players have to prove their worth and the teams have to disparage their own players in order to save some money. In fact, most teams avoid this at any cost, willing to sign contracts in order to cut out this costly and (some would say) silly procedure.

Since Cashner entered his first year of arbitration in the 13/14 offseason, the two sides, based on previous salary decisions, entered fairly similar numbers. Cashner asked for $2.4 million and the Padres countered with $2.275M. This is the player who the Padres traded one of their best hitting prospects for. This is the player who the Padres believe will be their number one starter.

So they go to arbitration in order to save $125,000. Remember that when Cashner is signing with another team as a free agent in a couple of years.

Predicting what Cashner will do is a bit of a crapshoot, but I’ll try my best. I love the decreasing walk rate, but the decreasing strikeout rate scares me a little. His fastball is still amazing, but its everything else in the arsenal that needs to be worked on. Or maybe he’s grooving his pitches. Whatever it is, he pitched incredibly well last season and was really one of the biggest bright spots of the season. But I honestly don’t see him being dramatically better than he was last year. Of course, if he’s just as good as he was last year, I’d be ecstatic.

Ian Kennedy

On the other hand, this was a great move by the front office. See, I can be nice. Any time you can get a starter who’s on the outs with their current team for a minor leaguer and a bullpen guy, you make that trade. Kennedy’s been very durable for the last 4 years, aside from the dishwashing accident, and takes the ball every five days.

But you know what you’re going to get from him. He strikes people out, he’ll give up around 3 to 4 runs a game, he’ll give up some killer homeruns because he’s a fairly extreme flyball pitcher, and he’ll last into the 6th or 7th every game. A perfect fourth starter. Of course, on this team, he’s probably the number 2.

Just, for your own sakes, don’t expect him to repeat 2011. It’s not fair to him and it’s not good for your health. Or your sanity. If he can keep the ball in the park and try to get some more groundballs, he should be a solid member of the staff.

Eric Stults

If it was 1983, Stults would be at home. His stats fit the early 80’s perfectly. He doesn’t strike many batters out. He throws the ball over the plate and hopes that the hitters don’t kill him. Unfortunately, right handed hitters do just that.

Last year, he regressed a little as the league got more used to him and figured out what he was doing. He’s not going to miss bats. He also throws a lot of strikes (which gives him an amazingly good walk rate). But the negative of that is if his control isn’t perfect, if he isn’t able to move the ball around the zone and keep the hitters guessing, he’s going to be in for a rough day. He destroys lefties, but any team with a few strong right handed hitters will give him fits.

He’s a great pitcher if you need someone to eat up a lot of innings and pitch a league average result. He’s not who you want in your rotation if you have any designs on the playoffs.

I think that more regression is coming and he will be the first person out of the rotation as he starts getting shellacked by the other teams in the league. In a perfect world, he’s a long reliever / LOOGY by the end of the season and one of the Padres’ talented young arms is mowing down hitters in Petco.

But yet the Padres didn’t fight his arbitration. Or Kennedy’s. Strange.

Tyson Ross

I think this might be the best way to describe how much people expect Ross to improve this season. I have him in one of my fantasy leagues and he’s been the player most of the other owners are asking about. Now that might mean my team is horrible (which is possible), but could also mean that a breakthrough season is coming.

He’s young, he had an excellent season last year between the starting rotation and the bullpen, and he has tons of room for growth. His raw skills have never been in question, just the ability to harness it on the mound. It’s starting to look like he’s heading there.

But, much like Cashner, I have questions about durability. Can he handle a whole season? Will he get to 30 starts this year? If he can, I think he’s worth a lot. But if his shoulder is gone by June, will we be wondering whether he was better in the pen?

One thing I really like about his season last year was his increased confidence and the strikeouts that came with it. He’s finally understanding that his stuff is excellent and he can put balls past the hitters. Now we just cross our fingers that he can do it for an entire season as a starter.

Josh Johnson

If I gave you $8 million, would you bet it all on one single roll of the dice? That’s precisely what the Padres are doing this season with Johnson. There are so many ‘ifs’ revolving around Johnson, they get their own paragraph.

He’s worth $8M ($9.25 if he starts 26 games) IF he isn’t the same pitcher he was last year, IF he can survive the season without getting injured… again, IF his home run rate in Toronto was an aberration and not the start of a trend, IF he hasn’t lost too much off his pitches to be effective, IF pitching in the NL is that much easier… should I continue?

Look, I hope that Johnson can revive his career and pitching in San Diego is the tonic he needs. What I don’t like is the contract. Why would you include a team option in case he doesn’t pitch well? Why isn’t there a team option in case he does pitch well? You can’t tell me that there was a lineup outside Johnson’s agent’s office of teams waiting to hand him an $8M contract. Why is San Diego happy to sign these players, watch as they rebuild their value while on the team, and then watch them walk away after a year to make the big bucks? Shouldn’t pitchers be willing to take a pay cut to play for the Padres, knowing that their stats are going to look better? Doesn’t the team have any leverage here?

Looking at this pitching staff, I think that a lot of their individual production will stay the same. Cashner and Kennedy should reproduce their 2013 performances. The only player I think will dramatically increase their value over last year’s production is Ross, although Johnson is the wild card who could surprise. Each of the pitchers could end up being worth no more than 2 or 3 wins at their very best and none of the moves were enough to put a team over the top. We know that they’re waiting for the youth to arrive, and three of these starters really feel like they’re just holding roster spots.

Of course, it’s a reflection of how bad the pitching staff was last year that simply by having a full season of Kennedy and 75 more innings from Ross, the Padres are probably going to add 4 wins to their total. Heck, just by removing Edinson Volquez and Clayton Richard from the roster, the Padres are going to add 4 wins.

And with that, I’m predicting the Padres are within 3 wins of the number I think they need to get to the playoffs. Is their bullpen strong enough? Did they get over the hump?