The San Diego Padres have reason to be optimistic about Phil Maton, the first major selection made by current general manager A.J. Preller.
On June 11, Phil Maton began his major league career, pitching the eighth inning of a loss to the Kansas City Royals. He recorded three quick outs and has continued to dominate, giving up only five hits and no runs in eight games and 6.2 innings, resulting in a .75 WHIP.
Called up to replace Kevin Quackenbush and his 6.38 ERA, Maton became the first of A.J. Preller’s draftees to make it to the big club. Chosen in the 20th round in 2015 out of Louisiana Tech University, he pitched as a starter rather than a reliever, appearing in 40 games and recording 90 strikeouts in 88 innings.
Maton began his minor league career that same year as a reliever with the Tri-City Dust Devils, the Padres’ short-season Class-A affiliate in the Northwest League, and has moved through the ranks quickly. Although the Padres briefly considered him as a starter, he has stayed in the bullpen through his rise from Fort Wayne (19 strikeouts in 12.2 innings) to Lake Elsinore (1.91 ERA in 33 innings) to Triple-A. He ended the 2016 season with 13 saves and on the mound when the Chihuahuas won the Pacific Coast League title.
After very few innings, Maton’s performance so far has led manager Andy Green to place more trust in the 24-year-old (who looks like he’s about 12). He may even consider using him in save situations. Current closer Brandon Maurer has an ugly 6.53 ERA and has converted only 87.5 percent of saves. In Sunday’s finale with the Detroit Tigers, Maurer gave up a leadoff double and ultimately two runs in the Padres’ loss.
But, Maurer’s “3.30 Fielding Independent Pitching…indicates he’s quite a bit better than his ERA,” Dennis Lin pointed out in a recent article in the San Diego Union Tribune. “Teams are always looking for controllable, hard-throwing relievers, so I think there’s a decent chance he’s moved by August.”
Even if the Padres do move Maurer, the team will proceed cautiously with Maton. According to SDUT‘s Lin “the Padres are being careful not to overuse him this early in his career. He’s obviously an important piece for the future, and he didn’t pitch a lot of back-to-backs in the minors.”
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One of the factors cited in Maton’s success has been his spin rate. He throws in the 92 to 95 range, but his spin rate of 2,572 revolutions on his four-seam fastball ranks much higher than the average 2,264. In 2016, among pitchers with who had thrown a minimum of 100 pitches, Andrew Bailey led all if baseball with a 2,674 spin rate. Bailey, who is currently on the disabled list for the Angels, has pitched for eight years and has a 2.69 ERA in the American League.
According to the MLB.com glossary: “As more data have become available, most experts have agreed that fastballs and breaking balls are tougher to hit when they possess higher Spin Rates. In fact, some data suggest that Spin Rate correlates more closely than Velocity to swinging-strike percentage.”
Obviously, no player can be judged by his performance in a few major league games (spin rate notwithstanding). But, at this point in the Padres’ season, the first draftee to reach the majors in the Preller era shows real promise.