This winter, the San Diego Padres addressed their defense and offense with free agent additions, however, the Friars failed to upgrade their pitching staff. The Padres do have one starter they can begin to build around, though.
Lamet’s rookie season in San Diego showed flashes of high potential. Signed out of the Dominican Republic at the age of 21, Lamet was never considered to be a top prospect. Much of the “high potential” talk assumed Lamet only as a reliever. Entering 2018, much of the attention has shifted to the pitching prospects who have positioned themselves to make their pro-debuts very soon. Padres’ fans shouldn’t lose focus on Lamet, though. He may surprise us all this season.
Famous for possessing just a two-pitch repertoire (fastball, slider), Lamet put in a career-high 114 innings last season, finishing with a 7-8 record and 4.57 ERA. His 10.94 K/9 innings was enough for seventh best in baseball (among starters with 100 IP), as was his 4.25 BB/9 innings. While his 4.57 ERA wasn’t eyebrow-raising, Lamet’s FIP stood at 4.35. His xFIP was even lower, coming in at 4.20.
Opposing batters struggled to record hits off Lamet, finishing just slightly over the Mendoza-line at .207. In fact, he makes hitters miss. Hitters swung and missed on 11.8% of his pitches within the strikezone, one of the highest marks in Major League Baseball. If Lamet can successfully mix in the curveball he has been learning, NL West beware.
He received his first extended start of spring training Tuesday night, where he used his new curveball effectively. Against the Cincinnati Reds, Lamet gave up six hits, one earned run, and allowed just one walk, while striking out seven over 5 2/3 innings. More impressively, he produced seven ground ball outs.
Padres’ fans hope he can continue to throw this new pitch in the strike zone. If Lamet can improve his 11.1% walk rate, he can emerge as a reliable, top-of-the-rotation starter.
A third pitch, whether a curveball or a changeup, could help his performance against left-handed batters. Lamet posted a 1.63 WHIP against left-handed hitters while allowing them to hit .263. Right-handed hitters did not fare as well against Lamet’s sweeping slider. Righties posted a measly .155 batting average as Lamet worked a 0.86 WHIP. Providing lefties with a different look could get them guessing more, increasing Lamet’s overall production.
Of the three starters returning to the Padres’ rotation, Lamet experienced the most success going through a lineup multiple times.
Lamet was the only one of three starters to not implode the second time through an opposing lineup.
After a recent backfield outing, Andy Green had high praise for the 25-year-old.
"“I thought Lamet was good today. I think he tired a little bit in the fifth inning, which is typical for a lot of guys in spring training. The fastball was alive early on, whether their guns are juiced back there or not. I saw 97 to 101 in the first inning. I’ve never seen him up there. But it was incredibly hard and the rest of the game he was sitting around 95, 96. I thought the curve ball was outstanding today. He was dropping it in whenever he wanted to. That’s kind of the idea behind the pitch for him — a different type of spin pitch to get them off the slider. I thought it looked really good.”"
To Lamet’s benefit, the Padres can afford to be patient with him. Joey Lucchesi and Eric Lauer are close to being major league ready, though they don’t pose any threat to taking Lamet’s rotation spot. While everyone in the organization will say this team can compete in 2018, a lot of stars have to align perfectly for that to happen. Lamet can use 2018 to develop his secondary pitches, focus on his command, and build up his stamina, hopefully resulting in a pitcher the Padres can build around.
The worst case scenario, if Lamet can’t develop into a top-flight starter with three pitches, is that he becomes a dominant bullpen piece. He’ll get the ball behind Clayton Richard in the rotation, meaning fans will have, ideally, 30+ starts to watch and monitor his progress. Lamet will take his lumps, but stay patient, Friar faithful, it may pan out.