Did the Padres improve their 2024 bullpen enough after the loss of Josh Hader?

While it won't be easy, the Padres' bullpen has a real chance of being even better in 2024.
San Diego Padres v Oakland Athletics
San Diego Padres v Oakland Athletics / Thearon W. Henderson/GettyImages

There is no denying that when the San Diego Padres lost Josh Hader to free agency, it was a huge blow to the Padres' bullpen. Hader re-established himself as one of the best relievers in MLB in 2023 with a 1.28 ERA while striking out 13.6 batters per nine innings, and pitched on his way to his fifth All-Star appearance. Losing a guy of that caliber is going to be felt at the end of games no matter what moves the Padres made.

However, the Padres have been very busy overhauling their bullpen this offseason. In addition to the recent signing of Wandy Peralta, San Diego also added lauded relievers Woo-Suk Go and Yuki Matsui earlier in the offseason. While none of those guys are likely to be as dominant as Hader was, there is reason to be very optimistic for the Padres bullpen in 2024 and beyond.

Despite losing Josh Hader, the Padres bullpen is deeper going into 2024 and might be better

Based on fWAR, the Padres only had the 19th-best bullpen in baseball in 2023 despite having Hader as their closer. The picture is a little more rosy when you look at ERA as the Padres' 3.80 mark last year placed in the top 10. However, a lot of the heavy lifting was done by Hader with Nick Martinez, Tom Cosgrove, and Scott Barlow all making meaningful contributions as well.

Losing a guy that accounted for 1.7 of the team's 3.6 fWAR is bad enough, but the Padres also lost Martinez to the Reds and Barlow to the Guardians in free agency. Cosgrove is sticking around, but three of San Diego's top four relievers won't be around this season.

Fortunately, the moves that the Padres have made appear poised to fill the void nicely. ZiPS projections are not particularly high on Matsui, but projections by Steamer are more bullish as they have him contributing 0.7 fWAR to the cause, with Go slated to add another 0.4 fWAR. The projections don't like the Peralta signing nearly as much because he has some spooky peripherals, but the guy has beaten his projections consistently and hasn't posted an ERA higher than 3.35 in any of the last four seasons.

Ultimately, how good the Padres bullpen ends up being versus last year has a lot to do with how the incumbent Robert Suarez looks in 2024. Suarez has closer-level stuff and had a great 2022 season in San Diego, but he was hampered by injuries early in 2023 and had a down year overall. If he can regain form, the Padres' bullpen all of a sudden looks a lot deeper and more balanced for the upcoming season even without the top-end performance that Hader provided.

However, if Suarez struggles and/or can't get completely healthy, the loss of Hader is going to be felt a lot more, and one of the Padres' new additions is going to have to step up.

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