By: Nick Recchia
Having a strong bullpen is not a new concept for the San Diego Padres nor a new found mantra, but rather a continuation of a success the team has experienced over the last couple of decades. It doesn’t hurt to have a Hall of Fame closer during that run in Trevor Hoffman but a lot of great pen pieces were low key roster additions that supplied a glut of Padre All Star appearances over the last decade especially. From current closer Kirby Yates, to former closers Brad Hand, Heath Bell, and Huston Street, the Padres have always valued bullpen weapons and the 2020 group looks to raise the bar to possibly historic proportions. Before looking forward to much, let’s take a look back a little at the last great Padres pen historically speaking which was the 2018 group which had a collective 8.7 fWAR. This group consisted of holdovers Kirby Yates, Craig Stammen, and Matt Strahm as well as former closer Brad Hand among others.
The 2020 group will be led by 2019 All Star and inaugural All MLB 1st Team award winner Kirby Yates, who had one of the best seasons of a closer in recent MLB memory. He pitched to a 1.19 ERA over 60.2 innings to go along with 101 strikeouts. He converted 41 out of 44 save opportunities. Since the development of his vaunted splitter in 2017, You’d be hard pressed to find a better performance out of the pen in MLB. He will be set up this year by new and old Padre Drew Pomeranz. Coming to San Diego on a four year free agent deal this offseason, he will see if he can continue his second half dynamo performance he performed as a Milwaukee Brewer where his average fastball velocity climbed into the 96mph range and his curveball kept the same bite but at more of a 84-86mph range. Shelving his other pitches in deference to these two, reimagined Drew into maybe Andrew Miller lite, which is certainly what AJ Preller and front office are hoping after guaranteeing him $34 million dollars over the course of the next four years. His set up partner will be a young right hander from Los Mochis Mexico who stepped onto the scene last year as a 20 year old and never looked back once called up. Andres Munoz has what might be currently the most electrifying fastball in the major leagues, consistently touching triple digits while also creating awkward swings with a developing slider that is almost impossible to lay off when geared up for the heater. He will spend the entire 2020 season as a 21 year old and will look to build off of an impressive 2019 where he had a 11.7 K/9 and allowed opposing hitters to bat a measly .188 against.
The man to not sleep on in 2020 after missing most of the 2019 season will be big left hander Jose Castillo. His mid to high 90’s fastball from the left side to go with a slider that has a 40%+ swinging strike rate is an imposing figure on the mound and looks to settle as another late inning weapon for new Manager Jayce Tingler. Former major leaguer and Japanese import Pierce Johnson will look to carry over his development from the Nippon Baseball League to Petco Park. He possesses a mid 90’s four seamer as well as a true 12-6 curveball. Many observers in San Francisco, which was Johnson's last MLB home in 2018, felt like the team gave up to early on his development only to see him now come back to a Division rival. He signed a two year deal worth $5 million dollars with a team option for a third year and will be given every opportunity to win a job in this bullpen. Matt Strahm looks to have settled into the bullpen for 2020 with a skill set that allows him to pitch in any role asked of from “opener” to long guy, to someone who has pitched set up innings when needed over the last couple of seasons. His repertoire and velocity both played up after returning from the rotation last year once back in the pen. The return of Craig Stammen will be key to a successful pen with his two seamer and ability to induce ground balls with runners on base. Due to the depth of the rest of the pen, he will be liberally deployed earlier in games in a fireman role.
The eighth spot in the bullpen using traditional logic would be one of the starters who fail to crack the rotation by the end of spring since long time long guy Robbie Erlin is no longer in the organization. Any number of starters could be in this role possibly with Cal Quantrill coming out of the pen last year for a good amount of the season even with his starter pedigree. The team could also zig where others zag and look to carry another flame thrower like Trey Wingenter, Javy Guerra, Gerardo Reyes, or even former Rule 5 pick Luis Perdomo.
One thing is for certain, as good as Padre bullpens have been previously, the depth and talent of the 2020 might be a group unrivaled in organization history. We will see if this talented group can shorten the game and help the Padres get into October baseball.
RP - ANDRES MUNOZ Photo Credit: Mark Collier
Longtime baseball enthusiast who tries to incorporate new age analytics into old school baseball strategy and how the two can coexist in winning harmony. Also a minor league aficionado who delves deep into the farm to share the love of the game from the lower rungs of the minor leagues and up. Always up for sports talk.