The Padres put together what they anticipated would be a mix of veteran and young starting pitchers to head into 2014. Josh Johnson's off-season surgery on his elbow to remove bone spurs notwithstanding, the rotation looks promising as spring moves along. Pitching in Petco Park is another boost for the Padres' hurlers, helping pitchers to overcome mistakes with its spacious dimensions, even with the fences moved in slightly.
Starting Pitching Rotation Analysis
San Diego Padres
Potential Rotation Alternatives
ADP designated by * indicates no reported ADP as of date of publication. Projections are based on a compilation of several sources (ZiPS, Oliver, Steamer, RotoChamp), given equal weight.
Andrew Cashner started out pitching long relief in 2013, mostly due to a thumb laceration he suffered in the off-season, but once he joined the starting rotation, he blossomed into a superb pitcher. He possesses a mid-90 MPH fastball, which would lead observers to think his strikeout rate would be higher, but he also pitches to contact and induces a preponderance of groundball outs, as last season's 1.86 GB/FB ratio points out. Very good ERA and WHIP peripherals make him a candidate as a mid-round starting pitching option, especially with a favorable home park.
Josh Johnson was a major disappointment for the Blue Jays in 2013, but the early word this spring out of Arizona was that Johnson looks like he is back to his 2010 form when he finished fifth in Cy Young voting while pitching for the then named Miami Marlins. "Was" is the key word in that previous sentence, as he is now destined to hit the DL for four to five weeks with a right forearm flexor strain. If he can regain his ace form, expect a stellar K/BB ratio approaching 3.0 (even last season was a respectable 2.77 K/BB). His WHIP projects a bit high for my liking, but that is a function of his walk rate exceeding three per nine innings pitched. As a late round flier, his value will be good and it is easy to cut bait if the injury bug hits him yet again. With his latest injury, I would advise caution in drafting him.
Tyson Ross is another extreme groundball pitcher, like Cashner above, although he also gets a good share of strikeouts, posting an 8.57 K/9 rate last season. Ross has been working on his circle change this spring, and he needs better control to improve his performance in the Padres' rotation. Expect some regression from his amazing 2013 peripherals, but the ERA and WHIP should still be acceptable for a late round selection.
Moving over to the Padres from the Diamondbacks, Ian Kennedy provides a stabilizing veteran presence which is presumably one of the reasons San Diego traded for him last July. Kennedy was mediocre last season, until the switch was flipped for him in September, when he went 2-1 with a 3.90 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and racked up better than a strikeout per inning. The Padres are betting on a return to form for Kennedy, with the move to Petco Park likely to prove a better home than Chase Field.
Eric Stults has been losing velocity on his fast ball for the past several years, and last year his fastball averaged only 86.7 MPH. He does boast excellent control, but the lack of strikeouts and allowing batters to put the ball in play will diminish his value, especially on the road. He is more of a NL-only draft choice, or a spot starter when he is pitching at home.
Rounding out the projected starting rotation, Robbie Erlin is the benefit of Johnson's forearm injury. Erlin had been a top rated prospect, but his results at Triple-A in 2013 were nothing to get excited about, with a 5.07 ERA and 1.60 WHIP in 20 appearances. He did look better at the end of the season, turning in three quality starts to end the season. There is always a chance he makes the rotation at some point, due to others' ineffectiveness or injury, but don't draft him banking on anything more than middle relief usage.
Burch Smith was optioned to Triple-A El Paso on Sunday, March 16th, effectively ending his intention to vie for the fifth starter position. He did not look ready to face MLB hitters this spring, having yielded 11 total runs (9 earned) over just 3.2 innings. His propensity to give up the long ball won't hurt him as much at Petco (2.2 HR/9 over 10 appearances in the big leagues last season), but he does also have to pitch on the road. He is worth a shot in a dynasty league, but until he returns to the major league club, avoid him in drafts and on the wire.
Joe Wieland's recovery from the Tommy John surgery he endured in July 2012 appeared to be complete, but he has now been scheduled for "clean up" surgery to address some irritation he is suffering in his elbow. That being said, do not expect anything more from him beyond a long relief role unless injuries and ineffective performance cause the Padres to search for rotation replacements. He has only limited (27.7 innings) but did look very good at Double-A in 2011. His fastball sits at the high 80s MPH, and his strikeout numbers are just average, although he does boast a good K/BB ratio, indicating that his control is better than average.
I would keep my eye on Josh Johnson and try and sneak him onto my roster if he is hanging around at the end of drafts. As I noted above, Cashner is the guy you need to target in the mid rounds of your drafts if you like his stuff, and Kennedy and Ross are both later round pitchers that have a significant uptick just because of where they play half their games. The rest of the Padres' potential starters are best left to another owner, or on the free agent market.
If you disagree with my assessments, or just want to discuss starting pitching, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. I enjoy comments and am more than willing to engage in discussion about fantasy baseball, so feel free to write.