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Series Preview #1 : Diamondbacks @ Padres

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The Diamondbacks have an opportunity to prove something by winning 2 games in this 4 game series.

Game face of Yu Darvish.
Game face of Yu Darvish.
Photo by Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres/Getty Images

Lets’ look at three numbers:

12 was the sum of wins minus losses against the Padres in the last 5 seasons. Diamondbacks win-loss record against the Padres was 49-37. That would be a great sign, except this season the Padres team seems much improved. Nevertheless, the Diamondbacks could surpass expectations. On March 13, the Diamondbacks won a spring training game against the Padres with a score of 6-2.

3 was the Padres’ rank in runs scored in 2020. The Padres’ 5.4 runs per game ranked 3rd in the Majors. That rank was significantly higher than the prior 5 seasons, when their highest rank was a tie for 20/21st with 4.2 runs per game. In 2017 they ranked last in the Majors. See the following graph.

Data from Baseball Reference.

Looking at last season, four of the best Padres batters were Wil Meyers (159 OPS+), Manny Machado (158 OPS+), Fernando Tatis Jr. (155 OPS+), and Eric Hosmer (131 OPS+). They are in the lineup again this season.

14 was the number of top-100 prospects (by at least one of MLB, Baseball Prospectus, or Baseball America) the Padres had on 1 September 2019, when I wrote a series preview. What happened to those prospects?

  • 3 reached the Majors.
  • 6 were traded away and the return included 4 star players in the Majors.
  • 1 remained a top-100 prospect.
  • 4 fell below the top-100, and remain in the minors.

In summary, 13 top-100 prospects provided the Padres with 7 players in the Majors. This perspective suggests the Padres are going for it this season.

So, are the Padres nearly out of top-100 prospects? Not quite. Three players drafted by the Padres have reached the top-100, giving the Padres a total of 4 top-100 prospects.

Details are in the following chart.

Comparing 1 September 2019 to 31 March 2021. Data from Baseball Reference & MLB.com.

Padres pitching will be much improved this season.

Perhaps the most defining feature is the Padres rotation. Their rotation is awesome. In the offseason they acquired two aces Yu Darvish and Blake Snell, as well as Joe Musgrove. Two prospects with high ceilings have arrived in the Majors - Chris Paddack and and Adrian Morejon. Another high ceiling pitcher is Ryan Weathers. Perhaps the best pitching prospect in the Majors, MacKenzie Gore, is expected to arrive later in the season.

In the last three months, baseball writers have ranked the Padres rotation 1st, 2nd (three writers), 3rd, 4th, and 5th best in the Majors. In any case, the rotation is greatly improved compared to last season.

“There are a bunch of young guys on this team who are looking to make their mark and put up some big numbers to start their careers. But you also have a good group of veteran players to learn from, too. Guys like Hosmer and Wil Myers and Nola and on and on. It seems like the perfect recipe for a ton of wins.” — Blake Snell

Their bullpen is good, including several potential closers. After three seasons with losses in relief exceeding wins, in 2020 the Padres bullpen improved. In 2020, they had 19 wins in relief and 8 losses in relief (Baseball Reference).

“Mark Melancon, Keone Kela, Pomeranz, and Pagan are the four guys that have experience closing games, and none of them are poor choices by any means.” — Matthew Wadleigh

Most significant injuries.

Padres. Catcher Austin Nola has not yet returned from a broken finger. Center Fielder Trent Grisham is almost back from a hamstring strain suffered in spring training. Dinelson Lamet is continuing to rehab from an elbow injury. Mike Clevinger had Tommy John surgery in November of 2020, and may not return this season.

Diamondbacks. Outfielder Kole Calhoun has not yet returned from his knee surgery. Bullpen pitcher Tyler Clippard has not yet returned from his shoulder capsule strain. Zac Gallen has not yet returned from his “hair line stress fracture on the right lateral forearm at the radial head.”

Summary.

This season the Padres could rank high in hitting and pitching, making them competitive for winning the NL West.

This series the Diamondbacks will be happy with a tie. After ending 5 spring training games with a tie, it would be cool to end the first series of the season with a tie. The Diamondbacks have an opportunity to prove they are tie-masters by winning 2 games in this 4 game series. It will be fun to cheer for the Diamondbacks.

Pitching matchups.

Thursday. Yu Darvish (Spring Training Stats 4.50 ERA, 2.7 IP/G) vs Madison Bumgarner (Spring Training Stats 6.35 ERA, 3.8 IP/G )

In 2020, Yu Darvish pitched very well:

  • He received 123 vote points for the Cy Young award (second place to Bauer).
  • He ranked first in the NL in FIP (2.23), WPA (2.4), and RE24 (2.23). His 2.01 ERA ranked second in the NL.
  • In the postseason his ERA was 2.70 in 6.2 innings

“According to his personal catcher, he [Yu Darvish] throws seven or eight different pitches, depending on the day. A few of them exist in multiple forms.” —Dennis Lin of The Athletic

Madison Bumgarner’s 2020 was different. At the end of last season, after rehab from his back issue, Madison Bumgarner pitched better. Perhaps the best indicator was seen on 5 September when his maximum release speed on his fastball of 90.38 broke 90 for the first time of the season (Brooks Baseball).

In spring training, Madison Bumgarner prepared mostly while out-of-sight.

“It looked like he was attacking the zone in typical Bum style. He was working on a couple of things, and incorporate a couple of new thoughts and ideas about how he can go out there and be real effective, for as long as he possibly can.” — Torey Lovullo on Bumgarner’s backfield pitching, 21 March.

Madison Bumgarner prepared some changes for this season. He now mixes slow and fast deliveries to the plate. He now mixes arm angles of his pitches. These changes will disrupt the Padres batters. If not, this matchup is advantage Padres.

“Pitching is disrupting timing and hitting is timing.” — Madison Bumgarner

Friday. Blake Snell (Spring Training Stats 0 ERA, 2.9 IP/G) vs Merrill Kelly (Spring training Stats 5.30 ERA, 3.7 IP/G)

Blake Snell is a great pitcher. In 2018 Blake Snell won the Cy Young. In 2020, his ERA was 3.24. In 2019 & 2020 postseasons, his ERA was 2.83 in 35 innings. He savors pitching against star players. With Gallen on the injured list, he may not be motivated to pitch his best against the Diamondbacks.

“But I also just love playing against the best in the game. Whether it was the Yankees in the past, or the Dodgers now … it just makes me better. Facing the best means you have to step up your game, and I’m definitely ready to do that — and to hopefully pitch deeper into some games.” — Blake Snell

Merrill Kelly is ready for the season to start. How could I have doubted it?

“I think that [23 March] was the best, as far as all 4 pitches go. I think that was probably the best I’ve executed them - that was the best I’ve felt coming out of my hand. I liked the action on all of them, I threw some really good changeups, I got some swings and misses, got some weak contact on the changeup....” — Merrill Kelly

With Merrill Kelly’s four pitches all at their best, Padres batters will be disappointed. If not, this matchup is advantage Padres.

Saturday. Joe Musgrove (Spring Training Stats 3.50 ERA, 3.6 IP/G) vs Caleb Smith (Spring Training Stats 8.57 ERA, 3.5 IP/G)

In 2020, Joe Musgrove had a career best year with a 3.86 ERA, 3.42 FIP, 7.5 hits-per-9-innings, and 12.5 strikeouts-per-9-innings. His spring training numbers were far less stellar.

After Tim Locastro gets on base against Musgrove, I want to see him steal a base! Success would likely irritate Musgrove, if the following quote is any indication:

“Controlling the running game is a big piece of my game. I take a lot of pride that I haven’t had a lot of stolen base attempts and haven’t had hardly any stolen bases against me in the last handful of years.” — Joe Musgrove

After he was traded to the Diamondbacks during the 2020 season, Caleb Smith had a career best 2.45 ERA.

“He improved his [season] ERA to 2.57, which is a career best. Caleb Smith stood out with two statistics that were better than all Diamondbacks starting pitchers.” — 2020 Arizona Diamondbacks Reviews #14: Caleb Smith

His wOBA of .236 ranked #1. The next best were Merrill Kelly’s wOBA of .270 and Zac Gallen’s wOBA of .271.

His 0.11 hits allowed per plate appearance ranked #1. The next best was 0.19 (Zac Gallen and Taylor Clarke).

In spring training, he worked to improve his pitch efficiency. How does Torey Lovullo want him to pitch?

“Where he walks out of the bullpen. Feels good. Starts executing pitches and pitch plan and doesn’t see that pitch count climb.” — Torey Lovullo, 19 March

This matchup is advantage Diamondbacks!

Sunday. Chris Paddack (Spring Training Stats 5.19 ERA, 2.2 IP/G) vs Taylor Widener (Spring Training Stats 4.00 ERA, 3.0 IP/G)

Arguably, Chris Paddack’s best pitch is his 4-seam fastball. Three of his fastball statistics best explains the story of his two seasons in the Majors:

  • 2019. .275 wOBA, 29.2 strikeout %, .045 Homers per PA.
  • 2020. .413 wOBA, 19.9 strikeout %, .076 Homers per PA.

“I was amazed and blown away with the analytical side of things [presented to him by Padres during the offseason] on the difference between my 2019 and my 2020 fastball. It blew my mind.” — Chris Paddack

Which Paddack (2019 or 2020) will pitch in this series? We will soon know.

Due to Zac Gallen’s injury, Taylor Widener was moved from the bullpen to the rotation. In three seasons (2017-2019) in the minors, he started a total of 75 games. His ERAs were 4.00, 2.75, and 8.10. The last ERA was in the hitter friendly PCL. How effective will he pitch as a starter? We will see.

“Starting is more about trying to pitch to contact, get early outs so you can last longer. You have to use more of your pitches, and try to stay ahead of guys. Out of the bullpen, you can go right at guys and try to get some strikeouts.” — Taylor Widener, 2018 interview with Jim McLennan of AZ Snake Pit

“I love the bullpen, but also love starting.” — Taylor Widener, March 2021

The performance of these two pitchers includes a lot of uncertainty. This game could be won by either team.