There haven’t been many positives to take away from the San Diego Padres this season. Holders of the worst record in the National League, the Padres are still in prime rebuild mode as they await the waves of incoming, young talent making its way to Petco Park in the near future.
One thing the team and its fans should be excited about, however, is the emergence of a bullpen that has the potential to be one of the best in all of baseball.
Let’s rewind to 2010. The Padres finish the regular season with a 92-70 record and just missed the postseason with a heartbreaking loss to the Giants on the last day of the season.
Although they didn’t make the playoffs that year, the Padres did have the best bullpen in all of baseball. Anchored by all-star closer Heath Bell, setup man Mike Adams, and a group of talented relievers, the backend of the pitching staff dominated opposing teams, leading in almost every statistical category possible. The team rode their bullpen as much as they possibly could, and if they had a lead past the sixth inning, a victory was almost certain.
Now, in 2018, Andy Green‘s bullpen is showing signs of the dominance that we saw in 2010.
Prior to this year’s trade deadline, Padres’ general manager A.J. Preller shipped off all-star closer Brad Hand and Adam Cimber, two key bullpen pieces, to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for top catching prospect Francisco Mejia. Many expected the team’s bullpen to take a significant hit after losing their closer, but the opposite seems to have occurred. Recently, the Padres have had incredible success giving the ball to the back-end of their staff, securing victories once the team gives them a lead.
All three are enjoying their first real taste of big league action and all three are having great levels of success in doing so. Strahm, a left-hander acquired by the Royals last trade deadline, has cemented himself as a core piece of the future, whether it be as a starter or reliever. His ability to pitch multiple innings, as well as provide the team with spot starts when needed, have given the Padres flexibility and takes pressure off other relievers. The 26-year-old has posted a 2.38 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP in 41.2 innings pitched while striking out 41 batters and walking 15. He’s been absolutely filthy against both right and left-handed batters, holding opposing hitters to a .168 batting average against.
Paired with Strahm, is fellow left-hander Jose Castillo. Acquired in the Wil Myers trade, the 22-year-old Castillo made his big league debut this season. In 18 innings pitched, Castillo has a 3.00 ERA with a 1.00 WHIP, 23 strikeouts, and only six walks while holding batters to a .190 batting average against. Castillo is your prototypical strikeout machine: a hard-throwing, left-handed pitcher with a wipeout slider that makes opposing hitters look silly. With his arsenal of pitches, Castillo certainly has a chance to be the Padres’ closer of the future.
While Strahm and Castillo’s success are both great stories, no story may be better than that of 28-year-old rookie Robert Stock. A former catcher, Stock made his big league debut with the Padres this season. Similar to Castillo, he has an absolute burner for a fastball (it touches triple digits) and a nasty slider that provides a glimpse into what should be a bright future for Stock. In 13.2 innings pitched this season, Stock has a 3.95 ERA, a 1.39 WHIP, has struck out 16 batters and only walked one. His numbers aren’t impressive, as he did struggle early on, but Stock has made adjustments and settled in as of late. All three of these young relievers at the big league level, as well as the plethora of dominant relievers in the farm system, give the Padres an extremely promising future when it comes to their bullpen.
While the Padres do have a lot of young talent in their pitching staff, the veterans that hold the bullpen together undoubtedly have the biggest impact. Phil Maton, a 25-year-old reliever that made his big league debut last season, has shown signs of potentially being the team’s future closer. In 30 2/3 innings pitched in 2018, Maton has a 3.23 ERA, a 1.43 WHIP, 30 strikeouts, and 14 walks while holding opponents to a .251 batting average against. Similar to Matt Strahm, left-handed reliever Robbie Erlin has given the Padres flexibility with his ability to pitch multiple innings as well as give the team a spot start when needed. While Erlin has been a serviceable starter, his role should ultimately be as a reliever, where he has been quite dominant this season. In 52.2 innings pitched exclusively out of the bullpen, the 27-year-old has a 2.00 ERA, a 0.80 WHIP, 44 strikeouts, and only four walks. Opponents are only batting .210 off of Erlin. His stuff is not overpowering, per se, but his ability to keep hitters off balance and hit his spots allows him to induce a fair amount of ground balls and not allow a ton of hard contact.
Craig Stammen, signed by the Padres to a two-year extension this offseason, was once a highly touted relief prospect with the Nationals. After enduring some struggles during his final seasons in Washington, Stammen changed scenery and was brought in by the Padres in hopes that he could provide the team with quality relief pitching. While he did struggle early last season, the 34-year-old right-hander settled in and has seemed to resurrect his career with the Padres. In 55 innings pitched this season, Stammen has been nothing short of excellent, posting a 2.45 ERA, a 1.07 WHIP, 63 strikeouts, and ten walks. Stammen has taken over the reins of the eighth inning after the Brad Hand trade, and has been nothing but spectacular, paving the way for Kirby Yates to shut it down in the ninth inning.
Claimed off of waivers last season, Kirby Yates appeared to be all but done when he was brought into San Diego. After working with pitching coach Darren Balsley, and adding a filthy splitter to his arsenal, the 31-year-old native of Hawaii has transformed himself into one of the best relief pitchers in all of baseball. The numbers speak for themselves, as in 43.1 innings pitched this season, Yates has a 1.66 ERA, a 0.90 WHIP, 55 strikeouts, and 13 walks. Opposing hitters have a pitiful .170 batting average against him. Yates has been especially dominant against right-handed batters, only allowing eight hits against righties all season and holding them to a .089 batting average. With two years left of control, Yates could be traded shortly if the club believes his trade value is at an all-time high. For now, however, Kirby Yates is the closer on one of the league’s best bullpen. The duo of Craig Stammen and Kirby Yates have given the Padres an elite late-inning duo similar to that of Adams and Bell.
All in all, the relievers mentioned above have made the Padres’ bullpen into a force not to be messed with. The team currently has the seventh-lowest bullpen ERA (3.50) in all of baseball, the third-highest strikeouts (467), fifth-lowest walks (131), third-lowest WHIP (1.18), and the second-most innings pitched (437.2). The Padres have relied heavily on their bullpen, as their starting pitching has been very poor, and if the Tampa Bay Rays didn’t experiment with “bullpen days” on a weekly basis, then Padres relievers would lead all of Major League baseball in innings pitched.
Do the Padres have the best bullpen in baseball right now? Certainly not. However, with all the young talent currently on the roster, the plethora of talented relievers in the farm system, and a core of successful veterans, keep your eyes open for the San Diego Padres’ bullpen in the near future.