Andres Muñoz is steadily transforming himself into one of the most lethal bullpen arms in the entire league.
Even when their teams haven’t produced winning seasons, the San Diego Padres are historically known for having strong bullpens.
There’s Trevor Hoffman, arguably one of the game’s greatest relievers of all time, but the Friars themselves have had reliable bullpen units for the majority of the 21st century. Their 2010 bullpen sticks out like a sore thumb, but even when the team wasn’t winning from 2015-2018, the backend of their pitching staff was fairly strong.
Andy Green’s pen entered the 2019 season looking to build off the dominance it had the previous season. Despite losing lefty reliever Matt Strahm to the starting rotation, Green’s had plenty of intriguing options to choose from all season.
Craig Stammen was one of the most used and reliable relievers in the league last season. Flamethrowers Robert Stock and Trey Wingenter started the season with the club and were ultimately joined by fellow flamethrower Gerardo Reyes later on in the season. Highly touted pitching prospects in Adrian Morejon and Michel Baez both made their big league debuts out of the bullpen halfway through the season and former starter Luis Perdomo saw some action out of the pen as well. Veteran relievers Aaron Loup and Adam Warren were brought in to mentor and add some experience to a relatively young pen. Star closer Kirby Yates capped off a group that had high expectations put on them after the strong run they had last season.
With all of those names making an appearance at one point or another in the season, the Padres’ bullpen has still underperformed. Outside of Yates and, surprisingly, Perdomo, San Diego’s pen has massively underperformed while blowing several leads and losing a handful of games.
One 20-year-old native of Mexico has been completely dominant since his call up on July 12th. Andres Muñoz, the team’s presumed closer of the future, has sported a 1.77 ERA, 2.04 FIP, and a 0.984 WHIP in 19 games at the major league level. He’s dominated all types of hitters, striking out 27 batters over 20 1/3 innings pitched.
His arsenal is simple: a blazing fastball that consistently sits between 100-102 mph and a wipeout slider that leaves hitters absolutely baffled at the plate. Muñoz has the third-highest average pitch velocity on his fastball in all of major league baseball, at an even 100 mph. He throws his fastball 67.6% of the time, but Muñoz has shown a lot of confidence in a slider that he utilizes 32.4% of the time. On average, his slider is thrown at 86.3 mph, which is roughly 14 mph slower than his fastball. The biggest concern with Muñoz was his inability to consistently thrown his slider for strikes, but he’s done that at a decent rate at the major league level. Even when he pulls off and throws that slider outside of the zone, the decrease in velocity and spin on that pitch generates enough swing-and-miss to make it an effective secondary offering.
When opposing hitters do make contact off Muñoz, they’re not having much success. He’s thrown 358 pitches this season, and only 45 of them have been put in play, with four of those being barrels. Ten of those balls have been for hits, meaning that every time Muñoz throws a pitch, there’s only a 2.79% chance that it’ll be a hit. Opponents are currently slashing .141/.247/.211, and those numbers are expected to stay that low for the rest of the season. According to Baseball Savant, opponents are expected to bat .178/.215/.288 off Muñoz for the remainder of the 2019 campaign.
He’s dominated hitters regardless of what side of the plate they stand on, as left-handed bats are slashing .156/.270/.219 off Muñoz while right-handed hitters hit him to the tune of .128/.227/.205. Muñoz has faced off against 2-3-4 hitters in opposing lineups 37 times, holding them to a combined .155/.216/.219 slash line with only five hits and two extra-base hits. In these same at-bats, he’s struck those middle-of-the-order bats 13 times as opposed to only giving them a free pass three times.
Muñoz is the Padres’ presumed closer of the future, so he needs to be able to pitch in high-leverage situations. Baseball-Reference has its section on each player’s specific profile where they define how that player performs in high leverage situations. According to their calculations, Muñoz has 28 plate appearances that are defined as high leverage this season, and he’s shined in them. In these high leverage situations, opponents are slashing .167/.259/.292 with only four hits, three walks, and nine strikeouts.
Andres Muñoz has all the tools necessary to be one of the game’s best relief pitchers. He’s only 20 years old and already has one of the game’s most dominant fastballs that he pairs with a wipeout slider. The only thing stopping him will be an injury, but if he stays healthy, San Diego has a legitimate weapon at their disposal for at least the next five years.