AnalysisNL West

2021 San Diego Padres Season Preview

As we prepare for the 2021 season, Diamond Digest writers will be taking a look at each team’s off-season and previewing the season to come. Today, Connor O’Brien takes a look at the San Diego Padres! 

Well, well, well. What an offseason for the Padres. Adding one starting pitcher with top of the rotation potential is usually a good offseason for most teams, but three? Wow, good work AJ Preller. 

It’s clear that the Padres feel they can compete with the Dodgers, something they were unable to do when facing them in the 2020 postseason. The talent gap was evident, especially with Dinelson Lamet and Mike Clevinger being non-factors in the series. This off-season, the Padres revamped their entire pitching staff, including a rotation that now boasts three proven elite arms. 

2020 Season-In-Review

2020 Record: 37-23, 2nd Place in the NL West

Team MVP: Fernando Tatis Jr.

Team Cy Young: Dinelson Lamet

The lineup helped carry the way as Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado formed as good of a 1-2 punch as there was in baseball. Despite the rotation’s struggles, Lamet and a since traded Zach Davies helped to carry the load. Mike Clevinger’s impact was short-lived, as the right-hander only threw one inning in the postseason and started four games before he underwent Tommy John surgery this off-season. 

Overall, this team performed much better than preseason projections held them to. Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers both lived up to their expensive contracts, while Trent Grisham and rookie Jake Cronenworth had impressive campaigns in San Diego. 

Off-season Review

Key losses from 2020: Zach Davies, Trevor Rosenthal, Garrett Richards, Kirby Yates, Jason Castro, Abraham Almonte

Davies put up excellent numbers for the second straight season but had an FIP about a run over his ERA. Rosenthal was a key cog in the back of the Padres bullpen, but adding a couple of relievers should fill his void. Garrett Richards operated as a swingman for the Padres, starting games and coming in relief as well. Richards was a touch above average in his work. The long-time Padre closer Kirby Yates missed the majority of the 2020 season and wasn’t a factor, much like Castro and Almonte. 

Notable Free Agent Additions: Resigned INF/OF Jurickson Profar, RHP Keone Kela, RHP Mark Melancon, 2B Ha Seong Kim

Jurickson Profar (3 years/21 million): Profar had an impressive season as a super utility, starting games in all three outfield spots and the infield’s right side. The 28 year-old posted a career-best 113 OPS+ and slot into a similar super utility role for the Padres this season. 

Keone Kela (1 year/1.2 million): After posting 52 saves from 2018-2019, Kela missed most of the 2020 season due to injury. With a career 3.24 ERA, expect Kela to work in high leverage situations to start the season while also closing on days when Drew Pomeranz is unavailable. This is a shallow risk, high reward signing for the Padres

Mark Melancon (1 year, 3 million): Despite being in the bottom 6% of strikeouts, Melancon continues to get it done on the mound. With a 3.35 ERA over the past 3 seasons, Melancon, like Kela, will get looks in high-leverage situations. Despite a decrease in fastball velocity last season, expect Melancon to post solid numbers once again this season. 

Ha Seong Kim (4 year/ 28 million): The 26 year old came over from the KBO after a career year in 2020. With an OPS north of .900 and 30 home runs, the middle infielder was rewarded with a 4-year deal. Kim profiles as a slightly above-average glove in the field with plus speed after stealing 56 bases over the past two seasons. 

Notable Trades:

  • Acquired LHP Blake Snell in exchange for Luis Patino, Francisco Mejia, Blake Hunt and Cole Wilcox
  • Acquired RHP Yu Darvish and C Victor Caritini in exchange for Zach Davies, Reginald Preciado, Owen Caissie, Ismael Mena, and Yeison Santana
  • Acquired RHP Joe Musgrove for David Bednar, Omar Cruz, Hudson Head, and Drake Fellows

In typical Tampa Bay Rays fashion, Snell’s contract became too expensive for the small-market club. In the first major blockbuster of the off-season, the Padres swooped in and acquired the former Cy Young award winner. In his five-year career, Snell owns a 3.24 ERA to go along with a 3.5 FIP. With three more seasons of club control, the 28 year old will continue to establish himself as one of the game’s elite in San Diego. 

After two subpar seasons in Chicago, Darvish’s contract looked like one the Cubs would never be able to trade. But after a bounce-back 2020 season which saw Darvish finish 2nd in the Cy Young voting, the Cubs moved the three years remaining on his deal to San Diego. His 2.01 ERA was helped by his career low walk rate, allowing just 1.88 BB/9 instead of his career 3.18 BB/9. Also, Darvish posted his highest average fastball velocity of his career, clocking in at 95.5 MPH.

A baseball savant darling, Joe Musgrove has been sent to the Padres to hopefully blossom into an ace. Ranking in the upper echelons of xERA, K%, exit velocity, and whiff %, the 28 year old could take a significant step forward in his first season in San Diego. Breaking away from PNC Park and heading to a more pitcher-friendly Petco Park, Musgrove could have the breakout season many have been waiting for. 

Yu Darvish’s personal catcher, the light-hitting catcher Victor Caratini, finds himself in San Diego. Despite only posting a .661 OPS in 2020, Caratini finds value in other areas. One of the game’s most elite pitch framers, Caratini ranks in the 98th percentile per baseball savant. With this, he owns a 52.9% strike rate, good for 6th in the majors. He’ll serve as the backup catcher, with Francisco Mejia being sent to Tampa Bay. 

2021 Season Preview

Projected Roster

Projected Lineup: 

1) Trent Grisham (CF)

2) Fernando Tatis Jr. (SS)

3) Manny Machado (3B)

4) Eric Hosmer (1B)

5) Wil Myers (RF)

6) Jake Cronenworth (2B)

7) Tommy Pham (LF)

8) Austin Nola (C)

9) Pitcher

Projected Bench: 

C Victor Caratini

2B Ha-Seong Kim

INF/OF Jurickson Profar

OF Brian O’Grady

Projected Rotation: 

Blake Snell

Yu Darvish

Dinelson Lamet

Joe Musgrove

Chris Paddack

Projected Bullpen: 

CL: Drew Pomeranz

SU: Emilio Pagan

SU: Mark Melancon

SU: Keone Kela

MR: Craig Stammen

MR: Matt Strahm

MR: Dan Altavilla

MR: Austin Adams

I debated putting Tatis Jr. in the leadoff spot, but eventually decided to allow Grisham to set Tatis and Machado’s table. Tatis would be electric there, but as he turns into more of a power hitter, I think it makes the most sense to leave him in the 2 hole. Machado hitting 3rd is a given, but the 4th position is where things could get interesting. Hosmer is the leader to hit cleanup, but that’s banking on him finding a middle ground between 2019 and 2020. If he were to slump, Cronenworth or Myers could look to slide into that hole. The lineup has a ton of depth, as Pham, Cronenworth, and Nola all could produce above-average seasons offensively. Kim is a bit of a wild card, as sometimes it takes a while for KBO players to transition to the majors. But he does possess all the tools to become a dominant bat in the majors; it just may take a little patience. 

Overall this lineup should be among the top 5 in runs scored. While players like Hosmer, Myers, and Grisham may take a step back, Tatis and Machado should do enough to carry the load in San Diego. 

This rotation is stacked, and if the Dodgers didn’t sign Trevor Bauer, it would probably be the best rotation in baseball. The wild card for the rotation is Lamet. Lamet is starting slow this spring due to an elbow injury that plagued him at the end of last year. If he can stay healthy for the entire season, or at least most of it, he could be the X-factor in the rotation. 

Snell and Darvish will lead this rotation, and their experience in big games should help the staff in the postseason. Chris Paddack is still a good pitcher but maybe doesn’t have the ace-level potential he showed in 2019. Joe Musgrove shows all the signs of a breakout and could push his way to the top of the rotation by season end. 

Despite losing Trevor Rosenthal to free agency, the Padres bullpen may have gotten better this offseason. By adding Kela and Melancon, the Padres should have two reliable late-inning arms, health permitting. Drew Pomeranz proved that he is elite in a relief role. Emilio Pagan took a step back in his first season away from Tampa Bay but looks to regain his 2019 form. In his first season as a reliever only, Matt Strahm proved that the bullpen should be his permanent home as he posted a 2.61 ERA across 19 appearances. 

Record Projections

FanGraphs Projected Record: 96-66, 2nd Place in the NL West

PECOTA Projected Record: 95-67, 2nd Place in the NL West

Personal Projection: 92-70, 2nd Place in NL West

Make no mistake about it; the Padres will be one of the best teams in baseball. But I have them projected a few games worse than the PECOTA projections. While this team won the off-season and had an incredible 60 game stretch last season, I see them taking a step back. 

Fernando Tatis and Manny Machado will form an elite duo, and the top of the rotation will be nasty if they stay healthy. My concerns stem from a couple key veteran position players. Can Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers continue to build off their success from 2020, or did the small sample size help inflate their numbers? Additionally, the rotation should be elite if healthy, but with Lamet and Darvish both with their fair share of past injuries, can they complete the 162 game season?

Final Thoughts

This team will be entertaining to watch. Between the most electrifying baseball player and a rotation that throws pure filth, the Padres will be can’t miss TV. With possibly the best team ever assembled in San Diego, the Padres have a good chance to bring the first World Series title to San Diego. 

The problem for them may be the Dodgers. While they have a slim chance to win the West, it remains more likely that they will hold one of the two wild card positions. Without expanded playoffs, the one game-winner takes all Wild Card games back come October, and as we know, anything can happen. Because they have a very high chance to make the playoffs, their odds to the World Series are high, but that one game could end it all for them. Regardless, the Padres profile as one of the best teams in baseball and should be electric during the season.  

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