Signed RHP Jered Weaver to a one-year, $3 million contract. [2/19]
Signed LHP Clayton Richard to a one-year, $1.75 million contract. [12/20]
If it’s true that it’s always darkest before dawn, then the sun is about to rise on the San Diego Padres. This upcoming season looks to be a downer in my favorite city in California. The Padres have almost completely remade their rotation, keeping around only Christian Friedrich, Luis Perdomo, and Paul Clemens, none of whom are locks for the first five slots on the starting pitcher depth chart.
Then the team picked up four more rotation options in Jhoulys Chacin, Trevor Cahill, Weaver, and Richard. While I’ve advocated in the past for the Padres to get creative with the way they use starting pitchers (and they’ve at least considered it!), it sounds like those last two names are likely to slot in as rotation regulars. Weaver and Richard are both former top prospects with long MLB track records, but neither the former All-Star nor the former University of Michigan star are likely to carry the Padres out of the depths of the NL West. In fact, there’s a chance they could both sink them deeper into the mire.
There’s a pretty simple way to describe Weaver’s fall from grace in 2016 and here it is in chart form:
His fastball has gone from adequate to a meme in and of itself, now able to be used as a synonym for “slow.” According to PITCHf/x, only two knuckleballers (R.A. Dickey and Steven Wright) and side-arming oldie Brad Ziegler had less velocity on their heaters than Weaver’s average of 84.02 miles per hour. In part thanks to this, and thanks to the fact that he’s always been a fly-ball pitcher, the veteran stopped getting whiffs (5.2 strikeouts per nine) and started giving up nearly two homers per nine innings.
Sure, his ERA ballooned to 5.06, but it’s his DRA that really opened eyes. For a brief while during the season, it looked like Weaver had broken our site’s proprietary pitching metric, and by the end of the season his 7.13 DRA lined up as one of the worst. Ever. It was good enough to mark him for -3.6 WARP, making him the biggest drain on any team since Barry Zito in 2013.
While there’s something to like in the slight velocity increase near the end of the season, Weaver is trying to scrape by with stuff that no other pitcher in the league would be caught dead with. He doesn’t have a knuckler or Ziegler’s baffling delivery. All he has is experience, guile, command, and workable secondary offerings. After his Padres debut on Monday, he was reportedly sitting between 80-83 miles per hour, which would be bad, even for him.
At this point in his life, the long-time Angel has the pedigree of a star but nothing remotely resembling the talent of one, and his placement as the team’s nominal ace could signal a very dark path for this Padres team. If the Friars weren’t so desperate for starting innings, it’s easy to imagine him receiving a minor-league deal instead of a $3 million guarantee.
Meanwhile, Richard snagged himself a guaranteed MLB deal as well, perhaps in part due to his long string of appearances with the Padres over the last decade. After missing almost all of 2014 due to injury, the Cubs tried him out as a LOOGY with a moderate amount of success. While the bullpen didn’t notably affect his strikeout rate–which remains one of the lowest in baseball–it did temporarily corral his command issues back in 2015. However, 2016 saw a reversion to his career numbers and the lefty walked more than four batters per nine in his 67.2 innings of work.
What probably gave the Padres some hope was that after he found his way to San Diego midseason the Friars gave him a run in the rotation and he miraculously managed to post a 2.52 ERA despite striking out only slightly more than he walked. It was thanks to his grounder-inducing sinker. Last year, Richard graduated from “ground-ball specialist” to “destitute-man’s Zach Britton” by keeping two-thirds of balls in play on the dirt. Now, his FIP (4.21) and DRA (5.03) were much more in line with his career norms and a barely-replacement swingman or sixth starter, but there’s also a possibility that he could be serviceable, especially if enough of those grounders find their way into mitts. (Note: this may not be particularly likely with this infield behind him.)
If you were to ask PECOTA, Richard and Weaver combine to be a low-cost upgrade for a rotation in desperate need of assistance. Between the two of them, they’re projected for nearly 300 innings and 2.0 WARP, something teams would kill for at double the low-low price of $4.75 million. Of course, their most recent data tells a much different story. In that story, Weaver’s
slow changeup fastball makes him one of the worst pitchers in recent memory and Richard is just a replacement-level southpaw who got very lucky last season.
I know, I know, projection systems are designed in precisely this way and we’re supposed to value them over our own biases, but the contextual factors here are too strong to ignore. Jered Weaver’s got the heater of a high-school sophomore and Clayton Richard is trending toward a K/BB ratio of 1.0. With these two projected to slot in at perhaps no. 1 and no. 3 in San Diego’s rotation, they don’t have a starting five, they have a triumph of hope over reality.