Initially, I was not going to include the Padres in this series about bullpens on non-contending teams. I realize that sounds ludicrous, because I don’t actually expect the Padres to hold their own against the Dodgers and Rockies. My focus on selecting teams, however, has been more about effort to contend than about the current makeup of a given roster. Still, even with their pursuit of players like Corey Kluber and Miguel Andujar and all of their emerging young talent, the team could very well be sellers at the trading deadline.
That means incumbent closer Kirby Yates could find himself pitching the latter part of the season someplace where he will have fewer opportunities for saves and fish tacos. There is a case to be made that Yates would be worth keeping around for the 2020 season when the Padres could be in a much better position to contend. However, if they wanted to trade Yates in order to fill another need or get reinforcements for the farm system, they have enough depth to provide a replacement closer and still have quality relievers for other roles.
Even with the possibility of getting traded, Yates is unquestionably a must-draft reliever. That’s actually an understatement, as he is currently being taken among the top 125 players overall on average in NFBC drafts. But we have to be prepared for the possible changes to come, so here is a look at the Padres relievers who could have value this season.
The good: He already has the closer’s job, and barring a trade or injury, there is no reason to think he will lose it before midseason. Yates has back-to-back seasons with a strikeout rate of at least 36.0 percent and a SwStrk% above 16.0 percent, so in this sense, he fits right in with the very best relievers in the majors.
The bad: Yates has strong flyball tendencies, and at times, he has been highly prone to allowing home runs (career 1.53 HR/9). Also, Yates’ increased splitter usage — while generally a welcome change to his pitch mix — led to a sharp decline in control in 2018. However, it didn’t show up in his walk rate (just 6.8 percent), as he racked up a 56.3 percent O-Swing% on the pitch. Maybe it’s not such a bad thing after all, but if hitters learn to lay off Yates’ splitter, his walk rate could soar.
The outlook: Because the Padres have so much bullpen depth, there is some chance that Yates could lose his job if homers and walks lead to a prolonged slump. That scenario seems unlikely, but a trade seems less so. There are several other closers who could be traded by non-contenders, so owners should continue to draft Yates among the top 15 relievers.
The good: The 34-year-old has been a good-but-not-great strikeout pitcher, but his ability to get batters to chase bad pitches and keep the ball in the park (aided by PETCO Park) provides him with a solid across-the-board set of skill indicators. He has been highly consistent, as demonstrated by his 2.85 ERA since 2011, with full-season marks ranging from 2.34 to 3.84.
The bad: Stammen has totaled at least 79 innings in four of the last six seasons, so he has proven valuable as someone who can go multiple innings. At least that’s bad if you are counting on him to pick up regular save opportunities at some point this season. He still has value in a setup role, as he ranked 22nd among all relievers in Roto value in 2018.
The outlook: Maybe Stammen can pull a Mychal Givens and vulture eight wins in consecutive seasons, but probably he won’t. Despite that, Stammen’s floor is high enough that he should be drafted in 15-team leagues, even if he does not get a single save. Any saves he does get will be gravy for his owners.
The good: As a 24-year-old rookie, Wingenter had no problem translating his high swinging strike rates from the minors to the majors during his eight-week debut. He compiled a 16.2 percent SwStr% overall, and incredibly, he induced swings and misses at a 14.9 percent rate on his fastball, which peaked at 100 mph.
The bad: In an otherwise good season at Triple-A El Paso, Wingenter posted a 12.8 percent walk rate. Despite showing good control and an ability to induce chases, he ran into similar troubles with the Padres, which intensified over his final 10.1 innings. He walked eight batters over that stretch.
The outlook: Wingenter has the velocity and K-rate potential of a closer, and if he can pare down his walk rate, he could be a good one. With another team, he would probably stand a better chance of closing in 2019, but his relative lack of experience and large body of competitors makes his path a little more difficult.
The good: Like fellow rookie Wingenter, Stock has a fastball that tops out at 100 mph, though it was a better pitch for limiting hard contact (87.5 mph average exit velocity, per Statcast) and extra-base hits (.049 ISO) than it was for swinging strikes (7.0 percent rate). Those attributes helped him to record a 2.50 ERA in 39.2 innings.
The bad: Because the one-time New Jersey Jackal and converted catcher didn’t get all that many swinging strikes, he did not quite make it to the strikeout-per-inning threshold (38 strikeouts in 39.2 innings). Though he has good control, Stock hasn’t always compiled low walk rates. His anemic 25.3 percent O-Swing% from his time with the Padres offers a possible hint as to why.
The outlook: As a 29-year-old, Stock doesn’t have the upside of some of the other candidates for high-leverage work, but he fared well as a rookie. That could be enough to keep him in the mix for late-inning assignments, especially if Yates departs.
The good: Castillo is yet another of the rookies who impressed in his 2018 debut. Though he doesn’t throw quite as hard as Stock, he was far better at getting swinging strikes with his fastball (10.9 percent SwStr%). He also has a slider that he can control as well as whiff and freeze batters with.
The bad: It’s not easy to find the flaws. Castillo has been a flyball pitcher, though that may not make him a liability. Not only does he get to call PETCO Park home, but last season, he allowed an average flyball distance of only 306 feet.
The outlook: Of the Padres’ young relievers, Castillo has the most well-rounded skill set, which may give him a leg up on his competitors. He worked consistently in high-leverage situations in August and September and finished the year with 12 holds. Oh…and the Padres already see his potential as a closer. Castillo should be on all owners’ radar and is worth a stash in deep formats.
Is there anyone else who has a better chance to succeed Yates if he gets traded? Name names in the comments below…
Al Melchior has been writing about Fantasy baseball and sim games since 2000, and his work has appeared at CBSSports.com, BaseballHQ, Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster and FanRagSports. He has also participated in Tout Wars' mixed auction league since 2013. You can follow Al on Twitter @almelchiorbb and find more of his work at almelchior.com.