The Padres Bullpen: Who’s Your Daddy(‘s Relievers)?

This post continues our Depth Chart Discussions. In an effort to suss out every team, we’ve divided them into four parts (infield, outfield, rotation, and bullpen) and will continue to break them down for you over the next few weeks. You can find the Depth Chart Discussion posts gathered here.

The San Diego Padres’ bullpen lacks name brand appeal, but it’s glorious. Friars’ relievers ranked just 14th in WAR (3.4), but boasted exceptional ranks in other categories ranking tied for third in SIERA (3.07), third in WHIP (1.14), and second in K-BB% (16.4%) and FIP (3.09). Those numbers are partly inflated by the brilliant 33 innings thrown by former closer Huston Street, who was dealt in July, but even in his absence this is a fantastic group.

The Closer:
Joaquin Benoit

The name Joaquin Benoit isn’t bandied about with the elite tier of fantasy closers, but his stats are drool inducing. Since 2010, Benoit’s lowest strikeout rate for a season is 26.1%, and he struck out a hearty 31.2% of the hitters who stepped in the batter’s box against him last year. The punch outs last season were fully supported by his swinging strike percentage (17.8%), which ranked third among qualified relievers. He was sandwiched between Kioji Uehara (second) and Craig Kimbrel (fourth) in that mark. Elite company, indeed.

He is a cut below the absolute best relievers, but he’s been excellent for a substantial amount of time. His most recent work is what’s important, though, and since 2012, he’s performed at a high level. In that time frame, the right-handed reliever tallied a 29.2% K, 7.7% BB, and 3.23 FIP. The 37-year old is coming off his first season failing to pitch at least 60 innings since missing the 2009 season, but he did make 53 appearances and total 54.1 innings. The experts at Fantasy Pros have Benoit ranked 16th among actual relievers (I’ve chosen to eliminate Alex Wood and Carlos Carrasco from the rankings since they’ll be starting). I’d gladly take him as my RP1 in 12-team mixed leagues, though.

The Setup Men:
Kevin Quackenbush
Brandon Maurer
Shawn Kelley
Nick Vincent

Unlike some clubs, the Padres don’t have a clearly defined eighth-inning option. Per Corey Brock of MLB.com, Kevin Quackenbush will be competing with Shawn Kelley and Brandon Maurer, a pair of offseason acquisitions, for back of the bullpen duties setting up Benoit. Quackenbush is essentially the incumbent primary setup man — having worked the eighth inning in hold situations last September — and probably the leader in the clubhouse to start this season in that role. Despite his fourseam fastball averaging a pedestrian 92.04 mph last year, according to Brooks Baseball, he threw it 72.10% of the time. Although it was an effective bat-misser with a 9.64% whiff rate, his secondary pitches leave something to be desired. I don’t have much confidence in Quackenbush retaining top setup man honors all year.

Kelley received a ringing endorsement from my colleague Eno Sarris shortly after the Padres acquired him in December. His surface stats aren’t what dreams are made of, but in his two seasons with the Yankees (2013 and 2014) Kelley netted a 30.9% K (12th among qualified relievers). His player page shows only two pitch types thrown last year, fastballl and slider, but notes from Sarris’ interview with Kelley that are in the linked article above reveal the reliever actually throws two types of sliders. The differing sliders help him mitigate platoon split issues. The former Yankees reliever’s flyball tendencies will be aided swapping Yankee Stadium for PETCO Park as home venues. His proclivity for serving up flyballs won’t, however, be aided by a revamped Padres’ outfield lacking in defensive skills.

Maurer was pummeled as a starter for the Mariners last year before being moved to the bullpen, where he thrived. As a reliever, Maurer pitched 37.1 innings totaling a 1.85 FIP with a 25.3% K and 3.3% BB. His stuff played up in short bursts, and he dominated opposing hitters. Maurer made his last start May 29, and he resurfaced as a reliever June 25. From Opening Day until making his last start, Mauer’s fourseam fastball averaged 93.63 mph, according to Brooks Baseball. The young pitcher added more than three ticks to his heater in the pen averaging 96.71 mph. His slider, which he threw 33.44% of the time as a reliever, coaxed an 18.22% whiff rate. His changeup was thrown 13.28% in relief and was trouble for opposing hitters resulting in a 23.53% whiff rate. Maurer looks like a potentially special relief pitcher.

Vincent led the team in holds with 20 last season, and that alone merits mention in the setup duty’s discussion. Outside of a 3.60 ERA that was bested by his ERA estimators (2.77 FIP and 2.36 SIERA), Vincent’s stats last year were sterling. Strikeout and walk rates of 28.8% and 5.1%, respectively, would normally necessitate moving the reliever totaling them into a prominent bullpen role. Unfortunately for Vincent, they make him just another tantalizing arm in a loaded pen.

All four of these relievers are draftable in leagues using holds. Maurer has the added benefit of flexibility in many leagues thanks to starting seven games last year. He’s also the most intriguing reliever from this quartet in large mixed league and NL-only formats.

The Rest:
Alex Torres
Dale Thayer
Frank Garces
Leonel Campos
Brandon Morrow

I’ll start by addressing the elephant in the room. Yes, that’s Brandon Morrow listed with relievers. No, he’s not a sure bet to end up in the bullpen. In fact, Padres manager Bud Black indicated that Morrow and Odrisamer Despaigne are slightly ahead of the others in the competition for fifth starter duties.

Morrow’s struggles staying healthy — he’s eclipsed 150 innings pitched once in his career — and previous moderate success as a reliever provide reasons to speculate on a home in relief. The former first-round pick in the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft has pitched 124.1 innings in relief in his career to the tune of a 3.69 ERA (4.08 FIP) with a 25.1% K and 14.6% BB. They aren’t world-beater numbers, but he does have 16 saves! On a serious note, he throws hard and misses bats. That combination makes him worth monitoring in extremely deep leagues, but it would take chaos unfolding in order for Morrow to emerge as a viable option in standard leagues. No one else in this group appears to have much of a shot to save games, and even holds will be tough to come by for these guys.





You can follow Josh on Twitter @bchad50.

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Steve Stein
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Steve Stein

Does Elbert have a role, or is he done?

Josh Shepardson
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Josh Shepardson

Bullpens are a volatile enough that I wouldn’t rule anything out, but Elbert has an uphill battle to staking claim to any kind of significant role.