PT TOMORROW: NL West—Searching for Saves in San Francisco

[With the season on hold, we've asked our PT TOMORROW writers for the rest of the month to "reset" each of their team's significant spring job battles, and/or developments in the several weeks of spring training that did take place. We'll focus on pitching staffs the week of March 16, and position players the week of March 23. For more on BaseballHQ.com's plan for this break, subscribers should check our GM's OFFICE article from March 13. Thanks! —Ed.] 

 

San Francisco Giants 

Handicapping the Giants saves situation was always expected to be a challenge, with new manager Gabe Kapler bringing with him something of a reputation for a lack of predictability when it comes to bullpen usage patterns. Add to that the fact that the Giants were projected to finish near the bottom of the NL West standings, and it was easy to see why fantasy owners were looking elsewhere to speculate.

With no clear front-runner even as late as last week (when spring games were suspended), Trevor Gott (RHP, SF) was a name generating faint buzz as a possible candidate. Gott, 27, debuted with the Angels in 2015 and spent time with the Nationals before landing with the Giants last year, where he posted a 4.44 ERA (3.97 xERA) and 1.10 WHIP in 53 IP before being shut down with a UCL injury. His 60% FpK and 34% Ball% were both passable, and his 9.7 Dom (11% SwK) was a career-high mark thanks to a major uptick in the use of his four-seam fastball (67% usage, 12% SwK) at the expense of his sinker (10% usage, 9% SwK). His start to spring wasn’t exactly impressive (4 ER, 7/4 K/BB in 4.7 IP), but he nonetheless stands a chance of at least getting a shot.

Another option is Tyler Rogers (RHP, SF), a 29-year-old who allowed just 2 ER with a 16/3 K/BB across 17.7 IP after his August debut. Rogers’ numbers at Triple-A (4.21 ERA, 8.0 Dom, 62 IP) weren’t quite as sparkling, but his submarine-style delivery has helped him post +60% GB% rates going all the way back to 2014. His underwhelming strikeout numbers and struggles vs. left-handed hitters would seem to be working against his case for closing duties, although he was definitely putting his best foot forward this spring (7/1 K/BB with 0 ER in 4.3 IP).

Ultimately, the season’s delayed start could benefit Tony Watson (LHP, SF) the most. Watson, 35, owns a career 2.81 ERA (4.03 xERA) with 30 saves on the ledger, and had yet to make his spring debut after experiencing shoulder tightness earlier in February. Despite a stark fall-off in Dom—from 9.8 (2018) to 6.8 (2019)—last year, his SwK still stayed strong (13%) while his elite control (2.0 Ctl, 69% FpK) was as sturdy as ever. If he can recover from his shoulder ailment and the career-worst 1.5 HR/9 he posted last year, he could see ample opportunity at the back of the bullpen if/when games commence.

 

Colorado Rockies

The top end of the rotation was covered in this space last week, and the back end, given the lack of depth, could certainly use strong contributions from both Antonio Senzatela (RHP, COL) and Jeff Hoffman (RHP, COL).

Senzatela pitched reasonably well (4.56 ERA) across his first two years in the majors (225 IP, with 184 of those coming as a starter), but struggled mightily last year—pitching to a 6.71 ERA (5.54 xERA) and 1.75 WHIP in 125 IP. After posting a combined 6.8 Dom over those first two years, that number fell back to a paltry 5.5 mark last year, and downturns in H% (34%), S% (63%) and HR/9 (1.4) all conspired to sour his final line. On the plus side, Senzatela seemed encouraged by the results on his new curveball this spring and entered camp 15 pounds lighter than last season.

Hoffman, regarded as the team’s top pitching prospect as recently as 2017, has struggled to the tune of a 6.11 ERA, 1.59 WHIP and 7.6 Dom in 209 career innings. His lack of control (4.4 Ctl, 56% FpK) has continued to plague him, while his 8.7 Dom (10% SwK) represented progress, an encouraging sign when taken alongside the 1 mph uptick in velocity (93.7 mph). Hoffman overhauled/shortened his delivery this offseason, drawing comparisons to Lucas Giolito’s (RHP, CHW) motion, so it will be interesting to see whether those changes translate to on-the-field success.

With no clear option forcing the issue and Peter Lambert (RHP, COL) suffering a forearm strain just prior to the suspension of games, the team could likely give another look to 28-year-old Chi Chi Gonzalez (RHP, COL), who made 12 starts last year after sitting out most of the previous two seasons with Tommy John surgery. Gonzalez underwhelmed with a 5.29 ERA (5.59 xERA) across 63 innings, and his underlying metrics (58% FpK, 8% SwK) don’t provide much reason for excitement in 2020.

 

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers rotation, covered in some degree here a few weeks ago, was gaining some clarity as the team neared Opening Day, with Alex Wood (LHP, LA) and Julio Urias (LHP, LA) locking in on the final two spots. Both continue to look like promising options moving forward—especially Urias, who after just 80 IP last year was expected to still have his workload monitored in 2020. Given the possibility of a shortened season, the production (and draft-day cost) seem likely to be on the rise.

At the front of the rotation, Clayton Kershaw (LHP, LA) was named as the Opening Day starter by manager Dave Roberts. Kershaw bounced back from an injury-shortened 2018 to provide a 3.03 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 189 K in 178 IP, good for a $26 (5x5) season. As noted in the 2020 Baseball Forecaster, his diminished velocity (90.4 mph) seems to be the new normal, down from the ~93 mph mark he hovered around for the bulk of his career. His 14% SwK and 67% FpK both remain top-shelf, although his 3.55 xERA does suggest he could have trouble replicating his 2019 numbers. Perhaps as relevant as the underlying metrics is his injury history. Even though Kershaw missed 19 days with shoulder information, 2019 marked only the second time in the past six years that he hasn’t missed at least 30 days with some sort of ailment, much of that related to his back.

David Price (LHP, LA), set for his first year in a Dodgers uniform, had his 2019 season cut short by a cyst on his wrist, which he had removed last September and which perhaps contributed to his late-season struggles. In the first half, however, he pitched quite well, with a 3.36 ERA (3.53 xERA), 1.12 WHIP, 10.2 Dom (13% SwK) and 1.9 Ctl (68% FpK), not all that far off from his career numbers (3.31 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 8.8 Dom, 2.3 Ctl). With the change from the AL to NL, and with a strong spring (10/3 K/BB in 4.3 IP), it was not surprising to see Price move up draft boards (ADP = 150, since 3/1) in recent weeks.

 

Arizona Diamondbacks

After adding some talent to the roster this offseason, the Diamondbacks appeared ready to attempt a postseason run—with returning closer Archie Bradley (RHP, ARI) set to handle 9th inning duties.

Bradley finally got his long-awaited chance last year in the closer role, converting 18-of-21 save opportunities while posting a 3.52 ERA and 87 strikeouts (10.9 Dom) in 72 innings. As evidenced by his 4.09 xERA, though, he enjoyed some good fortune with a 77% S% and 0.6 HR/9. His 60% FpK was in line with his career mark, suggesting that the sub-3.0 Ctl marks he maintained in 2017 and 2018 may be a thing of the past. Nonetheless, he seems to have a firm grip on the role, which could play an even larger factor in a shortened season (i.e., more likely to survive with non-elite skills).

In terms of a possible back-up, one name to monitor is veteran Hector Rondon (RHP, ARI). Rondon, 32, has amassed 92 saves over his seven-year career, and his fastball velocity (96.7 mph) is still holding strong. That said, the drop-off in SwK, from 13.6% (2018) to 10.1% (2019), is certainly a concern, as his the fact that his Dom fell to 7.1 after a combined 10.5 mark over his last two seasons with Houston. So while his track record could give him a leg up as the next in line, he could also struggle if last year’s 27% H% and 77% S% begin to swing the other way in 2020.

Another (perhaps more exciting) replacement option would be Kevin Ginkel (RHP, ARI), who made his MLB debut with the team last August. Ginkel experienced arm fatigue earlier in spring, but returned after a week off to throw a shutout inning on March 11. From a skills perspective, Ginkel, who saved 11 games across two levels prior to his call-up, used an effective fastball/slider combo to rack up 91 K (vs. 23 BB) across 80 total innings, generating swinging-strikes at a 14% clip in the majors. He’s a name to watch, especially if the control (59% FpK, 39% Ball% at MLB) takes a step forward.

 

San Diego Padres

The Padres entered spring training with more rotation options than last year, with the returns of Garrett Richards (RHP, SD) and Dinelson Lamet (RHP, SD), along with newcomer Zach Davies (RHP, SD) and presumably Joey Lucchesi (LHP, SD).

Davies, acquired from the Brewers this offseason, returned from a 2018 shoulder injury to make 31 starts, pitching to a 3.55 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 102 strikeouts in 160 IP. As noted by Brandon Kruse a few weeks ago, however, there is reason for skepticism—most notably, his fortunate H% (28%) and S% (77%), as well as career-lows in Dom (5.7), Cmd (2.0) and SwK (7.4%).

Lucchesi, meanwhile, posted a final line (4.18 ERA, 1.22 WHIP) similar to his 2018 debut, but he saw a noticeable skills drop-off in the second half, with his velocity dipping below 90 mph and his Dom/SwK fading at the same time. He was said to be working on a new change-up this offseason, though his early performance in Cactus League play (3 K, 6 BB, 6 ER in 4.7 IP) left much to be desired.

That said, the door seems to be at least partially open for Cal Quantrill (RHP, SD) to claim the fifth-starter spot. Quantrill showed flashes of promise after the All-Star break, but a string of three straight 8-ER games in August/September torpedoed his ERA, leaving him with a 5.16 ERA (4.63 xERA) on the season. The 25-year-old wasn’t exactly a strikeout-inducing pitcher in the minors, so it may be best to temper expectations in that regard. Nonetheless, he struck out 9 while walking just 1 in 7 IP this spring, making his best case to open the year in the rotation.

Finally, top prospect MacKenzie Gore (LHP, SD) could see more time in the rotation—or at least a larger percentage of the season—than originally expected. Ranked #5 on the 2020 HQ100, Gore logged just 101 innings between Single-A and Double-A last year, with a combined 1.69 ERA and 135/28 K/BB. He employs a 4-pitch mix and projects to eventually be one of the top starting pitchers in the game, even if expecting a performance akin to Chris Paddack’s (RHP, SD) 2019 may be a tall challenge.


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