The San Diego Padres have made their World Series aspirations loud and clear. The team currently occupies a postseason berth as the second-place ballclub in the NL West, 6 games behind the LA Dodgers. Also, the Padres now stand as NL’s No. 4 seed.
San Diego has statistically been a much more balanced team for the majority of the 2020 season compared to 2019. The club managed to build upon an already-solid lineup which has become the most productive in baseball.
However, the bullpen has not been in the same boat. The unit lost Kirby Yates for the remainder of the year, as well as Emilio Pagan for the time being. Drew Pomeranz is yet to allow a run in eleven innings as a closer but the group has lacked the depth it had last year. The bullpen’s ERA is up from last year to 4.86, the tenth-highest in MLB.
Yet, the Padres have posted a 4.15 ERA as a team, an improvement by almost half a point. This just goes to show how important the upgraded rotation has proven to be, and one name in particular – Zach Davies.
Davies had a satisfying campaign in 2017, his third of five years in Milwaukee. However, his performance went downhill in the short term. In his last year with the Brewers, the 27-year-old starter turned into the rotation’s sole saving grace. That was only due to Brendon Woodruff missing most of the second half. Davies’s ERA fell to 3.55, a career-best, although he produced a strikeout less per nine innings as opposed to 2018’s 5.7 figure.
So far in Southern California, Davies hasn’t just been SD’s best pitcher but also one of the best in the National League. He has posted an ERA of 2.23, which is another career-best and the seventh-lowest among NL qualified starters. Furthermore, he’s also striking out hitters at a personal-record 7.8 K/9 rate and gives up only 2.4 BB/9. In 48.1 innings pitches, he’s surrendered just four home runs.
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Although San Diego’s rotation is a lot better than what the Brewers offered in 2019, Davies has overperformed at a very important moment. However, what separates the 2019 Padres from the 2018 Brewers is that he’s not the only one to shine. Davies and Danielson Lamet both have an ERA sub-3.00 and are in the top ten in the National League.
Had it not been for them, Chris Paddack, who has hit the ground with 4.48 ERA and 2.1 HR/9, and some prospects would have been the alternative.
Davies’s case is a little more interesting because he’s the outcome of a very solid offseason by GM A.J. Preller and his staff. An early deal that sent Trent Grisham and Zack Davies to California was the notable deal of the winter. In return, Milwaukee received prospect Luis Urias and pitcher Eric Lauer.
Urias was at the time one of the most highly-regarded youngsters in baseball. He had a very high market value but his prime would come after Manny Machado hits his peak game, after Eric Hosmer leaves in 2026, and when the rotation is even worse given Chris Paddack cooled off. It’s a well-known fact that San Diego’s young core has overperformed early on and that the ceiling is very high. However, their supporting cast of players such as Urias and Taylor Trammel could leave the lineup with many holes even if they ever reach their current value.
Moreover, the bright future of San Diego prospects doesn’t translate in such for the Padres rotation. There are three pitchers in San Diego’s prospect top ten, not counting Adrian Mojeron and Luis Patino who have already debuted in MLB. This is good at first sight. However, everyone but MacKenzie Gore in projected to reach MLB after 2022. This speculative roster-making strategy pays dividends too long in the future. In addition, it poses too many questions as to whether the rotation will perform well enough after the lineup regresses.
Instead, Preller and his staff are building a solid rotation in an intermediate time frame in order to get the most out of a tremendous lineup. On the one hand, they’ve dramatically traded out prospects while leaving their best for the short term. Gore or Patino could be the finishing piece to SD’s current group of starters. On the other hand, general managers around the league often value solid prospects as high as good or solid major-league players. It is absurd as regards to how a balanced team is made.
Davies has contributed to an average rotation moving a step forward. Trent Grisham, in a similar fashion, has shined in the bottom part of the order. Through 175 plate appearances, he has reached a base at a .339 rate and has a .816 OPS.
Traded away was Urias who is years away from his prime and hasn’t proven himself even to the slightest extent. Traded in were two experienced players who are improving areas of needs and are close to their best years. This is an uneven trade situation that has come to haunt the 18-19 Brewers.
Zack Davies ended up being valued less than Luis Urias so the Padres are running away with this trade. Prospects like Urias were given credit for MiLB performance over MLB performance of proven players. Also, experts gave them credit for the possible results (too much ahead in time) over the direction of major-league-caliber players. They are just crying to be the exported assets every year when a team needs a couple of pieces to compete. Therefore, almost every team could in practice pursue contention every season.
The majority of top traded prospects start off well but their fates are very different from one another. Many others don’t ever get near the expectations, creating a market bubble. This bubble is exploding every year for many teams, which fail to react accordingly. Recent trades for Mitch Moreland and Austin Nola show Preller isn’t going to stop exploiting similar deals any time soon. He’s not going to stop winning these deals until he achieves the ultimate goal of the first World Series title in franchise history.
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