A fan favorite and no doubt the best starting pitcher the Padres have ever drafted, Jake Peavy’s impact in San Diego has finally aged into his first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame. Even though he didn’t stick with this team his entire career, the majority of his awards and achievements all came with this ball club.
The Early Days
Jake Peavy made his major league debut on June 22, 2002, against the New York Yankees in the old Qualcomm Stadium. Unfortunately, he ended up losing the start when he surrendered one run on three hits in six innings of work accompanied by four strikeouts. If you ask me, that’s not a bad start for someone of Peavy’s caliber but the worst was yet to come. He finished that season with a 6-7 record and a 4.52 ERA backed by 90 strikeouts which again, wasn’t the worst he could’ve done given he was called up close to the middle of the season. The offensive side of things wasn’t much better as the Padres managed to churn out 66 wins which were good enough for last place in the NL West.
The 2003 season would be Peavy’s chance to start fresh with the ball club as he had been added to the major league roster and would no longer have to spend time in the minors. In 32 starts, he compiled a 12-11 record with a 4.11 ERA and 156 strikeouts over 194.2 innings. The culture, as is always prevalent in sports, is to win quickly or find another solution but there was nothing to do with him except to remain steadfast in the hope that he will mature quickly at this level. Regardless, the Padres still finished with a lackluster record of 64-98 which again put them in last place in the NL West and continued their playoff drought.
They say good things come to those who wait and for the Padres, their patience with Peavy finally paid off in the 2004 season. His emergence as the ace in their rotation and one of the best pitchers to take the mound that year won him his first ERA title when he ended with a 2.27 overall. This season also saw him become the youngest pitcher to achieve the feat since Dwight Gooden in 1985. He also etched his name into the history books (and not in a good way) when he allowed Barry Bonds to put one into the bay for his 700th career home run.
Before the start of the 2005 season, the Padres decided to make it official with Peavy and offer him a four-year, $14.5 million dollar contract which he happily signed. With the contract officiated and out of the way, it was time to begin what would be a career year for him. He won his first All-Star award and selection to the NL team while simultaneously finishing as the NL’s strikeout leader with 216, second to Minnesota’s Johan Santana who finished with 238. Adding to his success was the fact that his team also managed to end their playoff drought by winning the NL West division. In the midst of the celebration, however, Peavy fractured a rib and missed the rest of the season.
This injury was just a slew to hold up his pitching mechanics and cause 2006 to be the longest season he had to endure while his body was still in duress. He ended the season with an 11-14 record and 4.09 ERA yet still somehow managed to finish in second in the NL for most strikeouts with 215, one shy of his career-best. The Friars again found themselves chasing the October classic with Peavy showcasing his skills during the most important part of any MLB season. The Cardinals would again best this team but for the young buck Peavy, this playoff series was the best he had performed at any point that year.
July 1, 2007, would see Peavy in the All-Star Game for the second time in his career as well as get named the starter for the NL team. One month and a day later, Peavy struck out former Arizona diamondbacks outfielder Jeff DaVanon to earn his 1,000th career strikeout. At the end of that year, it was announced that Peavy had won the pitching Triple Crown by leading the NL in wins, strikeouts, and ERA. Since the divisional play era began in 1969, he was only the eighth pitcher to accomplish this feat.
On October 23, he won the Players Choice Award for Outstanding NL Pitcher and went on to win the NL Cy Young award one month later in a unanimous decision. Keep in mind, that was only his sixth year in the big leagues and he had already won two strikeout titles, two major league ERA titles, and a unanimous, triple-crown Cy Young award. The game of baseball hadn’t seen a pitcher that decorated in a long time and this also helped to bring more exposure for his club too. As expected, he signed another four-year deal but this one was worth $52 million, the largest contract in Padres history at the time.
What was supposed to be another good year for this star-studded pitcher was anything but during the 2008 season. He was first accused of using an illegal substance to enhance his pitches but this was eventually seen as “nothing other than a mixture of rosin and dirt”, according to the Padres’ former manager, Bud Black. His stint on the DL caused him to miss any chance of making another All-Star game but he still finished strong with a 10-11 record and a 2.88 ERA. The following season his club decided that they wanted to make some budgetary cuts and move things around so they shipped Peavy off to Chicago thus ending his tenure with the Friars.
An Impact Like No Other
In eight seasons with San Diego, Peavy compiled a stat line of 1,348 strikeouts, 3.29 ERA, 1,342.2 innings pitched, and a 92-68 record. After his time here, he went on to play for the Chicago White Sox, San Francisco Giants, and Boston Red Sox over the course of a 15-year career. He surpassed the 2,000th strikeout threshold, won another All-Star award, and got his first Gold Glove in the back half of his tenure in MLB. His eligibility for the Hall of Fame has finally fallen on the doorsteps of the deciding committee and I believe he has a strong chance of getting in.
What he did in San Diego, through the good times and the bad, just proves how much of a selfless player he was and how dedicated he became in the hunt for more team success. I believe that he set the tone for what it means to be a Padres alongside Tony Gwynn, aka Mr. Padre. For a late-round pick, he was able to make a name for himself right out of high school, and his ability to climb the ranks quickly resulted in what should be considered a HOF career.
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