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Scoping the San Diego Rotation
2005-02-15 09:37
by Jon Weisman

Last season, while many in the national press excorciated the Dodgers for their midseason moves during the pennant race, sportswriters tended to ignore the Padres' trade deadline performance.

Among other issues, San Diego No. 5 starters won zero games in the season's final two months after the team traded Ismael Valdez to Florida. Certainly, that made a difference as the Padres finished six games behind the National League West champion Dodgers.

Heading into 2005, San Diego may boast a Cy Young candidate, but do the Padres have enough to fill out their rotation?

San Diego's Top Seven:

Jake Peavy: Giants fans have reason to be excited about their 24-year-old prospect, Noah Lowry, who pitched 92 above-average innings last season. Padre patriots in Petco proper can truly drool over Peavy, who turns 24 in May. In a season marred only by a stay on the disabled list, from which he emerged in fine form, Peavy won the NL ERA title at 2.27, striking out more than a batter per inning. Questions: Can he continue to prevent the ball from leaving the park? From 2003-2004, he cut his home runs allowed per inning in half. And what kind of regression might Peavy be headed for considering that his dERA (his park- and defense-adjusted ERA) was a full run higher than his actual ERA, as Jacob Luft posted on Answers: Even if Peavy falters, the division might still not have a better pitcher.

Woody Williams: Has this guy had an underrated career? A 28th-round draft pick in 1988, he didn't reach the majors until age 26, but then posted an ERA+ of 99 or better (with 100 as the league average) in all 12 of his seasons. After missing about half the season in 2002, he threw 220 2/3 innings in 2003 and 189 2/3 innings in 2003 (for St. Louis). At age 38, his 2004 strikeout rate was better than any Padre starter except Peavy. And he's a career .213 hitter. And he only makes $3.5 million (plus incentives) in 2005. And yet, having given Williams due credit, with all that going for him, Williams has only been average or a sliver better in three of his past four seasons. A solid addition - but perhaps nothing more.

Brian Lawrence: Lawrence has pitched more than 200 innings each of the past three seasons - but with an ERA of 4.00 over that time, they've been more utilitaran than exceptional. Not that, in this era, utilitarian doesn't have value. He turns 29 in May.

Adam Eaton: Eaton went 4-1 with a 2.87 ERA against the Dodgers last season, so you people of Los Angeles are forgiven for cowering in his presence. Overall, Eaton's ERA was 4.61 - his fourth consecutive season worse than the league average. Eaton is 27 and approaching the point where his potential for greatness is expiring - average is a more reasonable goal. His top comparison in baseball history, according to, is former obscure Dodger Mike Harkey (now a Padres minor league pitching coach). He does have 10 doubles and two home runs as a batter in the past two seasons.

Darrell May: Luft speculates that May's move from Kansas City to San Diego will make him better by reducing his rate of home runs allowed (69 in his last 396 innings). The 32-year-old May's career year came in 2003, when he pitched 210 innings with an ERA+ of 135. Last season, his ERA+ dropped to 79. Luft might be correct, but it's a dicey gamble that may see the Padres turn to the minors by summertime.

Justin Germano: Only 22, Germano got an 8.86 ERA sandblasting in seven appearances (five starts) with the Padres in 2004. But his 3.38 ERA and 98 strikeouts in 122 2/3 innings with AAA Portland keep him in the loop as first alternate.

Chris Oxspring: A 27-year-old Australian, Oxspring has yet to make his MLB debut but has struck out 210 batters in 222 innings over the past two seasons, including 17 starts at Portland in 2004 with a 3.99 ERA.

San Diego enters the season with fewer question marks in its starting rotation than the Dodgers, but one about potential. Best-case scenario is that Peavy wins the Cy Young while his four colleagues churn collectively at a little better than average. Alternatively, the Padres could struggle if the back end of the rotation starts slowly and they are slow to react.

San Diego will need three starts from its No. 5 spot in April. Things will be looking good for the Padres if May wins before May. But just like Los Angeles and San Francisco, San Diego has reasons to hold its breath regarding its starting pitching, too.

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