The San Diego Padres have thus far surpassed expectations. After all, it’s late-June, and they’re right in the mix of things in the National League West. Had you predicted that in April, you would’ve received a good round of laughs.
Still, pundits are hesitant to label the Padres as contenders. They are in second place, yes. They do have a collection of intriguing young pieces to build around. That’s also true. However, 39-38 is hardly a record worthy of the “elite” label. That can be justified a bit more with their Pythagorean record of 37-40. Translation: Regression could be on the horizon.
General manager Josh Byrnes is in a unique situation because the Padres weren’t supposed to contend. He could sit back and see how far his current corps can take the team. Everything is essentially gravy. Yet, July is looming, and a wide open NL West division gives them a good reason to go for it. In this case, “going for it” would require another starter.
Byrnes seems to understand the reality of the situation. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported Tuesday that the Padres are interested in Matt Garza. Peter Gammons reported the same thing on Monday. So Garza is indeed on San Diego’s radar.
Another name also on San Diego’s radar is the Houston Astros’ Bud Norris. In his Monday column, Rosenthal noted that the Padres are in the market for a young starter that’s signed beyond the final few months of 2013. Garza doesn’t fit that description, as his contract expires after the season. Norris does, though. The 28-year-old isn’t eligible to hit the open waters until 2016.
In short, the Padres are actively scouring the market for starting pitching.
And for good reason. Padres starters have the sixth-highest ERA in baseball and lowest WAR (Wins Above Replacement). If you were to connect the dots without glancing at the standings, San Diego probably wouldn’t be in hunt, but they are. That’s what we’d call a “buyer.”
Perhaps the Padres are sending mixed messages claiming they want controllable a control arm like Norris then jumping in the Garza discussions.
The better question: Would Norris or Garza be the better fit?
What Bud Norris Would Bring to the Table
There’s a lot to like about Norris and a lot not to like. He currently sports a 3.60 ERA and 3.63 FIP (Fielding Independent Percentage). If the season ended today, both would be career-best marks, as would his 1.6 WAR. Those are three things to like.
I warn you not to look too far into Norris’ 5-7 record because he only gets three runs of support per game. Not only is that the least amount of run support he’s received in his five-year career, but it’s the seventh-lowest mark in MLB. You get the point.
As for Norris’ flaws…
The main one: He doesn’t boast much of an off-speed repertoire. Per FanGraphs, his slider is 0.50 runs above average (per every 100 pitches), but his changeup and curveball are 1.77 and 2.79 runs below average, respectively (in 2013). Even his fastball is below average–only partially, but still below average.
But stop and consider this: would the pitcher-friendly environment of Petco Park give Norris a chance to sharpen his off-speed repertoire? It’s certainly a feasible possibility. Minute Maid Park is a hitter-friendly park, especially to straightaway left field and right field. The spacious Petco Park, meanwhile, would yield him the chance to get away with more mistakes. He’d essentially be playing trial-and-error until/if the lightbulb clicks.
Additionally, Norris can tend to be a bit on the erratic side. In his first four years in the league, he had a 3.8 BB/9 rate. That’s well above average. In 2013, he’s trimmed it down to 2.9. Whether that’s an outlier or a sign of things to come, only time can tell.
As I alluded to in the introduction, Norris is controllable and cheap, at least for the time bing.
There you have Bud Norris, folks.
What Matt Garza Would Bring to the Table
Garza has plenty of upside, boasting a good slider and fairly good curveball. The Chicago Cubs were likely going to dangle Garza last summer, when his value was much higher. However, a stress fracture in his elbow squandered his value, and of course, his line of suitors
Fast forward to 2013: Garza has so far missed 43 games recovering from a strained right shoulder. So yes, he’s injury prone. One quick glance at his Baseball Prospectus profile will confirm that.
When Garza isn’t on the nursing various injuries, though, he’s your garden-variety No. 2 starter. Last time I checked, those guys are pretty valuable.
However, I’m still not convinced that Garza is worth the haul of prospects that it would take to obtain him. He has a career 3.85 ERA and 4.01 FIP, and neither of those marks are great. Plus, his fastball velocity is down from 93.7 miles per hour in 2012 to 92.6 MPH in 2013.
Stuff-wise, Garza’s slider is a little more than a run above average (for every 100 pitches). His curveball is 0.81 runs above average, but his change up is 2.48 runs below average. Sure, his arsenal superior to Norris’ aresnal, but it’s nothing that really “wows” the eye.
While Garza has a bit more upside, Norris would be a better fit for the Padres. He won’t come cheap, but he won’t bolt for greener pastures after 2013, whereas there aren’t any guarantees with the injury-prone Garza.
All stats courtesy of FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference and ESPN.com