If you don’t know about San Diego Padres starting pitcher Dinelson Lamet already, you will by the end of the 2020 season.
New Padres manager Jayce Tingler has a long list of starting pitching arms to choose from this season, with Lamet, Chris Paddack, Garrett Richards, Joey Lucchesi, Zach Davies, and Cal Quantrill all competing for a rotation spot.
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Top prospects Adrian Morejon and Michel Baez are also in the mix after seeing time in the big leagues last season. Looking down the road just a bit, both MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patino figure to be mainstays in San Diego’s rotation as two of the more exciting young pitching prospects in all of baseball.
It’s a thrilling and intriguing group of arms (could add at least 10-15 more to this list), but could Dinelson Lamet soon become a well-known commodity outside of the San Diego fanbase? Absolutely.
After missing all of 2018 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Lamet made 14 starts for the Padres in 2019, going 3-5 with a 4.07 ERA (3.91 FIP/3.44 xFIP) and 1.26 WHIP across 73 innings.
He showed flashes of what makes him a special pitcher in his 14 starts, recording double-digit strikeout performances in four of his starts, including a season-high 14 on September 18 against the Milwaukee Brewers and 12 through seven shutout innings against the Seattle Mariners back on August 6.
Lamet’s 33.6% strikeout rate on the year was the sixth-highest K-rate among major league starting pitchers with at least 50 IP, behind names like Gerrit Cole, Chris Sale, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Mike Clevinger.
You can point to his high number of walks and home runs allowed as red flags, but it’s important to note that Lamet has just 187 MLB innings under his belt with a year away from game action mixed in. He did see a slight drop in walks from 11.1% in his rookie campaign to 9.6% last season. That number should continue to drop as he builds up his innings and comfort level on the mound.
As for the home runs, Lamet saw a noted drop in the percentage of fly balls allowed last season (36%), but saw his HR/FB rate jump from 14.8% to 19.7%. Perhaps the juiced baseball played a role there, but that number should also see a dip moving forward as Lamet’s numbers begin to normalize.
Armed with one of the top sliders in the game, Lamet’s potential has been noted for many years, but now further removed from Tommy John surgery and reportedly set to pitch in 2020 without restrictions, Dinelson Lamet has an opportunity to not only become more of a household name among baseball fans, but to help make the San Diego Padres a surprise team in 2020.
While his slide piece is lethal (51.3% whiff rate), Lamet’s fastball does get touched up a bit and doesn’t have much movement, despite being in the 88th percentile in velocity per Baseball Savant. His two-pitch mix led many to believe his future would likely lead him to a bullpen role, but his evolving repertoire will be on full display in 2020.
Ben Clemens of Fangraphs put together an insightful look at Lamet’s repertoire late last season, including the emergence of two sliders and increased effectiveness against left-handed hitters, something he struggled with back in 2017. The improvements appear to be real. Lamet just needs more time to prove it.
It all comes down to more innings for Lamet. Can he hold that high strikeout percentage across a larger sample size? Just how effective can his repertoire be deeper into outings and as he faces familiar opponents in the NL West multiple times a season?
Don’t bet against Dinelson Lamet. The San Diego Padres have a fantastic arm in their rotation and he’s prepared to be unleashed in 2020.