Jed Hoyer had a plan. As general manager of the San Diego Padres, he was going to win with a dominant starting pitching staff. His goal was to acquire as many young, talented starting pitchers as possible and hope that five of them stayed healthy and dominant while moving up each level until reaching the major leagues. It almost worked.
When Hoyer left the Padres to become general manager of the Chicago Cubs, he left new GM Josh Byrnes with the seeds for a young rotation that could carry the Padres to their first World Series appearance since 1998. He then sent another prized arm, that of Andrew Cashner, to the Padres in exchange for first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
Here’s what the San Diego Padres rotation would look like heading into 2013, if they had some better luck with injuries:
Cory Luebke (28 years old)
Casey Kelly (23 years old)
Joe Wieland (23 years old)
Andrew Cashner (26 years old)
Edinson Volquez (29 years old)
Not bad, huh?
That’s not even including Anthony Bass, who pitched well as a starter early in 2012 before injuring his shoulder and getting sent back to the bullpen, or Robbie Erlin, who was thought to be better than Wieland when both were acquired in a trade . I also left out Tyson Ross, a 25-year-old starter who was claimed off waivers in the offseason and has pitched well enough in spring training to win the team’s No. 5 starter spot. Clayton Richard and Tim Stauffer, too, had success as starters before facing injury setbacks.
I’ve argued before that the largest difference between the Padres and world champion San Francisco Giants isn’t just the size of the payroll, it’s luck. Specifically luck with injuries to starting pitchers.
Here’s what the Giants’ rotation looked like in 2012:
Matt Cain (27 years old)
Madinson Bumgarner (22 years old)
Ryan Vogelsong (34 years old)
Tim Lincecum (28 years old)
Barry Zito (34 years old)
Not particularly young or old, their rotation has a good balance between prospects, pitchers in their prime and over-the-hill guys making it work with veteran savvy. So why did their rotation do drastically better than the Padres in 2012? Health. Out of the Giants’ 162 regular season games last year, only two were started by someone other than those five guys. The Padres started 15 different pitchers in 2012.
What’s in the water down at Petco Park?
The careers of nearly every young starting pitcher seem to be derailed by injury almost as soon as he puts on a Padres uniform.
Is it the fault of the current or former general manager, for selecting high-potential players with a history of injuries? Does it fall on the pitching coach, who tinkers with the mechanics of his pitchers so often that they’re relying on muscles that they’ve never worked before? Perhaps it’s on the head of the manager, or the training staff.
Whatever the answer, the rash of injuries to the Padres’ starting pitchers has become so outlandish that the New York Times is taking notice.
I’m sick and tired of looking at the disabled list and wondering, “What if?” If the team ever wants to pull itself out of the basement, they’ll first need to figure out how to keep a pitching staff healthy.
John Gennaro is a contributor to Voice of San Diego. Follow him on Twitter @jmglion or email email@example.com.