There have been a number of comments over the past few months regarding our pitching philosophy. Generally, there has been some disdain that we tend to focus on command pitchers as opposed to power pitchers with specific mention of Petco Park and guys like Geer, Ramos, and LeBlanc since they are all on the cusp of the big leagues.
First and foremost, as a matter of practice, we do not target command over velocity. Every pitcher is a unique blend of skills - athleticism, delivery, repertoire, command, movement, velocity, durability, etc. Though it may appear that we have a particular preference, it is the balance of all of these factors and more that drives our decisions.
For instance, let's go back to draft day and discuss the trio of "command" pitchers listed above. Cesar Ramos was drafted in the compensation round of 2005 out of Long Beach St (I wasn't here at the time or in 2006, but I had seen all of these guys pitch, so the following perspective is just mine). Ramos is left-handed and he was always a very good strikethrower. The knock was that he didn't strike enough guys out, but it wasn't because of his fastball. Cesar routinely touches 92 mph and regularly pitches at 90-91, which for a left-hander is considered above average (or borderline above average). In this instance, the Padres took a left-hander with average to plus velocity and above average strike throwing ability. If nothing else changes, that's probably good enough to pitch at the back of a rotation or in the pen. If something more clicks, though, there is real upside. In fact, after striking out 4.5 per nine innings in A ball and 4.9 per nine innings in AA, Cesar this year struck out 6.3 per nine innings in AAA. I like the way this trend is going.
Josh Geer is a very different case. At Rice Josh had a fastball that sat at 91 and ranged from 88-93. Fast forward three years and Josh now pitches between 85 and 91 and throws more strikes than he ever did in college (3.2 walks per nine in college and 1.9 walks per nine as a pro). Sometimes this is a matter of becoming more consistent in one's effort level and delivery. Other times it's simply a matter of the pro workload - pitching every fifth day as opposed to once a week like in high school or college.
Wade LeBlanc was a guy in college who had a devastating out-pitch in his changeup, and that continues to be the case. His velocity in college was mainly 86-88, which has been his standard as a pro. He pitched a little below that in the big leagues, but that is likely because it was the first time he had pitched in Major League camp and September, which added two months to his season. With that velocity, however, Wade has struck out 8.8 per nine in A ball, 8.6 per nine in AA, and 9.0 per nine in AAA. The point is that velocity doesn't always equal strikeouts (though there is a correlation - I can't deny that). So basically, Wade continues to be the same successful pitcher that he was at Alabama with very consistent performance and stuff. In fact, Chris Young is another good example of this. Chris doesn't throw particularly hard, but batters have a decidedly difficult time against him, so his velocity alone does not dictate his place in the rotation.
The three examples above simply show that what we get on draft day isn't always what the guys look like three or four years later - one is striking more guys out, one is striking fewer guys out, and one guy is basically the same - so there hasn't necessarily been a focus on guys who don't throw particularly hard. In fact, the Padres took Cesar Carrillo in the first round of 2005 who threw hard with command - the combination that all teams want.
Fortunately, the Padres have a growing stable of these pitchers - guys who throw hard with command. Matt Latos, Wynn Pelzer, Drew Miller, and Jeremy McBryde are just some of the names that fit this mold. All of these guys were signed for above slot money in the draft, but just like the three mentioned above, they don't necesssarily have the same characteristics as on the day they signed. Furthermore, there are also many, many more whom we targeted in the draft but didn't get to select for one reason or another.
We've also been aggressive with our Latin American signings. Long before we signed Adis Portillo out of Venezuela in July, we signed Ernesto Frieri, Wilton Lopez, Simon Castro, Jackson Quezada, Alexis Lara, and Pascual Juan. Both Frieri and Lopez are on the 40-man roster, and all of these pitchers top out at least 94 mph. In fact, in the draft this year we also took a handful of guys, like Bass, Bagley, and Poynter to name a few, with above average fastballs, so our lower levels boast a large group of power arms.
The important takeaway here is that pitching is very difficult to predict and all different types of pitchers have success, so we draft and sign all different types of pitchers.
Back in 2005, the Padres' system was a little thin, so drafting polished college pitchers made sense - there was a need to build some pitching inventory in general - but those guys don't always turn out the way you'd expect. Fortunately, the farm system is much healthier now, and we're hopeful that we have created enough of a foundation across the spectrum of pitching to have a number of Major League contributors with all sorts of different repertoires and abilities.