MLBTR’s preseason series ends with National League West pitchers looking to bounce back in 2020. These 10 talented hurlers are hoping to get off the mat after difficult seasons…
Alex Wood, LHP, Dodgers:
The 29-year-old Wood is back in Los Angeles, where he experienced a great deal of success in 2015-18, after a Murphy’s Law season spent in Cincinnati. A back injury limited Wood to 35 2/3 innings of 5.80 ERA/6.38 FIP pitching last year after Cincinnati acquired him from Los Angeles expecting high-end production. Not unreasonable on the Reds’ part, as Wood had combined for a 3.29 ERA/3.36 FIP with 8.27 K/9, 2.57 BB/9 and a 49.5 percent groundball rate in 803 1/3 innings as a Brave and Dodger from 2013-18. The Dodgers brought him back on a low-risk guarantee ($4MM) in the offseason. They may strike gold if Wood can stay healthy.
Blake Treinen, RHP, Dodgers:
Like his new teammate Wood, Treinen was excellent in the recent past before falling off a cliff last season. Just two years ago, Treinen – then an Athletic – turned in one of the greatest seasons a reliever has ever had. But last year went awry for Treinen, who dealt with multiple injuries and logged subpar numbers. Treinen wound up with a 4.91 ERA/5.14 FIP and 9.05 K/9, 5.68 BB/9 and a 42.8 percent grounder rate over 58 2/3 innings. He lost his job as the A’s closer along the way, and they non-tendered him after the season. The hard-throwing Treinen landed on his feet, though, with a $10MM guarantee from the Dodgers.
Kyle Freeland, LHP, Rockies:
The soft-tossing Freeland was an NL Cy Young candidate back in 2018, so no one could have expected such a miserable showing in 2019. As it turned out, though, Freeland struggled so mightily that the Rockies optioned him to Triple-A at one point in the season. In the majors, he ended up with a brutal 6.73 ERA/5.99 FIP (compared to 2.85/3.67 the prior year) and 6.81 K/9 against 3.36 BB/9 across 104 1/3 innings, averaging fewer than five frames per start along the way. The 26-year-old’s severe drop-off was among the reasons the Rockies went from playoff team in 2018 to bottom-feeding club last season.
Wade Davis, RHP, Rockies:
Speaking of stunning declines from members of Colorado’s pitching staff … Davis continued his descent in 2019. In the second season of a three-year, $52MM contract, the once-untouchable Davis recorded an abysmal 8.65 ERA/5.56 FIP and walked more than six batters per nine over 42 2/3 innings. Davis also rated as one of Statcast’s worst pitchers, finishing toward the bottom of the league in average exit velocity, expected weighted on-base average and strikeout percentage, among other categories.
Johnny Cueto, RHP, Giants:
Even though he only pitched 16 innings last season, it’s tough not to include Cueto on this list. The former ace is hoping for his first full season in a while, as injuries (including Tommy John surgery in 2018) held him to a mere 216 1/3 innings over the previous three years. During his halcyon days, Cueto – now 34 – used to throw around that many innings in a single season. The Giants still owe Cueto $47MM through 2021, so a rebound effort would be all the more welcome for them.
Kevin Gausman, RHP, Giants:
Gausman, whom the Giants added for $9MM in free agency, is in line to join Cueto in their rotation. The hope for the club is that he’ll fare much better than he did in 2019 – a disappointing season for a pitcher who has been consistently respectable. Gausman performed so poorly as a Brave that they placed him on outright waivers in August, but he did turn his season around as a strikeout-heavy reliever in Cincinnati. However, despite 10.03 K/9 against 2.81 BB/9, Gausman could only muster a 5.72 ERA (granted, with a much more encouraging 3.98 FIP) in 102 1/3 frames divided between the two teams.
Dereck Rodriguez, RHP, Giants:
Rodriguez came out of nowhere to serve as one of the most effective rookies in the sport two years, but the dreaded sophomore slump took him down last season. The 27-year-old split 2019 between the Giants’ rotation and bullpen, registering a woeful 5.64 ERA/5.69 FIP (he was at 2.81/3.74 in 2018) in 99 innings. Rodriguez underwhelmed in the strikeout/walk department along the way, putting up 6.45 K/9 with 3.27 BB/9, and lost about a mile per hour on his low-90s fastball. Whether he’ll work more as a starter or reliever is in question heading into the new season, whenever it begins.
Tony Watson, LHP, Giants:
The normally reliable Watson wasn’t quite himself in 2019, in which he tallied career worsts in ERA (4.17), FIP (4.81) and home runs per nine (1.5) through 54 innings. Watson walked just two per nine, and there were no dips in his velocity (93.5 mph) or swinging-strike percentage (12.7), yet he still slumped to the second-lowest K/9 (6.83) of his career. Surprisingly, same-handed hitters – whom he has usually contained – did the most damage against Watson, teeing off on him for a .391 wOBA. In other words, Watson turned the average lefty into Anthony Rizzo. The Giants are banking on a better showing from Watson in 2020, though, as they re-signed him for a $3MM guarantee during the winter.
Trevor Cahill, RHP, Giants:
Cahill is the fifth member of this Giants-heavy list, but this will be his first year with the club. He spent last year with the Angels, who signed him for $9MM after he revived his career with the Athletics as a starter during the previous season. However, Cahill couldn’t carry that renaissance into 2019; he instead spent the majority of the season in the bullpen and logged an ugly 5.98 ERA/6.13 FIP. Compared to 2018, Cahill struck out one fewer batter per nine (7.12 overall) and saw his groundball rate drop by almost 8 percent (45.9). He also yielded a whopping 2.2 homers per nine – up from a paltry .65 the prior season. Now, it remains to be seen whether Cahill will even crack the roster in San Francisco, which signed him to a minor league contract. If he does, it may be as a reliever.
Garrett Richards, RHP, Padres:
Richards has been quite valuable when he has taken the mound. The problem is that appearances from the oft-injured ex-Angel have been rare in recent seasons. He hasn’t even touched the 80-inning mark in a season since 2015, when he amassed a career-high 207 1/3. Richards totaled just 8 2/3 frames last season after returning from the Tommy John surgery he underwent in July 2018. Of course, the Padres knew they’d get little from Richards in 2019 upon signing him to a two-year, $15.5MM pact. They’re hoping the investment pays dividends this season.