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Correia leads underrated Padres rotation

5/3/2010

I'll admit that other than the underrated Kevin Correia and brittle Chris Young, I scoffed a bit at the rotation the San Diego Padres planned to feature this season. Well, with a crazy 1.53 ERA in home games, I'm not scoffing anymore!

Innings-eater Jon Garland, twice an 18-game winner in his career, surely couldn't do that again with this offense. Clayton Richard and Wade LeBlanc are young and left-handed, not true overpowering strikeout options, and often raw arms like this do more harm than good. I liked Mat Latos, but what scared me off was the potential for an innings ban on his valuable right arm.

A month into the season the Padres boast a 2.76 team ERA, which is incredible enough, but the Milwaukee Brewers could barely score this past weekend. The Brewers took Saturday's game 2-1, but in the other three games of the series the Padres registered shutouts, winning 9-0, 3-0 and 8-0. Other than picking on patsy Pittsburgh Pirates, the Brewers have hardly been hitting machines, but still, this is impressive, and I suppose sad if you own Prince Fielder.

In games at Petco Park this season, the Padres are 10-3 with a 1.53 ERA. That's incomprehensible! We could say it's all about the massive, Yellowstone-like ballpark, but the Brewers' Randy Wolf, who entered Sunday with a 3.34 ERA, got touched up. Earlier this season, Jair Jurrjens was on the wrong end of a 17-2 game at Petco. Padres pitchers are close to untouchable at home, but the overall ERA at Petco is 3.38, since road teams have a 5.38 ERA there. The Padres' offense is improved, but c'mon, it's 13 games now, and while still too small of a sample size, I'm starting to believe something's happening here.

With a three-game set against the Colorado Rockies slated to start Monday at Petco Park, fantasy owners should sit borderline Rockies hitters Todd Helton, Dexter Fowler, Clint Barmes and Miguel Olivo, and take a closer look at the Padres' scheduled pitchers Correia, LeBlanc and Richard. Correia was pretty good a year ago, with 12 wins, a 3.91 ERA and 142 strikeouts, and he was hardly bad in road games. In fact, his strikeout rate was quite a bit greater away from Petco. He's 4-1 with a 3.86 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, on pace for 168 strikeouts ... and owned in 13 percent of standard leagues. Home park or not, Correia is viable for all leagues at this point.

As for LeBlanc and Richard, I'd call them definite spot-starter pickups in home games -- even in standard leagues -- until we see this trend altered. LeBlanc boasts a 0.52 ERA in three overall starts, and certainly a hittable lefty who relies on deception craves a large ballpark and good defense. So far it's working, but I want to see more before using him in road starts. I have more confidence in former Chicago White Sox farmhand Richard, who figures to be more of a strikeout guy, and he's more mature, with 200 innings of MLB experience. A year ago, Richard made 12 major league starts; at Petco he was 4-0 in six outings with a 2.00 ERA. Fantasy owners must notice this trend.

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Garland has always scared me, and the fact he's 2-0 in three Petco outings is a bit misleading; he's walked 12 hitters and fanned only six in 19 innings. I wouldn't try to use him later this week in Houston, but after that he should face the Los Angeles Dodgers at home, and that Manny-less offense is hit or miss. I'd avoid him unless he's pitching at home. At some point a 10-run outing is unavoidable.

Latos is off to the roughest start of the rotation members, having lost three of four outings, and having allowed seven home runs so far. Despite his current 5.47 ERA, he has the highest upside of any of these guys, and in two seasons I could see Latos being on the level of Yovani Gallardo and Tommy Hanson. For now, he's not there yet, though his ERA at home is 2.55. Man, that ballpark can make up even rough starts to a season.

As for Young, he got our collective hopes up with six innings of one-hit, no-run ball in his first start, then hit the DL with a sore shoulder. Young made a total of 32 starts in 2008-09, so we shouldn't expect much, but in his career at Petco Park he boasts a 2.93 ERA. For division comparison, at Dodger Stadium (5.40), AT&T Park (5.09) and Coors Field (5.31) he's not so attractive a fantasy option.

Runs can be scored at Petco Park, and I expect opposing hitters will be more successful as time goes on, and we'll see the occasional 10-9 game there. LeBlanc, Richard and Latos are young, Correia and Garland are, shall we say crafty, and all these guys will have their hiccups. At this point, however, you have to like their chances whenever pitching at Petco Park.