Searching for Saves: San Diego Padres: Can Joaquin Benoit Be An Elite Closer?

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

As 2014 came to a close the assumption was that Joaquin Benoit would be dealt for pieces that fit into San Diego’s future. It made sense, at 37-years old, but that was then. After new GM A.J. Preller relentlessly upgraded a lineup with Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Derek Norris and Will Middlebrooks, all while leaving the starting pitching untouched, the Padres are clearly in position to win now.

Suddenly, trading arguably your best reliever makes little sense. Of course, that doesn’t mean Benoit is guaranteed anything as Kevin Quackenbush is still in place to grab the role. Let’s take a look at both pitchers to determine who the better investment is.

Joaquin Benoit
He’s long been one of the elite setup men in the game, though over the past two seasons he’s proven capable of closing out games as well (35 saves in 38 opportunities). Even pitching in the AL there were few pitchers who brought his potential for strikeouts and control to the table. In his first season in the NL he looked absolutely dominant en route to a 1.49 WRA and 0.77 WHIP.

Benoit’s 10.60 K/9 was very much for real, given his 17.8% SwStr% and 38.8% O-Swing%. Don’t believe the metrics? It’s the second time in the past three years he’s been north of 17% and 38%, respectively, so it’s hard to argue. When coupled with a 2.32 BB/9 (he hasn’t been above 2.96 over the past five seasons) it’s hard not to get excited.

He is a fly ball pitcher (50.4% in 2014), but pitching half his games in Petco Park is certainly going to help limit the damage. In other words, given his strikeouts and control, Benoit has the potential to be a special closer.

 

Kevin Quackenbush
An injury to Benoit gave Quackenbush an opportunity to close last season, picking up 6 saves in 7 opportunities. He showed off strikeouts (9.28 K/9) and control (2.98 BB/9), just like he had in the minors (11.87, 3.37). However, that’s not to say that he has the same upside at this stage of his career.

Quackenbush did not generate a significant number of swings and misses (9.3% SwStr%) and he also didn’t get opponents to chase outside the zone (28.8% O-Swing%). Those are two numbers that need to be watched, because without an improvement could come a significant drop in strikeouts. He also benefited from a .278 BABIP, despite a 26.6% line drive rate.

That’s not to say that he doesn’t have the upside and should be considered the closer of the future, but there’s definite risk and there could be some growing pains.

 

Conclusion
With Benoit’s strikeouts and control, he could easily be a Top 10 closer this season. That said, there are two different ways Quackenbush could emerge:

  1. An injury to Benoit
  2. The Padres fall out of the race and deal Benoit for future help

Both are reasonable, and that makes Quackenbush worth stashing if you are desperate for saves upside. However Benoit is going to be a must own option in all formats. While the price tag shouldn’t be that of an elite closer, that’s the type of upside he brings to the table.

Sources – Fangraphs, Minor League Central

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