I have been thrilled with the moves the San Diego Padres have made this off-season.  Trading Adrian Gonzalez was essential to the future success of the franchise, and helped re-stock the farm system.  The acquisitions of Jason Bartlett and Orlando Hudson vastly improved the middle-infield situation.  Cameron Maybin, Brad Hawpe, and Jorge Cantu were all acquired on the cheap, and have some upside with minimal risk.  With the exception of losing Gonzalez, the team has certainly improved.

That said, I am concerned about the starting rotation.

Mat Latos should be solid, but nobody should expect a repeat of last season.  Its not that Latos will fall victim to some mythical sophomore slump, but rather, regression to the mean must be built into his projection for next season.

Clayton Richard was quite valuable last season, and given his contract, should continue to be so in 2011. However, I worry that his 2010 xFIP of 4.19 is more indicative of what we should expect out of him than his 2010 ERA (3.75).

Tim Stauffer is an obvious regression candidate.  He came out of nowhere to post a 1.85 ERA in 82 innings. However, Stauffer’s success was greatly aided by good luck.  He had an unsustainable 0.33 HR/9 rate, and an equally ridiculous 0.263 BABIP.  Stauffer does not have the raw stuff to consistently strike out a lot of batters, and thus must rely on limiting his walks, homeruns, and his defense.  Pitchers like Stauffer can be somewhat successful, but hoping for an ERA much better than 4.00 from Stauffer in 2011 is probably quite optimistic.

I do like Aaron Harang.  The Padres were able to acquire him cheaply, and he should benefit from moving from Cincinnati into Petco Park, as he does surrender a large percentage of fly-balls.  That said, last season, his K/9 rate dropped to 6.61–his lowest mark since 2003, and his BB/9 rate increased to 3.06–his highest mark since 2002.  I am hopeful that his numbers will regress towards his career averages (7.47 K/9, and 2.52 BB/9), but he is starting to age, and did struggle with injuries last season.  It is possible that 2010 was a sign of things to come, and not a one-year abberation.

As for guys like Cory Luebke and Wade LeBlanc–I am not expecting very much.  Luebke has very limited major league experience, and LeBlanc has not had much success in the majors.  After LeBlanc and Luebke, I just don’t see many starting pitching options.  The Padres will need at least 7 starting pitchers over the course of the season, as injuries or ineffectiveness to some of the projected starters are likely.

In all, while I don’t mind the pitchers the Padres currently have penciled into the rotation, I do wonder whether they are good enough to help the Padres contend for a playoff birth.  They strike me as a bunch of league average/slightly below league average starting pitchers with a good amount of uncertainty surrounding their 2011 projections.

Of course, I said the same thing about the 2010 rotation, and they ended up in the top half of the league in FIP.  Combined with a very good bullpen, that is all a team really needs to have high quality pitching.