Ray’s note: Over the next 10 (or so) days, I will be counting down the 10 best Padres of the past year. To compile this list, I used a very complex equation that I can’t really get into now but rest assured that this is in no way completely arbitrary.
10. Tim Stauffer, RP/SP
Tell me if you’ve heard this one before:
A down and out athlete, whose sport is of no real consequence, finds that he’s got one more shot at glory. Maybe he used to be someone people believed in — but after years of questionable returns, his goodwill has dried up and now it’s on him to make others believe. So he battles back, puts one foot in front of the other, and begins on the path to redemption. He fights and claws until one day he makes it. Then his manager tells the world, “Tim Stauffer is too valuable to start.”
It’s easy to forget now that there are better things to talk about, but Stauffer missed the entire 2008 season. Looking at his numbers, it’s easy to assume it was due to shame. In 2007, he spent the full year in Portland and only managed a 4.34 ERA, which was actually a step up from his 2006 5.53 ERA. He was a 25-year-old former first round pick, fourth overall, and he was floundering in Triple-A. So he sat out 2008, either from embarrassment or his alleged shoulder injury, and came back to take it easy in 2009. That year, he only played in 16 minor league games, starting four, but he did better, amassing a 2.14 ERA between Portland and San Antonio before getting the call. He packed up his 6.37 career ERA (to that point) and came down to San Diego, where he made 14 starts for the same team that gave ample opportunities to Chad Gaudin and Josh Geer. It seemed to be something of an audition and Stauffer delivered, contributing a 3.58 ERA, a 4.67 FIP, and a 4.72 xFIP. Not exactly Cy Young stuff but for a team that gave 36 starts to Gaudin and Geer, it would be enough to earn Stauffer a look-see for 2010.
The writing was on the wall in Arizona this spring, as Stauffer got into six games but only started one. At the beginning of the season, there was no room in the rotation. When Chris Young went down following his first start, it was Wade LeBlanc who took his spot. During the first week of the season, Stauffer came into two games: taking over for a struggling Jon Garland on April 5th and helping the Padres win an extra inning contest on the 10th, his biggest game of year according to WPA. He pitched well, striking out five and surrendering zero runs in five combined innings of work, and this must of stuck with the team.
Contrary to popular belief, it was Corey Brock — not Bud Black who said that “Stauffer might be too valuable to start,” but print the legend, right? Stauffer was too good to start, a compliment so wild that it could only make sense. At first, it kind of worked. LeBlanc had a strong April and on May 11th, Stauffer went down with appendicitis, which kept him out of San Diego for two months. When he came back, he continued to do what he do, giving the Padres good work out of the pen.
Then came the 10-game losing streak.
As the season wore on, LeBlanc’s hot start faded away. He threw a 6.47 ERA in August, a performance that’s not going to cut it in a pennant race. Making matters worse, Kevin Correia was unable to repeat his 2009 success. After suffering a personal tragedy earlier in the year, Correia’s was a story to root for, but in a pennant race, moral victories have to take a backseat. And so, on September 6th, the 136th game of the season, Stauffer started the hill against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Nine innings later, the team’s 10-game losing streak had come to an end. While Stauffer didn’t pick up the win, or even reach the fifth inning, these are just facts that any good screenwriter skips over when it comes time to put pen to paper. Stauffer kept going. Other than a rough go in St. Louis, he was lights out. He was the second best pitcher on the team in September. With luck not on Mat Latos’ side, you could make the argument that he was the best.
But then, budding screenwriters, September means nothing if it doesn’t give way to October. Just as all Little Leaguer’s dream, Stauffer was in line for an important October start. Granted, it was still a regular season game, but the Padres were down two to the Giants with two left to play. The Giants. In San Francisco. Stauffer, like the legend he’s become, came through when his team needed him the most, striking out four in six and a third. He allowed only one run before giving the game to the bullpen, who shut the door and put the team one back with one to go. Obviously, that last game didn’t go so well, but it will simply be an epilogue at the end of “Stauffer: The Movie.”
Tim ended the year with a 1.85 ERA (199 ERA+), 3.02 FIP, and 3.74 xFIP. Perhaps the best thing for Stauffer to nail to his wall this winter is this:
(Jed) Hoyer wishes that he and Buddy would have put Tim Stauffer back into the rotation earlier. That’s the one thing that keeps him up at night. It could have brought them 2 or 3 more wins. They waited longer than they should have. They waited until the rosters expanded.
The man who was once too valuable to start saw his stifling become his general manager’s biggest regret. For a team that finished one game out from a postseason shot, those two or three wins might have been the most valuable of the year. But we’ll never know. Next year, with only Latos and Clayton Richard guaranteed spots in the rotation, there would seem to be a shot for Stauffer to finally live up to his first round potential. For his sake, our sake, and for the sake of a sequel, let’s hope we find out.