San Diego Padres: Blake Snell is a free agent gamble

Blake Snell picked the perfect time to have a dominant year for the San Diego Padres.

An impending free agent, Snell needed to show that he can be an All Star caliber pitcher once again. While he did not make the Midsummer Classic, Snell could head home with his second Cy Young award. He posted a league leading 2.25 ERA and a 1.189 WHiP over his 180 innings with 234 strikeouts. He may have led the league with 99 walks, but Snell also allowed a league best 5.8 hits per nine innings, mitigating those free passes.

Buyer beware with San Diego Padres pitcher Blake Snell

In theory, Snell would be the type of pitcher that would be a prize in free agency. However, he comes with significant red flags. 2023 marked the first time since 2018, and just the second time in his career, that he made over 30 appearances. If the bar is lowered to 25 appearances, Snell is reached that threshold just one other time in his eight years in the majors. He was also just a six inning pitcher in 2023, pitching into the seventh just three times in his 32 outings.

Pitching only six innings is not as much of a red flag these days, but it does speak to his previous inability to go deep into a game. Snell had gone from July 21, 2019 to May 18, 2021 without lasting six full innings. He only managed to last at least six innings 17 times from July 21, 2019 through the end of 2022, a span of 65 starts. Yes, he was striking out plenty of batters, but he was also issuing walks and throwing plenty of pitches in those outings.

Even his strong 2023 season showed reasons for concern. Snell walked five batters per nine innings, the most of any pitcher that qualified for the ERA crown last year. His 5.0 BB/9 rate was the worst of any pitcher with a minimum of 130 innings pitched, with Michael Kopech the only pitcher to have a higher walk rate when reaching the 100 inning mark. His 3.44 FIP, while matching his career mark, was far more in line with his performance.

Snell had a great 2023 campaign based on the numbers. He also outperformed his peripherals by a drastic margin. At the same time, he was able to buck his history and pitch into the sixth and beyond. Will he be able to continue to perform at that level? Snell’s history says no, making him a significant gamble in free agency.

San Diego Padres pitcher Blake Snell will get paid handsomely this offseason. Whichever team he signs with could regret that contract in short order.

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