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Here's why each of Padres' 3 aces is elite

@_dadler
December 30, 2020

The Padres are building a super-rotation. Let's get to know their three aces. After San Diego's pair of blockbuster trades, Dinelson Lamet, Blake Snell and Yu Darvish give the Padres a legitimate case as having the best starting-pitching trio in baseball heading into the 2021 season. A team would be

The Padres are building a super-rotation. Let's get to know their three aces.

After San Diego's pair of blockbuster trades, Dinelson Lamet, Blake Snell and Yu Darvish give the Padres a legitimate case as having the best starting-pitching trio in baseball heading into the 2021 season. A team would be lucky to have even one pitcher of their caliber, let alone all three.

You can be the judge of whether San Diego has the top trio in the Majors, but the projections say Lamet, Snell and Darvish are right up there. Only a handful of teams look like they're even in position to rival the Padres' frontline starters.

Top starting pitching trios entering 2021
Per Steamer's Wins Above Replacement projections
1) Nationals -- Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin: 11.7 projected WAR
2) Padres -- Yu Darvish, Dinelson Lamet, Blake Snell: 11.3 projected WAR
3) Mets -- Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, Noah Syndergaard: 10.8 projected WAR
4) Indians -- Shane Bieber, Carlos Carrasco, Zach Plesac: 10.5 projected WAR
5) Yankees -- Gerrit Cole, Jordan Montgomery, Luis Severino: 9.4 projected WAR

The cool thing about San Diego's three aces is that they all have very different styles of pitching. But they're all elite. Here's how Snell, Darvish and Lamet dominate hitters in their own way.

Blake Snell

Snell is made for today's game. He follows the strikeout formula that's the signature of the new generation of aces -- rising four-seam fastballs at the top of the zone, breaking balls down below it. And he does it better than almost everyone else.

Snell pitches vertically, going up and down in the strike zone to overmatch hitters, a style similar to those employed by other 2020 aces like Shane Bieber and Lucas Giolito. Last season, Snell elevated almost two-thirds of his fastballs, and he threw three-fourths of his breaking balls below the zone. No one used breaking pitches as chase pitches to the degree Snell did.

SP with highest % of breaking balls thrown out of the zone, 2020
Min. 100 breaking balls thrown (curveballs + sliders)
1) Blake Snell: 78.7%
2) Shane Bieber: 74.0%
3) Lance Lynn: 73.8%
4) Chris Bassitt: 73.7%
5) Trevor Williams: 73.2%

Snell's pitch charts are clearly defined. He's committed to his approach, and it's extremely effective.

Since his AL Cy Young Award-winning season in 2018, Snell has struck out 414 batters between his four-seamer (167), curveball (179) and slider (68). He's gotten 765 swinging strikes on those pitch types -- 339 on four-seamers, 294 on curves and 132 on sliders. For each of those pitch types, all the strikeouts and whiffs are concentrated in distinct regions of the zone.

Yu Darvish

Darvish throws the rainbow at you -- every pitch type you can imagine. With the Cubs, he was throwing 10 different pitches. It makes him one of baseball's most interesting aces.

Where Snell executes a clearly structured plan, a pitch for each region of the zone, Darvish shoots off a colorful fireworks display, with pitches of all different velocities, spins, movements and trajectories flying at the hitter. And he can strike you out with anything.

Darvish's 93 strikeouts in 2020 by pitch type
Cutter -- 24
Four-seamer -- 21
Slider -- 20
Curveball -- 11
Two-seamer -- 10
Splitter -- 7

Darvish recorded at least 10 strikeouts with five pitch types in 2020 -- his cutter, four-seam fastball, slider, curveball and two-seam fastball. He's the only pitcher in baseball who did that. Add in his splitter, and he had at least five strikeouts on six pitch types.

Pitchers with 5+ K on the most pitch types in 2020
Yu Darvish -- 6 (cutter, four-seamer, slider, knuckle-curve, two-seamer, splitter)
Trevor Bauer -- 5 (four-seamer, knuckle-curve, slider, cutter, two-seamer)
Corbin Burnes -- 5 (cutter, slider, curveball, sinker, changeup)

Of all the different pitches, though, the key to Darvish's return to ace status is his cutter. His use of the cutter to command the strike zone is what launched his remarkable run of 124 strikeouts to seven walks over the final three months of 2019, and it formed the foundation of his Cy Young runner-up season in 2020.

Darvish's cutter usage with the Cubs by season
2018: 14% -- 44th-highest among SP
2019: 37% -- fifth among SP
2020: 44% -- third among SP

Darvish turned his cutter into his most-used pitch over the last season-and-a-half, and it unlocked the full power of his arsenal.

Dinelson Lamet

Lamet, the Padres' homegrown ace, is different from both Snell and Darvish. He's basically the opposite of Darvish -- Lamet relies almost completely on two pitches, his fastball and slider. And while his approach does follow modern trends, it's not in the same way as Snell.

Lamet's 2020 breakout came as he adopted the new-wave breaking-ball-first style of pitching. He threw his slider over half the time, as his primary pitch, even though he has one of the biggest fastballs of any starting pitcher.

Lamet's average four-seam fastball velocity in 2020 was an even 97 mph, the sixth hardest among starting pitchers. But when you have a wipeout slider like he does, you pitch accordingly.

Highest slider usage by SP in 2020
Min. 500 total pitches
1) Dinelson Lamet: 53.4%
2) Patrick Corbin: 40.3%
3) Clayton Kershaw: 39.9%
4) Kenta Maeda: 38.6%
5) Brad Keller: 38.2%

Lamet recorded 71 strikeouts just on his slider last season, the third most of any pitcher on a single pitch type. He got 126 swinging strikes with that slider, the highest whiff total of any pitcher on one pitch type.

Most strikeouts on a single pitch type in 2020
1) Framber Valdez's curveball: 81
2) Tyler Glasnow's curveball: 79
3) Dinelson Lamet's slider: 71
4) Clayton Kershaw's slider: 59
5) Brandon Woodruff's four-seamer: 57

Most swinging strikes on a single pitch type in 2020
1) Dinelson Lamet's slider: 126
2) Jacob deGrom's slider: 108
3) Lance Lynn's four-seamer: 103
4) Lucas Giolito's changeup: 99
5) Jacob deGrom's four-seamer: 95

Lamet's fastball is great too, of course, and the fastball and slider make each other better as a combo. But that slider in particular was one of the best pitches in baseball hands down in 2020. And you want to throw your best pitch, a lot, even if it's not a fastball.

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.