When the Padres signed Craig Stammen to a minor league deal last December, it hardly made ripples around the league. The righty reliever was about to turn 33 and hadn’t spent quality time in the majors since 2014. After emerging as a borderline dominant reliever in 2012 and 2013, his performance slipped in 2014 and then a string of injuries put his career in doubt. A minor league contract with the Padres was a chance at a feel-good comeback story. For Padres fans, it may have felt like shades of Brandon Morrow, so our expectations were tempered and most probably weren’t expecting an impact contribution from a rehabbing veteran flier. Boy, were we wrong.
Stammen’s season stats aren’t all that impressive at first glance. A 4.02 ERA for a reliever isn’t all that great, and his 4.96 FIP suggests that he’s actually been fortunate throughout the season. As a veteran reliever on a cheap ($900k) one-year contract, he could be considered a “rental” trade candidate. With the diminished season stats, he’s being treated as a C-list reliever by many press outlets.
With relievers, there’s always a battle against a small sample size. He’s pitched 53-2/3 innings across 34 games, in a myriad of situations. That’s not a huge data set, and a couple of bad outings can drag rate stats down significantly in that time. Consider his April: he started the month with six excellent outings, giving up one earned run through 6-2/3 innings pitched. Then he got rocked for ten earned runs over three short outings, and by the end of the month his ERA had ballooned to 8.49. Considering how ugly his stat line looked at the time, what he’s done since has been quite remarkable.
Since May 1, Stammen has pitched in 24 games and has given up more than one run only three times. In the 42 innings he’s pitched in that time, his ERA is 2.79 and opposing hitters are only batting .197 off of him. The only real blemish on his record during that stretch is a four-run blowout in the middle of that run, which was in the midst of an 8-0 blowout to the Dodgers. He’s been used early, he’s been used late. He’s come into high-leverage situations, and he’s pitched in “garbage time” as the team has gone 8-26 in games in which he’s appeared. It’s not easy to maintain quality outings in the midst of some ugly games, but he’s managed to reliably produce, regardless of the situation.
Craig Stammen has been the cosummate professional for the Padres this year. After three years away from The Show, he’s probably grateful for the opportunity to get his career back on the rails. He’s proven that the arm is healthy, the command is back, and he’s fielded his position exceptionally well. He’s done this on a losing team, with a young and flawed roster, and he’s maintained his composure and his professionalism throughout. Brandon Maurer and Ryan Buchter and Brad Hand may have been garnering the bulk of the trade target crosshairs this season, but don’t overlook Craig Stammen. Any team with a need for a righty in their bullpen should have an eye on this veteran’s impressive comeback season.