Dylan Cease Is Dominating for the Padres, Putting 2023 Concerns Behind Him

Cease has emerged as San Diego's ace.
Apr 10, 2024; San Diego, California, USA; San Diego Padres starting pitcher Dylan Cease (84) throws
Apr 10, 2024; San Diego, California, USA; San Diego Padres starting pitcher Dylan Cease (84) throws / Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
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Dylan Cease is back to being Dylan Cease. The new ace of the San Diego Padres' staff is living up to that billing so far in 2024 and has gone a long way to prove his struggles in 2023 weren't representative of the kind of pitcher he is.

Last Wednesday, Cease was utterly dominant in the 3-0 win over the Chicago Cubs. The 28-year-old righty shut out the team that drafted him over seven innings, allowing one hit, walking two and striking out 12. Perhaps more impressive, he threw 113 pitches and his stuff looked just as good in his final inning than his first. He hit 99 mph multiple times while striking out the side in his final inning of work. It's the kind of stuff he's shown all season.

Through eight starts this season, Cease is 5-2 with a 2.19 ERA, a 0.75 WHIP and 60 strikeouts in 49.1 innings. He has only surrendered more than two earned runs in a start once this year, when he gave up five runs over six innings against the Philadelphia Phillies on April 27. He has been lights out other than that one blip.

Among qualified major league pitchers Cease currently ranks second in fWAR (1.7), seventh in ERA, second in WHIP, sixth in strikeouts, third in FIP (2.29), fourth in home runs per nine innings (0.36) and 10th in strikeouts per nine (10.95). He has been a legitimate ace so far, which makes his 2023 campaign all the more shocking.

With the Chicago White Sox last season, Cease went 7-9, with a 4.58 ERA, a 1.42 WHIP and 79 walks against 214 strikeouts in 177 innings. He finished the season with an fWAR of 3.7, allowed 0.97 home runs per nine. It's fair to point out, the White Sox were terrible last season, which could help explain why his numbers tanked after an oustanding 2022 campaign.

In 2022, Cease finished second in AL Cy Young voting. He went 14-8 with a 2.20 ERA, a WHIP of 1.11 and 227 strikeouts in 184 innings. Justin Verlander's historic season was the only thing that stood between him and the award. He looked like a different guy in 2022.

Other than being on a better team with a vastly superior defense, it's clear Cease's stuff has also improved. According to Statcast, his four-seam fastball is averaging 96.6 mph, which is a full mph faster than last season. His slider is coming in at 86.4 mph, 1.8 mph faster than 2023. Both are back in line with his 2022 numbers. Interestingly, the spin rates on the two pitches don't show much change from year-to-year. Hitters xBA against him is at .186 this season, down from .241 in 2023, and their wOBA is .198, down from .321.

The Padres acquired Cease on March 13, the day they headed to Korea to open the season against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He didn't come cheap, as they sent three prospects and a solid reliever to consummate the deal. Righties Drew Thorpe and Jairo Iriarte aren't far from hitting the majors, while outfielder Samuel Zavala has big-time upside and Steven Wilson has been a useful bullpen guy for two years. It could be the kind of deal that works out for both sides, with San Diego looking to win now and the White Sox nowhere near contention.

The Padres hoped Cease would help lengthen their rotation. At this point, he's leading it. And erasing any questions raised by his 2023 campaign.


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Ryan Phillips

RYAN PHILLIPS

Ryan Phillips is a Senior Writer on the Breaking & Trending News Team at Sports Illustrated. Ryan has worked in digital media since 2009, spending eight years at The Big Lead before joining the SI team in 2024. He also co-hosts The Assembly Call Podcast about Indiana Hoosiers basketball and previously worked at Bleacher Report. Ryan is a proud San Diego native and a graduate of Indiana University’s journalism school.