By this own admission, 2020 was not a great year for Chris Paddack. The Padres starter was expecting to follow up a dynamic rookie season with a dominant sophomore campaign.
Instead, Paddack struggled to find himself. His strikeout rate dropped, his home run rate jumped, and things just never really fell into place. Over the off-season Paddack did some self-scouting to figure out what went wrong.
“The biggest thing I would say is it was mentally for me,” says Paddack. “We’ve thrown 1,000 innings in our baseball career; we’ve done it a thousand times. I felt like there was a couple times, a couple starts where I wasn’t myself. I was overthinking, giving too much credit to the team we were facing or the hitter I was facing instead of just being myself and going out there and competing.”
Paddack went home to Texas, bought some land, and rededicated himself in a few different ways.
“I bought 25 acres, I have a little cabin I’m staying in,” says Paddack. “30 minutes is the nearest grocery store. Once every two weeks I went to the grocery store and stocked up and I cooked every night. I think that had a lot to do with being disciplined, knowing that I can’t drive over to Whataburger and get a double meat cheeseburger.”
Remember, Paddack is notorious for crushing a large pizza by himself the night before a start so this big Texan can eat.
In addition to clearing his head, Paddack adopted a new tool.
“I’ve never been a big analytical guy but I know the way the game has developed I took a step back and started learning a couple things about the (advanced metrics) side of things so I can glance at that during the season and make sure that we’re still where we want to be.”
The key to Paddack’s game is the fastball. According to statistical website Fangraphs, in 2019 Paddack had one of the best 4-seam heaters in the game, analytically in the neighborhood with Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer. In 2020 that 4-seamer became one of the most hittable offerings in the National League, even though his velocity actually got a little better. This, of course, begs the question … why?
“Basically, I was getting 2-seam run on my 4-seam fastball,” says Paddack. “At the big league level, the longer they see it in the zone the harder they’re gonna hit it.”
In layman’s terms, Paddack’s fastball started moving horizontally instead of vertically.
His natural spin rate gives him what baseball people call “late life,” meaning it stays higher in the strike zone than average fastballs so hitters swing underneath it. Look at this offering to punch out Mets slugger Pete Alonso. It doesn’t succumb to gravity like normal fastball.
In 2020 that late life was gone, replaced by a sideways run that ended up in the middle of the strike zone. Look at this fastball to Dodgers slugger Corey Seager. Instead of staying on top of the zone it drops right into the barrel of the bat.
Paddack says the analytical information, coupled with him going back to 2019 and even his minor league days to break down video, has helped him fix the glitch.
Padres pitching coach Larry Rothschild thinks Paddack will be back to his old self this season because he was never really all that far off last year.
“It would start out in games at times and then kind of fade and he’d fall into some bad habits,” says Rothschild. “Hopefully that’s all going to be corrected and he can get off to a good start and build some confidence up and you’ll see the guy you saw a couple of years ago.”
That would further position the Padres as World Series contenders. Last year Paddack was San Diego’s Opening Day starter because he has that ace-level stuff. With the additions of Blake Snell, Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove he’s their 4th or 5th starter with (hopefully) ace-level stuff.
“I can tell you one thing … I’m hungry,” says Paddack. “I’m excited to get back out there. We have such a special group. Having Yu and having Snell and Musgrove and (Dinelson) Lamet to look up to and learn from, I’m really excited.”
His first Cactus League test was encouraging. Paddack looked really good against the Cubs, throwing two hitless innings and striking out three. Cathedral Catholic High alum Daniel Camarena followed Paddack with two more scoreless frames.
Chicago won 1-0, the only run coming against James Reeves on a fielders choice in the 5th inning. But, another positive was the young prospects. 19-year-old outfielder Robert Hassel III got his first hit, a double off the centerfield wall that nearly left the ballpark, and 21-year-old Tucupita Marcano (a shortstop playing left field in the game) had hits in both his plate appearances.
On Tuesday the Padres go to Scottsdale to face the Diamondbacks with rookie lefty Ryan Weathers on the mound.
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