Nolan Ryan. Roger Clemens. Kerry Wood.
All of these guys have a few things in common. They’re all strikeout machines. They all throw extremely hard. They’re all big dudes. And they’re all from Texas.
There’s a lineage of men who stand on Major League mounds and bring the Texas heat with them. But it’s not enough to just have a high-octane fastball to be considered a flamethrowing Texan. The measurable are prerequisites, sure.
But if you’re from the Lone Star State and you have a live arm you’d better have the attitude to go with it. If not, you’re not going to be a member of this club.
“They’re just all bulldogs, man,” said Padres rookie pitcher Chris Paddack. He’s also from Texas. He’s also striking out big league batters at a rate that, if it’s sustained for a while (and with his stuff there’s no reason to believe it won’t be), would put him amongst the greatest strikeout pitchers of all time.
And, yes, he has the mentality to earn his place in the pantheon of Texans with a penchant for punchouts.
“All those guys you named … the game has changed a little bit since their days,” said Paddack. “You know, they could have blood on their jerseys. Nowadays we can’t without getting pulled from the game and cleaning it off. But those guys are just bulldogs and I want to model my game after each and every one of them.”
Paddack attacks hitters like they’ve kicked his dog. The traditional numbers like ERA (1.55) and WHIP (0.69) are great (he’s among the league leaders in those stats). But if you’re holding a bat then Paddack is not going to be nice to you.
A recent analysis of his first-pitch strike percentage by Sports Illustrated discovered that the 23-year-old rookie has thrown a first-pitch strike to 75% of the hitters he’s faced. Paddack wants to get ahead because he wants to send you back to the dugout as quickly and efficiently as possible. When he gets on the mound he has no chill.
That was on display in his last start against the Mets. After sparking a little rivalry with 1st baseman Pete Alonso, Paddack struck out the fellow standout rookie twice on eight pitches. He hit 98 MPH during those at-bats, the fastest he’s been recorded as a professional, letting loose a couple of guttural roars after winning the battles.
That’s the kind of attitude that earns you a spot with the tremendous Texans. Nolan Ryan beat the tar out of a charging Robin Ventura. Roger Clemens threw a broken bat at Mike Piazza. Chris Paddack emulates both of them, and although chucking a piece of equipment at a hitter is probably not in his repertoire … the kid is hell-bent on carving his face into the Mount Rushmore of starting pitchers.
“I want to be the first Chris Paddack but at the end of the day they all have something in common and that’s whenever they set foot on that mound they tell themselves that they’re the best pitchers in the world; that no one’s gonna beat ‘em.”
That is exactly what Paddack tells himself every time he shows up to the ballpark. If he keeps throwing like he has in his first seven big league starts, improving with seemingly every outing, he just might end up being right.
Paddack has already beaten a pair of Cy Young Award winners in his rookie season. He dispatched the Mariners and Felix Hernandez 1-0 and then topped Jacob deGrom in that Mets game 4-0. Those are the two best pitchers he’s run up against.
Those are also his best two starts.
In those games Paddack has thrown 14.2 innings, allowed five hits and no runs, and struck out 20 with just two walks. Paddack gets better as his competition improves … which leads us to Tuesday night.
Paddack gets to face the Dodgers in Los Angeles for the first time and the guy he’s facing is another bulldog Texan with wicked stuff by the name of Clayton Kershaw. The mound matchup is generating so much buzz it was picked up by ESPN for a national TV audience. People across the country want to see what this kid is all about.
They’re probably going to see what Padres fans already know:
Chris Paddack is real. He has the stuff and the makeup to be historically good … even by Texas standards.