Chris Paddack: En Route to a Comeback Year
In his 2021 Spring Training debut, Chris Paddack looked promising––and familiar.
Paddack took the mound for the San Diego Padres against the Chicago Cubs and threw 22 pitches over two quick innings. He struck out three of Chicago’s regulars, getting Anthony Rizzo to chase a change-up and blowing an elevated fastball past Javier Baez.
On Monday, Paddack resembled his 2019 rookie self, where he posted a 3.33 ERA and struck out 153 batters over 140 innings pitched. While this scoreless outing was far too short to make any significant season predictions, his dominance yesterday suggests that his off-season improvements seem to be working.
What Happened to Paddack’s Fastball?
As mentioned before, Paddack’s rookie season was phenomenal. Even though he flew under the radar for most the 2019 season, his numbers put him in contention with some of the top pitchers in the NL.
Paddack’s walk rate was 5.5 percent, which matched that of 2019 Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom. His strikeout rate was 26.9 percent, which was a notch higher than Clayton Kershaw. His two-pitch combination proved to be lethal against powerhouse hitters. He fired fastballs onto the outside corner of the plate, got ahead in the count and then baffled hitters with the changeup.
While Paddack did not throw enough innings during his first season in the majors to cement himself atop the leaderboards, he did solidy himself as San Diego’s No. 1 starting pitcher for the 2020 season.
He produced a strong, six-inning shutout on Opening Day against the Arizona Diamondbacks, but pressure piled on the Padres’ ace. As the shortened season carried on, his pitching regressed.
To put it bluntly, Paddack’s fastball got clobbered last season. He posted a 4.73 ERA, giving up 14 home runs and 60 hits over only 12 starts. His inconsistent velocity certainly did not help. Some starts he’d lace 92 mph fastballs over the middle of the plate for hitters to crush. Other days he’d fall behind in the count and his pitch location would crumble. Paddack’s strikeout rate tumbled as well, and the command of his fastball never revived.
Chris Paddack Goes Back to the Drawing Board
San Diego’s pitching staff suggested he look into the data behind his pitching mechanics, which Paddack embraced.
“I was amazed and blown away with the analytical side of things on the difference between my 2019 and my 2020 fastball,” Paddack said. “It blew my mind.”
During his rookie year, Paddack threw with an over the top arm slot, which means that his arm angle (relative to the ground) as he released his fastball was rotating high over his head. Studies show this angle generates more velocity. However, his mechanics changed last season. Instead of coming over the top, he dropped to a ¾ arm slot, which worsened his location and power of both his four-seam and two-seam fastballs. That once-firing fastball to the outside corner veered to the middle of the plate in 2020.
Paddack watched clips from his previous years on the mound and recognized this shift in pitching rotation. During the off-season, he tweaked those mechanics, reverting back to his old, over the top angle.
Could This Be Paddack’s Bounceback Season?
If Paddack’s first Cactus League start proved anything, it’s that his off-season work might just payoff this year. With the addition of Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, Joe Musgrove and a healthy Dinelson Lamet, Paddack won’t face the same amount of pressure he did last year as the Padres’ ace.
The way he threw Monday shows that Chris Paddack could bounce back this year.
If he consistently works ahead in the count with his laser-sharp fastball, puts himself in a position to utilize his elite changeup, and maybe (just maybe) works in that curveball once in awhile, there’s a chance San Diego sees Paddack’s return to dominance.
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