Current San Diego Padres’ pitcher Chris Paddack is blessed with a lot of similarities to that of former Friar’ pitcher Jake Peavy.
Professional athletes by their nature share a level of intensity and passion unknown to ordinary mortals which propels them in their chosen sports. Without that drive to run faster, jump higher, kick the ball further, they would have worked in offices or factories or stores.
But some players take it to the next level. Superficially, the tall Texan may have little in common with the low draft pick from Alabama, but both Chris Paddack and Jake Peavy burn with an inner fire unmatched by most Padres pitchers in the last 20 years. Kevin Brown pitched with the same kind of intensity, but only for one season more than 20 years ago.
Both Paddack and Peavy also have relied on family mentors, Paddack his brother Michael and Peavy his grandfather, Blanche. Although the elder Peavy died in a freak accident, “Paw-Paw” lived on in his memory urging Jake to focus and then to redouble the effort. One of two of Paddack’s brothers, Michael, has taken a fatherly role as well as baseball confident. The brothers talk almost every day and began a tradition of spending time analyzing each start via FaceTime.
Drafted by the Miami Marlins in 2015, Paddack has just one year in the big leagues. The Padres gave up closer Fernando Rodney and his 17 for 17 save record and 0.31 ERA for the brash young right-hander in 2016. Since his debut with the Padres last year, he has approached each of his starts as if going into battle.
When traded from the Marlins, Paddack had held opponents in Low-A ball to an ERA of 0.85 in over 42 innings. Instead of working his way quickly up the ranks though, he lost parts of two seasons after Tommy John surgery. Back on the field in 2018 in Class-A and Double-A, Paddack picked up where he left off striking out 120 with a 7-3 record and 2.10 ERA. However, he burned to be better and recognized how much he needed to learn.
Paddack actually played catcher at Cedar Park High School 2013, but when one of the team’s pitchers sat out with arm soreness, the coach picked him to switch positions. In his first start as a pitcher, he never showed the tension roiling within and instead appeared to be locked in and focused. Obviously he belonged on the mound, winning all 11 games he started thanks to his minuscule 0.46 ERA.
In March, the tall Texan stalked into town wearing a cowboy hat and boots and black suit ready for business and accompanied by an entourage of fans. He made his debut on March 31 last year (which seems like an eon ago) at the age of 23. He pitched five innings, giving up one run on two hits and striking out seven batters in a 3-1 win against the San Francisco Giants. One of his fans held a sign proclaiming “In the mullet we trust” and featuring a photo of the pitcher. From the beginning, manager Andy Green recognized and applauded his focus and drive.
Paddack relies on a four-seam fastball averaging 93.9 MPH mixed with a changeup at 84.4 MPH, but he also flirted with a curve in his rookie season. He worked on perfecting it in Spring Training this season before Major League Baseball shut down.
In his first month in the big leagues, Paddack went 2-1 with a 0.697 WHIP, pitching 33 innings and going 2-1. His ERA bounced around month to month from 1.91 in March and April, 3.09 in May, 4.87 in June, 1.90 in July, 7.50 in August and 0.55 in September. For a brief period in June, the Padres sent him to Lake Elsinore, not as a demotion, but to save his arm from overwork. Obviously, Paddack made adjustments, hitters did likewise, but through the process, he grew as a pitcher into a potential true ace.
True aces have been scarce for too many years in San Diego. The last man who truly fits the moniker may be Jacob Edward Peavy, although Andrew Cashner had the stuff. Pitchers like Jon Garland, Tim Stauffer, and Clayton Richard have opened seasons for the Padres since Peavy moved on.
Peavy debuted on June 22, 2002 against the New York Yankees at Qualcomm Stadium, pitching six innings, giving up three hits and one run in a 1-0 loss game. Through his career, his bag of tricks included six pitches: a curveball, changeup, two-seam fastball, and cutter, but he relied on his four-seam fastball (88-92 mph) and slider (low 80s).
The folks from Semmes, Alabama, Peavy’s home town, probably didn’t have the wherewithal to match Paddack’s posse. But, like “Paw-Paw” the close-knit clan rooted from afar. Padres fans quickly recognized that Jake Peavy had the fire in his belly and put everything into each pitch.
Although he showed promise, Peavy did not achieve ace status until 2004 when he went 15-6, striking out 173 and registering an ERA of 2.27 which led Major League Baseball. The following March the Padres signed him a four-year contract, and in June he struck out 16 Atlanta Braves hitters at Petco Park. During his time in San Diego, he started two All-Star games, won the Triple Crown for pitching in 2007, won a Cy Young award in 2007, and held the Los Angeles Dodgers to two hits in a complete-game shutout early in the 2008 season.
But by then, trade rumors began to circulate. The Padres wanted to save money and build up the farm system. Finally, on July 31, 2009, he agreed to a trade that would send him to the Chicago White Sox. He would eventually get traded to the Boston Red Sox in 2013 where he received his first World Series ring. The following year he reunited with former Padres’ manager Bruce Bochy and became the first starting pitcher to win consecutive World Series with two different teams in both leagues. During his three seasons with the Giants, he pitched to a 19-19 record, 3.97 ERA with only 78 walks against 238 strikeouts.
Since the end of the 2016 season, Peavy hasn’t taken the mound again although he did flirt with a comeback in 2018. In the meantime, his personal life fell apart, and he and his childhood sweetheart Katie divorced. He, along with two other professional athletes, also lost millions of dollars to a financial advisor who “redirected” the money. But back home, he has regrouped and founded the Peavy Family Foundation, which supports programs in the cities where he played ball and back at home in Alabama. Thanks to former Padre player and coach, Tim Flannery (another fan favorite), Peavy also took up music in 2002 and has performed in concerts sporadically since then.
No one knows whether Chris Paddack will take the mound for the Padres this season. But when he does he will bring a fire in his belly that has not been present in San Diego baseball since the Padres sent Jake Peavy on his way.