After a promising rookie campaign, Chris Paddack had a rough sophomore year with the Padres.
On Opening Day of 2020, Chris Paddack looked like the pitcher the San Diego Padres envisioned.
One month later, Paddack surrendered six runs on eight hits against the Seattle Mariners. His ERA had ballooned up to 5.15, and his struggles had started to become clear.
Said struggles became abundantly clear in the playoffs. With Dinelson Lamet and Mike Clevinger on the mend with elbow injuries, Paddack was handed the ball for Game 1 of the National League Wild Card series against the St. Loius Cardinals.
The results weren’t pretty. In just 2.1 innings, St. Loius ambushed Paddack for six runs on eight hits to tag him with the loss. It was his first and only start in the playoffs, as he never took the mound against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Divisional Series.
Growing pains are expected, especially during a shortened season, but a sophomore slump is still a sophomore slump. Paddack has the time and the talent to right the ship, but he will have to look at 2020 as a learning experience.
First, let’s look at the surface numbers. With a 5.51 ERA, 5.02 FIP, 3.77 xFIP, and 3.91 SIERA, Paddack posted a stronger xFIP than in 2019 (4.05 xFIP), but the rest of the numbers were either at or below his 2019 marks.
The Padres’ front office believes that a lack of a third pitch and a loss of control on his fastball is what caused Paddack to fall off the saddle.
While his changeup was as devastating as always, his fastball took a dramatic step back from the weapon it was in his rookie season. Opposing batters sat back on the pitch and punished Paddack when they saw it.
The 24-year-old didn’t help his cause by losing command of the strike zone. He started hitters with a strike in 66.9 percent of at-bats and found the strike zone with only 54.6 percent of fastballs, a five percent decrease from 2019.
When the pitch was in the zone, it got hammered. Opposing batters posted a 57.3 percent hard-hit rate and barreled it up at a 13.5 percent clip, a concerning increase from last season.
Was it the lower spin rate of 2170 RPM that made him lose his edge on his fastball? Or perhaps the rumors that Paddack was tipping his pitches true.
Or maybe it is a third option, one that has dogged Paddack ever since he arrived in San Diego-the lack of a true third pitch.
Paddack has a curveball that he has sprinkled into his games. However, the curveball is more of a “get-me-over” pitch rather than a true third pitch. The potential is there as Paddack has fetched some nasty swings-and-misses, but his 7.4 percent usage shows Paddack still lacks confidence in his curveball.
Chris Paddack, Gorgeous 79mph 12-6 Curveball. 🌈 pic.twitter.com/zDAj1EMPoD
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 4, 2020
A pitch that he also tinkered with during the offseason was a cut fastball, which may have hindered the development of his regular fastball. Paddack threw the pitch at an average 88 MPH but selected a cutter for 3.4 percent of total pitches thrown.
Paddack cannot lean on just his fastball and changeup, no matter how strong the latter pitch might be. While opposing batters hit .308 and slugged .658 against his fastball, they flailed at his changeup for a .187 batting average and .275 slugging percentage.
He even improved upon the movement of his changeup, getting an extra inch of both vertical drop and horizontal break.
There are theories on top of theories to investigate what happened to Paddack. It may have been the lack of a third pitch. It may have been the drop in fastball quality, or it may have been him tipping his pitches. Maybe the presence of Larry Rothschild instead of Darren Balsley had an adverse effect on the young Padres’ pitcher.
What’s clear is that one good pitch doesn’t make Paddack a complete starter. He will have an entire offseason to refine his craft, and the 2021 season will be his year to prove that his rookie season wasn’t a flash in the pan.