Let’s Hear From Three Padres Pitchers

Chris Paddack, Emilio Pagán, and Drew Pomeranz are all a big part of the Padres’ plans this season. The latter two promise to play prominent roles in the San Diego bullpen, while Paddack will be counted on to bounce back and further fortify what looks to be a fearsome starting rotation. Here are snapshots from recent conversations with all three, the first of which was prompted by a question from a member of the San Diego media (apologies for not recalling who posed it), and the others coming via inquiries by yours truly.

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Chris Paddack took a step backwards in 2020. Coming off a rookie campaign that saw him log a 3.33 ERA over 26 starts, the 6-foot-4 right-hander struggled to the tune of a 4.73 ERA, and an even-uglier 5.02 FIP. He threw plenty of strikes, issuing just 12 walks over 58 innings, but all too often they got whacked. Looking back, Paddack has a pretty good idea of what led to the crooked numbers.

“Being a taller pitcher on the mound, my biggest success is when I’m north to south,” Paddack said earlier this spring. “Last year I was east to west. I was pulling off. My spin direction was outside of one, for y’all that know the baseball term of that. The axis of the baseball… I was getting two-seam run on my four-seam fastball… So, I [looked at] a lot of video from 2019, and well as 2018 in the minor leagues, really breaking down some of my mechanics on my front side. The term I use is ‘staying grounded as long as I can with my legs,’ and letting my upper body pinpoint a strong direction to whoever it is I’m throwing to that day.”

Per StatCast, Paddack’s four-seam spin rate was 2170 rpm last year, versus 2230 in 2019. His vertical ride decreased by 2.1 inches, while his horizontal increased by 2.2 inches. Velocity-wise, he threw two ticks harder, going from 93.9 mph to 94.1 mph. The 25-year-old Austin, Texas native doesn’t profess to be a pitching-analytics nerd, but he’s clearly begun dipping his feet into those waters.

“I was amazed and blown away with the analytical side of the difference between my 2019 and my 2020 fastballs,” admitted Paddack. “It blew my mind. That’s when I sat down and started to respect that these numbers aren’t just thrown on a computer, or written down. They’re set in stone. Some guys use them, and some guys don’t, but I’m leaning more on the side of running with those numbers, being able to break down those things during the season to see where I’m at.”

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Emilio Pagán made 22 appearances and pitched a like number of innings for the Padres in last year’s pandemic-shortened season. He’s normally a bullpen workhorse. In his two previous campaigns — one with the Oakland A’s and another with the Tampa Bay Rays — the 29-year-old right-hander tossed 62 innings over 55 appearances, and 70 innings over 66 appearances. He was especially effective in the latter, logging a 2.31 ERA with a healthy 12.34 strikeouts-per-nine.

I recently asked Pagán how many games he could potentially pitch in over the course of a given season.

“That’s a really good question,” Pagán replied. “Coming up through Little League, high school, college, the minors, something my dad always talked to me about was… ‘the best ability is your availability.’ That’s kind of the old adage. I take pride in being able to pitch in a lot of games. One of my goals, if I ever made it to the big leagues, was to never go on the IL. Obviously, last year, that didn’t happen, but I want to pitch as much as I can.”

Pagán had a short stint on the Injured List last year due to right bicep inflammation.

Bryan Shaw sticks out to me, the run he had in Cleveland where he threw in 70-plus games, five or six years in a row,” continued Pagán. “I definitely want to try to eclipse that 70 appearances out of the bullpen. I think that’s kind of the benchmark for an elite reliever. But we’ll see. I don’t know how many games I could pitch in, but the more the better, as long as I’m feeling good and healthy. I don’t want to be out there at 40% of myself; that doesn’t help the team at all.”

Taking the mound at less than 100% hasn’t been an issue for Simpsonville, South Carolina native. Over the course of his career, he’s had his greatest success on no-day’s rest. In 38 such outings, batters have put up a .158/.242/.293 line against his offerings. Is that something he can explain?

“We get so caught up in pitch counts, but nobody stops to think about how if you’re on the mound more, you’re naturally going to be more synched up in your delivery,” Pagán told me. “My stuff might tick down that second day, but my delivery feels so synced up, and so timed up with my release point, that I’ve had better command. My stuff’s been a little bit sharper, even if the velo might be a little bit down. The more you touch the mound, the more consistent your delivery is going to be… which I guess is why I want to pitch so much.”

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Drew Pomeranz was dominant in last year’s truncated season. The 32-year-old southpaw fanned 29 batters in 18.2 innings, and allowed just nine base knocks. Accordingly, he posted a 1.45 ERA and a 2.39 FIP.

Curiously, his plus curveball was more effective, despite metrics suggesting something to the contrary. Pomeranz’s bender averaged 8.5 fewer inches of drop than in 2019, yet his wOBA-against plummeted from .305 to .196. I asked the Memphis native if there was a tangible explanation for how that happened.

“Maybe it looked better to the hitter?” Pomeranz replied. “I don’t know. There are so many other factors at play than the analytical numbers, the spin rates and all that stuff. So maybe to them it looked more like fastball, and they didn’t hit it. There are so many things that can help. I hope it continues trending in that direction.”

The spin rate on his go-to secondary trended in the wrong direction — it fell from 2283 rpm to 2114 — but for all intents and purposes, those numbers don’t mean much. Not for Pomeranz. His curveball has never been one of the high-spin variety.

“It’s more the way that I throw it,” Pomeranz explained. “It’s kind of hard to explain, but I don’t throw it like a normal, traditional [curveball]; I push it with my index finger. Before there was all this spin rate stuff… I always knew that I threw mine differently. It breaks just as much as any big curveball, but the spin is way lower. It’s just the way I throw it. I try to play it off my fastball, and that’s what the effectiveness is. I have a good high fastball — I think a lot of people know that — and play those off of each other. That helps make the pitch better.”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Greg Simons
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Good stuff, David, thanks. It’s interesting to see Paddack opening his eyes to advanced analytics.

One thing about his four-seam velocity: You said it was “two ticks harder” last year vs. 2019. I’ve always seen a tick as indicating one mph, not the 0.1 mph in this article.