Paddack throws 'em a curve: a 3rd go-to pitch

In near no-no, rookie shows he's got more than fastball, changeup

July 18th, 2019

MIAMI -- In all likelihood, would’ve become a very good big leaguer with only two pitches. He can place his high-octane fastball anywhere he wants it, and his changeup starts on the same plane before falling off the table.

Then again, Paddack isn’t one to settle for "very good."

The Padres right-hander was brilliant Wednesday night, turning in arguably the best start of an already fantastic rookie season. He carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning against Miami, the team that drafted him, lowering his ERA to 2.70 in the process. And he did so with a legitimate three-pitch mix that now features a high-70-mph breaking ball.

"It's a really good curveball," said pitching coach Darren Balsley. "I don't think it's a work in progress anymore. I just think it's a good curveball when he throws it correctly."

So assured was Paddack in his curve, he kept his elite changeup on the shelf in the first inning Wednesday night. Needing a put-away pitch for Miami's No. 2 hitter, Neil Walker, he delivered arguably his best curveball of the year.

"It makes a huge difference, man, especially with the data hitters have now," Paddack said before the Padres' 4-3 loss to the Marlins on Thursday afternoon. "I stay with the old-school mentality of executing your pitches and trusting your stuff. But I've had to learn that being able to show my curveball 12-, 13-, 14-percent of the time, that [makes] a huge difference."

No doubt, Paddack would throw his curveball a lot more than that, if his first two pitches weren't already so dominant. But it's precisely because those two pitches are dominant that Paddack took a while to hone his curve into the weapon it is now.

Before undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2016, he rarely threw it. In fact, he didn't begin taking the pitch seriously until he opened the 2018 season at extended Spring Training. There, he worked on different shapes and grips for the pitch.

When Paddack arrived in the big leagues this year, he began picking the brains of the Padres' hitters. He looked at their scouting reports and was struck by the overwhelming data they were given on every pitcher. He was particularly intrigued by the percentage breakdowns of pitches, and he asked his teammates what advantage he might gain if he began throwing his curveball more.

"It's harder to go into the box as a hitter knowing you have to respect three pitches," said catcher . "When you go in [against two], honestly, you can flip a coin and sit on a pitch, and you might be able to get away with it. When a guy can throw three pitches, it's harder to sit on a pitch and wait him out."

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Opponents are batting .250 against Paddack’s curve, which is higher than his other two offerings. But the peripheral numbers tell a different story. Hitters have a .226 expected batting average and a .316 expected slugging percentage against the pitch.

And it’s getting better, too. Paddack's curveball debuted around 74 mph in the big leagues. On Wednesday, it averaged 77.2 mph. More important, in Paddack's eyes, the shape is better. It's doesn't loop quite so much, which means it's disguised to opposing hitters.

"My curveball's been getting better every start," Paddack said. "We bounced it when we needed to. We showed it when we needed to."

To be clear: Paddack almost no-hit the Marlins on Wednesday night mainly because his fastball was as good as it's been all season. His changeup played off that fastball to great effect, too.

But his curveball deserves some of the credit. There can no longer any doubt: Chris Paddack is a three-pitch pitcher.