Paddack puts new spin on improving fastball

February 21st, 2021

was never the type to dive too deeply into the numbers surrounding his starts. It wasn't that he was opposed to advanced data, on principle. It's just that he'd found a way of pitching that worked for him at every level. Why complicate that?

Only, in 2020 it stopped working for Paddack. The right-hander began the season as the Padres' Opening Day starter. He ended it with a 4.73 ERA and was passed over for a start in the National League Division Series against the Dodgers.

When the Padres approached Paddack during the offseason with specific data showing the reasons that his fastball took a significant step backward in 2020, he was all ears.

"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."

Paddack spent part of the offseason making those numbers part of his vernacular. In short, he learned that his fastball spin rate was lower in 2020 than it had been in the past. More importantly, the nature of his spin was different, too.

"I was getting two-seam run on my four-seam fastball," Paddack said.

Instead of getting the late rise that made his fastball effective in 2019, the pitch veered into barrels. The results were stark. Opponents batted .308 and slugged .658 against Paddack's fastball in 2020 (compared with a .204 average and a .391 slugging percentage against the pitch in his rookie season).

Paddack says he spent a chunk of his offseason watching video of his starts from 2018 and '19 in an attempt to rediscover his mechanics from those seasons. He says he's made some alterations to his delivery as a result.

Paddack already has an elite changeup. Since his rookie season, he's added a serviceable curveball and he's toyed with a cutter. If his fastball reverts to its 2019 form, the Padres envision a renaissance for Paddack in '21. He's clearly bought into the data.

"These numbers aren't just, you know, thrown on a computer or written down," Paddack said. "They're set in stone. Some guys use them, some guys don't, but I think I'm leaning more on the side of: I'm going to run with those numbers and being able to break down those things during the season to see where I'm at."

A tutor for Darvish

One Japanese pitching icon is getting tips from another at Padres camp.

arrived in San Diego this offseason after a trade with the Cubs, and he's wasted no time picking the brain of Hideo Nomo, an advisor in the team's baseball ops department.

Earlier this week, Darvish and Nomo spent time chatting at the Peoria Sports Complex, and afterward Darvish revealed a few of the details.

"Obviously he's a legend," said Darvish through an interpreter. "One time I tried to pick his brain and learn the forkball and the splitter, which I couldn't at the time. Now that I've got some experience under my belt, I might be able to acquire that."

Manager Jayce Tingler said he took note of the Darvish/Nomo dialogue, but he didn't pry into the details. Still, he loves that type of interaction.

"It's awesome for the players and the organization that Nomo's here," Tingler said. "Everything he's done in the game. ... I think he's opened the door for a lot of Japanese players, a lot of Pacific Rim players to come over.

“He's here watching our bullpens. When he goes back home, he's constantly watching video, giving us feedback. I just love the fact that our staff and our players are using him as a resource."

Worth noting

• The Padres signed Wynston Sawyer to a Minor League contract, bolstering their catching depth in Spring Training a bit. The team only entered camp with five catchers and had been searching for one more to help handle the overall pitching workload.

In parts of 10 Minor League seasons -- most recently with Triple-A Rochester in the Twins system -- Sawyer owns a .248/.341/.369 slash line. A San Diego native, Sawyer attended Scripps Ranch High School.

• The Padres' first full-squad workout is slated for Monday, and Tingler expects to have his full contingent of players available. Tingler acknowledged that center fielder Trent Grisham had a bit of a delay leaving his home in Texas because of the winter storm. But Grisham has arrived and is expected to fully clear COVID-19 intake screening by Monday.