Ever hear that old adage, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is?”
Sure you have, because people like to use it often when talking about really cheap automobiles or free merchandise or rebates on purchased concert tickets or Chris Paddack, the guy the Padres got back from the Marlins in yesterday’s Fernando Rodney trade.
Paddack, after being drafted in the eighth round last year and acquitting himself well enough in rookie ball, is in the midst of a breakout sophomore campaign. In six starts—and just 28 1/3 innings—so far this season, the right hander has a 0.95 ERA and just nine hits allowed. Okay, fine, you can chalk that up to good fortune in a small sample size, or whatever. But Paddack also has 48 strikeouts and just two walks, which . . . well, wow. He’s faced 98 batters and he’s struck out nearly half of them while walking barely north of two percent. There’s deception and good fortune and small sample sizes and then there’s smack-you-in-the-head dominance, and Paddack’s performance thus far falls squarely into the latter category.
But wait: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Maybe he’s too old
Sometimes prospects put up really good numbers because they’re especially advanced for their league. Think about the recent college draftee heading to a low-level minor-league destination for a couple months and just mashing, a 22-year-old terrorizing inexperienced 18- and 19-year-old pitchers (or vice versa). Often times those numbers can be discarded or, at the very least, heavily discounted, the product of age-vs.-league quirkiness rather than real, actual major-league prospects.
Paddack is just 20 years old, nearly two years younger than the average South Atlantic League player, according to Baseball Reference. Consider the lineup Paddack faced in his most recent start*, a five inning, no hit, no walk (2 HBP), 9 strikeout masterpiece against the Hickory Crawdads:
There are some 19 year olds there, but no player more than a year younger than Paddack. There are also some older guys, guys who are two or three years his senior. Paddack’s 20, with 73 and 2/3 innings past high school ball; he’s not feasting on younger hitters.
*Paddack hasn’t allowed a hit over his past three starts, a 15-inning stretch over which he’s walked one and struck out 28.
Maybe he’s too small
Sometimes pitchers who put up really good numbers are short, and scouts don’t like short pitchers. Think sub-6-foot Will Inman, a former Padres prospect who put up ridiculous numbers early in his minor-league career but never quite caught the attention of baseball’s scouting world.
Paddack’s 6-foot-4 (he’s listed at 6-foot-5, occasionally) and 200 pounds, a nice, projectable size for a young pitcher. Nope, not too small.
Maybe he doesn’t have great stuff
It’s tough to have the kind of peripherals Paddack has without having good stuff, but who knows—stranger things have happened. Paddack signed with the Marlins last year for $400,000, more than anyone else in the eighth round except for fellow Padres farmhand Logan Allen and Ian Oxnevad, which is a good sign that he can pitch. Baseball America’s draft scouting report listed his fastball at 89-92 with “more velocity to come.” They also noted his “very advanced changeup,” a pitch that still seems to get touted whenever anyone talks about Paddack. Like, for instance, BP’s Wilson Karaman, who wrote this about him in a recent chat:
Have a couple very good reports courtesy of our Sally guys on the prospect team: big strong kid has been 90-94 with the fastball, up from 88-91 when he was drafted, excellent change as you note, more room to fill out a prototypical frame. The curve is lagging still, apparently, but the tools are there between size and a solid 1-2 for a similar mid-rotation ceiling to Soroka.
Of course, Paddack’s still a 20-year-old pitcher, equipped with all the red flags that those kind of prospects generally come with. There’s still a lot that can go wrong, from injuries to roadblocks at higher levels of the minors. Plus, the Marlins traded him away for a 39-year-old reliever* and presumably they know more about him than the Padres. There’s always the obvious question as to why they dealt him . . . Do they know about an arm issue? Do their scouts not like him?
Then again, it’s the Marlins.
*Speaking of Rodney, kudos to that guy for bouncing back. Sure, his 0.31 ERA is mostly a mirage, but even his FIP sits at a healthy 2.31, his best mark in that category since 2012. Back in April, I said this about Rodney:
Rodney led the league in saves in 2014, but his far-and-away best season was 2012 with Tampa Bay, when he posted a 0.60 ERA with a K/BB ratio better than five. The problem is that 2013 and 2015 were bad, and last year he recorded career worsts in FIP (4.92) and home runs allowed (9). He’s also 39 with gradually declining velocity. Then again, Rodney’s a reliever so there’s a non-zero chance he puts up a 1-something ERA. We’re not going there.
The Prediction: 3.57 ERA, 21 saves (traded to Cubs on July 23rd)
Hey, I said there was a chance, right? I also wrote a not-totally-negative transaction analysis on the Rodney move at BP, so I’m taking credit for at least not being super-wrong. But, really, for all the grief the Padres got for signing Rodney, he had a helluva three-month run.
In short, there’s not much wrong with Paddack, the baseball player. How the Padres got him, for Rodney, I’m not really sure. He’s an intriguing young arm to add to a farm system that’s slowly turning the corner.
Sometimes if it sounds too good to be true, take it for a test drive.