Fantasy Baseball: Chris Paddack is the first potential league winner on waivers

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If you drafted late, there's almost no chance Chris Paddack is still out there on the waiver wire. His Average Draft Position since last Friday has jumped to 172nd overall in NFBC drafts, and he has been selected in every single draft since then. And that was before we learned — seemingly along with Paddack — that he will be a part of the Opening Day rotation:

However, Paddack is still out there in some leagues. He went from an afterthought to a Spring Training curio, but wasn't really being drafted across the board until the last week or two. So, there he is, free for the taking in 24 percent of CBSSports.com leagues. You might have a waiver-wire or FAAB run tonight, or Wednesday before the season starts. If he's still out there, you need to use that opportunity to make sure you've got Paddack on your team. Here's why.

Paddack's rise as a prospect has been relatively slow. Drafted in the eighth round out of high school by the Marlins, he threw 45.1 innings in his first professional season and made it through just 42.1 in 2016 before succumbing to Tommy John surgery. However, all he did before that injury was dominate, striking out 33.0 percent of opposing batters over 88 innings of work. (The Padres, of course, acquired him in a 2016 trade for Fernando Rodney, who posted a 5.89 ERA and saved eight games for the Marlins after the trade. Of course.)

Paddack returned from Tommy John last year after missing all of 2017 recovering and picked up right where he left off. Scouting reports have never raved about Paddack, but he threw 90 more innings in 2018, striking out 35.3 percent of hitters, while issuing just eight walks in 17 starts. He had to be taken seriously coming into this season; 177.2 innings isn't a massive sample size, but we're talking about a 1.82 ERA, 0.805 WHIP and 230 strikeouts to 20 walks. You can't ignore that production. And he can't fake it, either. 

Especially when he went out in spring training and just kept doing it. He threw just 12.2 innings, but struck out 20 more hitters and walked just two, while facing a relatively high average level of competition, per Baseball-Reference.com. There's no other word for what Paddack did this spring: He forced his way into the rotation.

How did he do it? We don't have a ton of pitch-level data for Paddack, but we do have some mighty impressive visuals: 

It's only four pitches, but you can see a glimmer of the command there. We can also check out scouting reports. Here's what BaseballProspectus.com had to say about Paddack in their writeup on the Padres' top-10 prospects (where he ranked fifth in a stacked system):

"A strong, durable frame and easy physicality highlights the basic package for Paddack … a stellar fastball-changeup combination that he commands with aplomb. The fastball works in the low-90s, up to 95 … plus-or-better changeup that tumbles, fades, and cowers consistently out of harm's way …"

And for the first time Monday, Paddack pitched in front of the StatCast cameras, so we have some concrete numbers to throw at you. Here's what he showed Monday in a brief appearance: 

Pitch Type

Count

SwStr

Called

Fouls

BIP

Avg

Max

Four-seam

34

10

5

7

2

93.8

95.8

Change

3

0

0

1

0

84.4

85

Slider

8

2

0

0

3

84.6

85.9

Curve

4

0

3

0

0

74.6

75.3

ALL

49

12

8

8

5

90.1

95.8

To start with: That's an above-average fastball velocity, even for 2019. It's not blazing, but it would have been 66th percentile for right-handed starters last season. More impressive still are the 10 swinging strikes on just 34 four-seamers, an incredible rate. He matched above-average velocity with elite spin rates, with nearly all of his fastballs coming in at 2400 RPM or higher:

rpm.png
BrooksBaseball.net

That may not mean a ton to you, but spin rate is one of the main components of fastball deception. For a simple reason: the backspin on a four-seam fastball lessens the impact of gravity (See: The Magnus effect), creating the illusion of "rise" that baffles so many hitters. Research by DriveLine Baseball has shown that, for fastballs between 92-96 mph, swinging strike rates can range from 10 to as high as 14 percent in the 2400+ RPM range. That's significant.

Paddack mostly relied on the fastball in his final tuneup, unfurling just three of the changeups scouts have raved so much about. We'll see that when the games matter. However we did see something else rather interesting Monday: He also threw eight sliders and four curveballs, giving him two distinct breaking pitches. Most scouting reports indicated he had just one. If either (or even both) can serve as just average offerings, it would just make Paddack even more impossible to figure out.

All of that is a long-winded way of saying "Chris Paddack looks really, really good." Yes, we're dealing in small samples all the way down, but when you're as dominant as Paddack has been, those small samples are pretty meaningful.

He won't be a Fantasy ace, of course, because he's likely hard-capped at around 150 innings this season. And, there's always the chance that he's not ready, despite how dominant he's been. It can happen to the best pitchers. 

But based on what we've seen from Paddack at every level — no matter how tiny the sample — he's looked unhittable. Something like Jacob deGrom's rookie season — 140.1 IP, 2.69 ERA, 9.2 K/9 — isn't out of the question. Even if he falls short of that, this kind of talent is a must-own in all Fantasy formats. 

Fantasy Writer

Though he can be found covering three different sports depending on the time of year, there is one unifying theme in how Chris Towers approaches sports; "Where's the evidence?" It doesn't matter how outlandish... Full Bio

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