SCOUTING STATCAST (Vol. IV): Chris Paddack has a fastball problem; Dom Smith!!!; xwOBA surprises

Hello, friends. If you're pitching staff is somehow in good shape, kiss my ass. Excuse the saltiness, but I just watched my beloved Red Sox get thoroughly embarrassed again by the Rays. The Rays are good. Nothing against them. But Boston had to put TWO position players on the mound after the first, Jose Peraza, was drilled my a comebacker. Combine that with Tyler Glasnow, a pitcher I went all-in on with multiple shares, channeling his Pittsburgh control and failing to get a win in a game his team scored 17 runs against my favorite team. And yeah... I'm in a bad baseball mood.


What cheers me up when I'm feeling shitty? Rolled up aces over kings...

Okay, so that's not totally applicable here, but it's impossible to watch that scene and not feel like you can take on the world for at least a few minutes with a smile on your face. I suppose the baseball equivalent is diving deep into Statcast and Baseball Savant. Let's roll:

Where have all the cowboys gone? Well, for Chris Paddack it's more like where has the stuff gone? The Padres SP was blasted, again, by the Dodgers last night, and it's time to call the sheriff because there is a major issue.


So far this season, Paddack has given up 24 (!!!) batted balls 100+ MPH. 24. His hard hit% is up from 32.5% in 2019 to 48.1% this year; his K% is down 5.7%; Paddack's barrel% jumped from 7.1% to 13.0%; he gave up 27 barrels all last season and has already given up 10, and is dealing with a 2.4 MPH increase in average exit velocity.


While Paddack's velocity is basically the same, his spin is, interestingly, down from 2230 to 2151 on his fastball with a very similar efficiency to last season, which could explain the noticeable decline in vertical movement. A good piece of news is his curveball is spinning more efficiently, and has actually rated as his best pitch so far. But his fastball has a .824 xSLG, which means it's getting hit harder than Glass Joe in the ring against Mike Tyson.


The scary thing? Paddack seems to be executing his plan decently with four-seamers up, changeups down, and mixing in the curve.

Paddack is catching too much of the heart of the plate, but his meatball% is actually down from 8.3% last season to 7.9% in 2020. Most plate discipline numbers, including whiffs, look similar except for two key areas: first-pitch strike% is down to 60.6% and chase% is down from 33.1% to 23.4%. The current first-pitch rate is actually 30th in baseball, but Paddack, among pitchers who threw 140.0 or more innings in 2019, finished first in first-pitch percentage last season.


The stuff, even in its current state, is good but not good enough to handle a massive decline in getting ahead in the count and sharp decrease in batters chasing pitches. Through 0-1 counts this year, Paddack has a 3.51 FIP and 2.93 xFIP; through 1-0 counts, those numbers jump to 6.08 and 4.72, respectively.


Even when Paddack hits his spots, the fastball simply isn't fooling anyone.

If the first-strike percentage doesn't improve and the fastball spin doesn't increase, it could be a very long short year for Paddack.

When you rank 450 fantasy baseball players, you're going to get more wrong than right. I think. Anyway, Dominic Smith and Kyle Lewis were just inside the top 300, and allow me to take a small victory lap in a shortened season that might not deliver many.


Yoenis Cespedes's rocky marriage with the dysfunctional Mets finally forced the organization into playing Smith more. Unsurprisingly, Smith immediately showed his talent and why he should have been a regular from the jump.


Smith, a former first-round pick out of high school and top prospect, ranks 15th in barrels per plate appearance, 19th in barrels per batted ball, and is lifting the ball in the air noticeably more than he has in the past. It's early, but his lefty/righty splits are nearly identical. Plug him in the lineup and enjoy. Dom Smith has been freed.


OH AND I WAS ABOUT TO PUBLISH THIS DOM SMITH HIT ANOTHER HOMER

Let's play a Statcast game: I want you to try to guess the players who rank second and fourth in xwOBA behind Corey Seager whose batted-ball profile is about as good as any profile could possibly be. Hint: neither one of these players would be drafted in 12-team and 15-team leagues. Give up? Whatever, I'm tired of waiting.

Small sample size, yes, for the 109th time. But everything this season, more or less, is going to be a small sample size. Gonzalez came to Pittsburgh in a November 2018 deal along with a couple of minor leaguers while Jordan Luplow, who went deep the other day, and Max Moroff, a former top 10 organizational prospect, went to the Indians. So, the Pirates gave up some quality and hand-picked Gonzalez, who has a career 77 wRC+, based on their scouting.


So, it's more than fair to say it's very, very unlikely Gonzalez keeps this up. He hasn't walked once all season, although he also has one of the best strikeout rates in baseball. But he's made some changes. Here's a look at his 2019 swing, which produced one of the hardest hit balls of the season for Gonzalez:

You'll see in the 2020 version a more open stance, slightly different hand placement, and a combination of hips, lower half, and swing looking to do more damage and put the ball in the air more, which has shown in huge increase in line drive rate, modest increase in fly ball rate, and his zone contact rate is only bested by nine other players.


Don't rush out and get him, but keep an eye on the progress because he's going to be starting in the lineup almost every game and that can help as schedules become a mess and injuries pile up.


The player who ranks fourth on the xwOBA list:

Cronenworth came over from the Rays after hitting .334/.429/.520 with 12 steals in AAA last season with very good walk and strikeout rates. So far, he's hitting .325/.341/.675 with an expected slash line of .398/.491/.765. It's a pretty, quick, athletic swing from the left side that's already done damage to Dustin May's two-strike breaking ball and Brusdar Graterol's 99 MPH sinker.


With Jurickson Profar scuffling and Jorge Mateo making his Padres debut in the outfield, Cronenworth figures to be in the lineup every day against righties and maybe sometimes versus lefties too. Fangraphs put a 60 on his hit tool with 50 speed (seems like a miss given his 95th percentile ranking in sprint speed, barely behind Gonzalez), 40 game power, and enough defense to keep his glove in the game.


Photos courtesy AP Images and videos courtesy Baseball Savant

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