Twins

The Twins Had Started To Hedge Against Losing Gray and Maeda Last Year

Photo Credit: Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Twins rotation will look different in 2024. Kenta Maeda reportedly signed a two-year, $24 million deal with the Detroit Tigers, and Sonny Gray recently finalized a three-year, $75 million contract with the St. Louis Cardinals. The Twins will lose 288.1 innings between them. However, a plan the Twins set in motion 10 months ago may help mitigate their loss.

Chris Paddack signed a three-year extension with the Twins in January that covers what would’ve been his first year of free agency in 2025. That allowed Paddack to take extra time to recover after elbow surgery in May 2022 to be at his best in 2024, knowing that he’d only be able to return in 2023 if the Twins were in playoff contention. The plan worked out perfectly.

At his best, Paddack is a terrific third or even second option in the rotation. He’ll step in next year after Gray and Maeda’s departures.

The Twins may still add a sixth budget arm in free agency like Luis Severino. They could acquire an upside pitcher like Edward Cabrera via trade or promote a prospect like David Festa. As things currently stand, Paddack will join Pablo López, Joe Ryan, Bailey Ober, and possibly Louie Varland as a full-time starter in March.

Paddack represents the best and most realistic option to fill the rotation gap. He performed well in his five starts with the Twins in 2022. His 4.03 ERA (98 ERA+) in those starts might not be incredible, but Paddack displayed stuff worthy of a much better result.

He returned from his elbow injury in September this year and stepped up in some key spots for the bullpen. He steadied Game 4 of the ALDS by stranding Chas McCormick and striking out Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, and Kyle Tucker in 2.1 innings.

Paddack excels at keeping his hand “behind the ball” when throwing his four-seamer. He unlocks the most out of his raw spin, which gives him great induced vertical break (IVB) numbers. He had 18.6” of IVB on his four-seamer in 2022 and 16” in 2023. The MLB average is 15.7”.

Despite his induced vertical break, Paddack’s four-seamer is relatively steep. That’s likely because he releases the ball roughly 6’4” off the ground. His ball flight is steeper than expected from a pitch with such great spin and decent velocity.

The steepness or flatness of a pitch, measured as Vertical Approach Angle (VAA), is important to the success and usage of a pitch. Four-seamers and sinkers are especially sensitive to VAA.

Flat four-seamers induce whiffs up in the zone and often fall for called strikes low in the zone, while steep sinkers create difficult-to-handle angles for batters to attack low in the zone. The flattest four-seamers, like Jacob deGrom’s, can get whiffs almost anywhere.

Not every pitcher needs to strive for a flat four-seamer. Justin Verlander and Félix Bautista have incredibly steep four-seamers due to near 7-foot release points, and they perform just fine.

Bailey Ober’s four-seamer is steeper than average, but his works so well because he locates his perfectly above the zone. Bobby Miller has a flatter than average four-seamer, yet he struggled to get whiffs with it.

It’s also important to note that almost all four-seamers are more likely to get whiffs up in the zone than they would lower, regardless of VAA.

Paddack’s four-seamer has never been exceptionally flat, which means it may not perform as well as other high-spin fastballs. It’s also what makes Paddack’s increased velocity so interesting.

He threw his four-seamer about 94 mph before joining the Twins. That dipped to 93 in 2022 before jumping up to 95.5 when Paddack worked out of the bullpen at the end of the 2023 season. If he can maintain most of that velocity after being stretched out as a starter, his four-seamer could be an excellent pitch despite an insubstantial VAA. Combined with his 6.9 feet of extension, that 95.5 plays up to 96.5 mph.

Paddack can use his IVB to get whiffs up in the zone and speed batters up with his 96.5 mph effective four-seamer.

Paddack’s changeup is still a solid offering. He commands it well, finding the shadow of the zone 55.7% of the time while only throwing a waste pitch 5.7% of the time in 2022. It should remain a quality pitch for him in the future.

His slider is of greater importance. Paddack introduced it in 2022 but only used it 3.8% of the time. The pitch had an intriguing development in 2023. He was entirely “on the side” of the ball when he threw it. In other words, his gyro degree was 90 degrees; therefore, his active spin was 0%. It was a total gyro slider, so the pitch got predominantly vertical drop and minimal horizontal movement compared to other, more traditional sliders and sweepers.

A gyro slider could serve him well if Paddack leans into a north-south approach with elevated fastballs. Gyro sliders are often “middle grounds” between four-seamers and other sliders or downward-breaking pitches in an arsenal. Other times, they’re the slider of choice for pitchers struggling to spin the ball. They can also be a pitcher’s sole, great slider.

Gyro sliders look like fastballs out of the pitcher’s hand. They experience “late break” due to some weird physics stuff, but their movement is mostly from gravity since gyro spin does not contribute to movement. They play well off four-seamers, like the one Paddack employs.

Throwing the pitch harder, and therefore closer in velocity to a four-seamer, helps to deceive batters. If Paddack can close the gap between his four-seamer and slider velocity, he could have a new breaking ball to play with.

Whatever the case for Paddack’s arsenal, he’ll likely be a starter next year. His four-seamer has some impressive qualities, and his changeup, curveball, and potentially new-look slider could bode well for a north-south approach. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him return to sub-4.00 ERA levels if not mid-3.00 ERA.

Twins
Manuel Margot Was A Better Fit This Year Than Michael A. Taylor
By CJ Baumgartner - Feb 28, 2024
Twins
The Manuel Margot Trade Is Another Bet On Byron Buxton’s Health
By Chris Schad - Feb 28, 2024
Twins

Is Matt Wallner's Boom-Or-Bust Approach Sustainable?

Photo Credit: Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Wallner hits baseballs very hard. He hit a pitch 116.4 mph last season, good for 97th percentile. Wallner also swings and misses a lot, especially at […]

Continue Reading