A few months ago, this player battle wouldn’t have made sense. We strive to pair players who are close in valuation, usually using rankings as a guideline. But in spring training Padres RHP Chris Paddack has come out pumping gas, showing off his impeccable command and even prompting manager Andy Green to wonder if he could break the rotation. With a major league ETA not far off, how far off is he from A’s LHP Jesus Luzardo, who is also expected to make his debut this year and his also getting spring training reps?
Allow me to shed some light on how this player battle came to be. We were chatting in our PLive GroupMe and when we discussed which pair should be next in this series, Matt Thompson threw out Paddack and Luzardo. I dismissed it because it was clear that Luzardo was the easy choice, right? Three of my colleagues jumped me and told me I was wrong, the divide is not as large as I thought. I, of course, disagreed.
Luzardo and Paddack are similar in how they approach their game. They are command and control artists, relying on elite changeups while pumping the gas to enhance their breakers. Paddack’s changeup is the best in the minor leagues, bar none. But Luzardo’s is top five in baseball. So let’s go to their third breakers and compare. Luzardo has a slider that he can command for strikes in the zone or to backfoot to righties. It’s flashed plus and he can currently use it as an outpitch. Paddack’s curveball is coming along but even Padres manager Andy Green has said “it’s not a punch pitch for him”. Can it get there? I don’t see why not, but we’re talking a difference of a fleshed out third pitch vs. one that’s not quite there yet. The command Paddack has over his fastball and changeup surpass Luzardo’s present average-at-best overall profile, but his 93-94 fastball from the left side is another element I prefer over Paddack.
Do I wish Luzardo was a tad bit taller and had a bit more projection? Sure. But he still debuted at Triple-A as a 20-year-old last year while Paddack hasn’t yet reached the level as a 23-year-old. Granted, that’s nearly semantics since Luzardo has just 16 innings there and I’m sure Paddack won’t struggle much when he opens the year with the Chihuahas. But the age difference is a major factor to me and part of why I prefer Luzardo over Paddack. And I don’t think two abbreviated spring starts should be changing that, no matter how many times you see his gifs on loop. -Eddy Almaguer
If you haven’t seen the GIF’s that Eddy mentions, you really need to check some of them out. It almost seems like Paddack is, in 2019, what Luzardo was in 2018.
After being traded from the Nationals, in the deal that also brought Blake Treinen to the Bay Area, Luzardo pitched at three different levels — High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A — and he racked up 129 strikeouts in 109.1 total innings. Perhaps most impressive was how he handled Double-A as a 20-year-old southpaw — he posted a 5.8 BB% and a 27.7 K% against hitters several years older than him. In fact, there were only eight pitchers (min. 70 IP at Double-A level) with a higher K-BB% than the 21.9% posted by Luzardo.
He’s younger, has a higher ceiling, and he’s on a team with a projected rotation of Mike Fiers, Brett Anderson, Marco Estrada, Frankie Montas, and Daniel Mendgen — not a group that screams 12-team mixed-league relevance.
Now, back to my point about Paddack being the new Luzardo. This Position Battle caters to all of you that fall in love with the term ‘recency bias’. The same fantasy owners that were ripe with anticipation for Luzardo in 2018, are now singing the same tune for Paddack in 2019.
I’m not gonna knock him for his age — since when did being a 23-year-old top prospect become a negative? It didn’t. The question you need to ask yourself is this: Given their ADP are you willing to take Luzardo two or three rounds earlier than Paddack?
The A’s will be forced to give Luzardo a chance, he will have more innings pitched than Paddack, and over the next 10 years will likely be the better option. If Luzardo goes in the 15th round or something like that and you can get Paddack in the 20th or later, fine. Otherwise, this is Luzardo for me. -Kris Dunn
On the surface these players couldn’t look more dissimilar. However despite this these two pitchers have eerily similar backgrounds and pitch mixes. Both Paddack and Luzardo were draft picks from the prep ranks, though Luzardo was a higher profile prospect. Both are Tommy John survivors, and both feature fastballs in a similar velocity range with downhill plane. Each throws a plus or better changeup, and a breaking ball, though there’s disparity in quality. Where the two players differ is their size, and the differences in measurables between their fastballs and breaking balls.
Paddack has a more prototypical build, at 6’4 listed 195. He’s strong and lean, there’s nothing about his body that would lead to any warning signs or red flags. Luzardo however is listed at 6’1 205 lbs and might be an inch or two shorter than that. His build is sturdy, I certainly wouldn’t describe him as slight. But that’s where Paddack gets the edge.
Paddack’s fastball has a higher spin rate recorded at a 2450 per Fangraphs. While Luzardo’s slider is better than Paddack’s curveball, the latter is improving. Though Luzardo’s changeup is among the minor league’s best, Paddack’s might be the undisputed champion. It’s a double plus pitch and when paired with his high spin fastball he controls with precision, it’s a deadly combination.
Another area where the two compare is feel and command/control. Both have shown the ability to limit free passes in their professional careers, but the combination of control and strikeouts both lean Paddack. Luzardo has strikeout and walk rates of 28.9% and 5.7% respectively. Excellent marks. Paddack’s numbers dwarf Luzardo’s with a strikeout rate of 34.2% and a walk rate of an other worldly 3%. Granted Luzardo has touched AAA and Paddack has not.
While Luzardo’s rise has been precocious, I’m not factoring the age into my evaluations due to the timing of Paddack’s injury. In the end I believe in Paddack’s ability to handle a starters workload due to his build (and good mechanics), improve his curveball enough that it compares to Luzardo’s slider, while he pairs two 70 offerings at peak make him an ace in the making. Maybe it’s a hot take, but give me Chris Paddack: - Ralph Lifshitz
Luzardo has three plus pitches with plus command and he is left-handed. This really is not close for me. Luzardo is a consensus top 25 prospect in the game and profiles as a moderate risk SP2. I’ll take a high floor with a ceiling that flashes 60-65 FV. - Jason Woodell
As Eddy alluded to in his blurb this player battle has been a contentious one for the Prospects Live crew across a few of our different mediums of communication. Friendships have been ended over this, lives ruined. Ok, I’m kidding on that last sentence, but this was one that puts two of my favorite prospect arms in a head to head battle. Someone has to come out on top.
I had the privilege of writing the Oakland top 30 for our series of system write-ups and took a deeper look into Luzardo as I was debating internally whether to go he or fellow lefty A.J. Puk for the top spot in the system. I went with Luzardo because change-up and command guys are my thing, but in the case of Luzardo or Paddack that describes both of them so I need to dig deeper.
I summed up Luzardo pretty well with this blurb I wrote in the top 30:
Luzardo has simple, repeatable mechanics with a bit of deception as the ball comes out from behind his ear. The arm is quicker than the body, which really helps the changeup play up. The changeup is his best pitch, with tremendous depth and fade. It’s his primary weapon against righties, traveling at the same plane as the fastball with late movement. Luzardo’s fastball sits 93-95 and in the Future’s Game he was bumping it up to 98 in his two-inning stint. Luzardo gets dinged for his lack of a consistent breaking ball, but it does flash above average occasionally. Luzardo is listed at 6-foot-1, but I’d be willing to bet he’s a bit under that 6-foot mark. He should be in Oakland during the second half of 2019 and has the ceiling of a number-two starter. His feel for pitching and makeup are both top of the scale.
There’s a ton to love with the profile here obviously. As far as Paddack goes, he’s essentially where Luzardo was at this point in 2018. Coming off his first full season after Tommy John and being kept on strict pitching limits of 85-90 pitches a start, Paddack exceeded even the most lofty of his expectations by putting up historic strikeout and walk ratios. The numbers were enhanced a bit by the restrictions because he wasn’t facing a lineup a fourth or even a third time, but at the same time 34% and 3% are insane.
I have to stick to my rankings though. It’s Luzardo for me still, but I’m not as comfortable saying it as I was a month ago. Recency bias may have something to do with it, but Paddack’s curveball may end up as a better third pitch than Luzardo’s slider just based on my recent spring looks. They both have plus to double-plus changeups (despite some “meh” analysis from Paddacks spring debut) and plus fastballs. It’s Luzardo by a hair though. - Matt Thompson