Chris Paddack's brother a hidden key to his success
Originally published: The Sac Bunt Newsletter
PEORIA, Ariz. — Watching Chris Paddack, 23, pitch is an experience for reasons other than the harmony of plus command and a disappearing changeup. Sit around home plate and you will hear a 31-year-old former D1 pitcher barking at the Padres’ rising star. The words come midway through at-bats, at times when the intense spike in volume rises well above the natural stadium ambiance.
“I hear him up in the stands,” Chris says. “He doesn’t care what people think. He doesn’t care about anybody in the stands. That’s him talking to me on the mound and I’m the only guy who can hear it.”
Michael Paddack is one of Chris’ two brothers and his “hype man” as the two prefer to term it. Michael yells at Chris during games, jolting the starter’s concentration on the rare occasion he loses focus. His energy mimics the palpable intensity Chris operates with on a constant basis. Their relationship is deep and affecting, hardened over the years and unique in the level of Michael’s involvement. It has become a key variable in Chris’ success as enters his first season in the major leagues.
This offseason, the brothers purchased multiple picture-frame sized devices called “Portals” from Facebook’s line of direct-to-consumer products and distributed them to family members. The little gesture existed to remedy the distance between Paddack and his family as he embarked on his season with the Padres, as reported by The Athletic’s Dennis Lin. The brothers also saved a pair for themselves.
The device marked a step forward in a tradition for Chris and Michael: conversations the night before or day of a start. Upgrading from phone calls to FaceTimes to Portal chats helped improve the face-to-face connection reminiscent of the in-person pep talks on the common occasion Michael attends a game. When Michael is not at a start, he watches at home or listens on the radio, and according to Chris, has been known to disturb neighbors with the volume of his cheers.
“He knows how to get me going and how to piss me off, everything to get me ready for the start,” Chris says. “All those little things, to me, are a big reason why I am successful.”
Michael is the first to mention his periodic intensity during their pre-start conversations. (Chris restrained from giving details about Michael’s rants to preserve his “secrets.”) But the conversations are predominantly a box-checking exercise. The brothers review Chris’ goals, break down hitter tendencies of the opposing lineup, and above all else, hold Chris accountable.
Michael’s main goal is to help Chris navigate through daily outside distractions. He urges Chris to “be honest with himself” in order to stay grounded and continually improve. To accomplish this, the two construct daily, weekly and monthly goals. Every offseason they revisit a yearly growth chart, discussing what the season ahead could look like on a realistic level.
“Literally I’m just listening,” Chris says. “I’ll turn Portal on and he’ll just talk for 45 minutes before I even say one word.”
Chris admits he is a visual learner. A changeup-dominant right-handed pitcher naturally succeeds against the opposite handedness hitter, in Chris’ case, left-handed hitters. To succeed as a starter at higher levels, he knew he needed to improve his curveball to combat his natural platoon split. This offseason, instead of tinkering with a Rapsodo device, he watched pitchers throw curveballs on YouTube and visualized how he wanted his pitch to evolve. Michael understands Chris’ unique method of absorbing information and acts as an interpreter.
“He can kind of give me some feedback in a language I understand,” Chris says.
One year after the Miami Marlins drafted Chris in the eighth round of the 2015 First-Year Player Draft, the organization traded him to the Padres. After six starts with his new club, he underwent Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament. Days after the surgery, the brothers committed to a gameplan attacking each day of Chris’ 22-month rehab process. Chris even moved in with Michael during the 2016 offseason to maintain his motivation and focus.
Chris threw 90 innings across two levels with the Padres when he returned from Tommy John in 2018. Inning limits after a surgery like Tommy John and other sensitive topics are often conversations between a player and their organization, but Michael’s involvement in Chris’ baseball life demonstrates a unique level of trust.
“You’re not going to throw 180 innings,” Michael told Chris. “That’s just not going to happen… You need to go into  with a realistic expectation. That way you can kind of monitor the highs and the lows and not get too excited or get bummed out if something doesn’t happen.”
Chris and Michael’s older brother, Jason, both played college baseball. Michael learned what he could from Jason during his career and began to pass his knowledge down when Chris showed promise early.
Michael still remembers a tee-ball game in their home state of Texas where Chris turned an unassisted triple play. In high school, he recalls Chris throwing eight no-hitters and two perfect games against upper-level amateur competition. Chris started receiving calls from scouts and D1 colleges expressing interest.
Their on-field mentorship, however, is preceded by a deep connection at a young age.
“As far as our bond goes, we’ve got something pretty special and we’ve had it for a long time,” Michael says. “Long story short, because of some of the things we were exposed to in our childhood--our age gap is 8 years--I was in junior high, high school, he was still a little elementary kid, but I was old enough to kind of watch over him more or less, shelter what he was exposed to.”
On Chris and Michael’s maternal side of the family, their mom’s four siblings have multiple children and grandchildren, totaling 18 cousins. Big family get-togethers were a common occurrence in their childhood and still happen in the present day. More than 80 family members and friends attended Chris’ Double-A debut in San Antonio, many of them sporting traditional Texas cowboy hats to mimic a portion of the pregame attire Chris wears every start day: a full suit and hat.
“When have an ability to play a game on an elite level,” Chris says. “That gives you a platform that very few people have.”
In order for Chris to excel at his craft, the brothers knew he would need to have the professional qualities of his on-field presence duplicated in his off-field presence. Michael never went into detail with Chris about how this specific need would flesh out in real life, but Chris took it upon himself to suit up for every professional start. The tradition has continued ever since he tucked his first tailored dress shirt into his starch jeans and went to the field.
Chris remains in big league camp, presumably with a grasp on a spot in the Padres rotation as the final days of spring training approach. His curveball has developed into a viable third pitch and his projection on many of the industry’s most reputable sites consider him the best per-start pitcher on the team.
Michael already has plans to attend opening weekend in San Diego against the Giants. He will be in the stands yelling to Chris as he throws his first major league pitches. Before the his start, Chris and Michael will have a pre-start conversation, the same as always. Atop Chris’ locker at Petco Park will sit a tiny yellow rubber duck that has followed him around since the minor leagues. He will enter the Petco Park clubhouse with his signature suit and hat combination. To change a routine after prolonged success would surely do more harm than good.
“[My family] is a big reason why I’m doing this,” Chris says. “You can’t just come to the field and go through the motions saying, ‘Oh, I have to.’ It’s a privilege, it’s an opportunity that I’m never going to take for granted.”