San Diego Padres starter Chris Paddack is having a fantastic rookie season. The 23-year-old has a 3.15 ERA over 65 2/3 innings. He’s struck out over a batter per inning and has the best fWAR of any starter on the team.
On Wednesday, the Padres sent him to the minors.
The news comes as a pretty huge surprise considering how well Paddack had performed with the team. Paddack’s numbers suggest he should be in the conversation for National League Rookie of the Year, not getting sent back to the minors.
For the Padres, however, the move has nothing to do with Paddack’s stats. Paddack was reportedly sent down so the team can manage his innings.
The SD #Padres, wanting to limit the innings for rookie pitching sensation Chris Paddack, option him to the minors.
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) June 12, 2019
Paddack handled the demotion well, according to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale.
Chris Paddack handled the demotion with maturity, #Padres manager Andy Green said, knowing that they want to manage his innings this year. He should return to the Padres before the end of June
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) June 13, 2019
While Nightengale’s tweet doesn’t contain direct confirmation the team sent Paddack down due to innings concerns, that’s the assumed reason for now.
Paddack’s brother Michael isn’t a big fan of that reasoning.
"...if you send him down to the minor leagues and you have him throw 5 innings in the minors, you've just wasted 5 innings he could've pitched in the big leagues. That's just my opinion."
-Michael Paddack (Chris Paddack's older brother)
— Rich Ohrnberger (@ohrnberger) June 13, 2019
Michael Paddack also called into question the team limited the number of pitches Chris Paddack can throw during starts.
Does the pitch limit affect Chris' ability to perform during starts?
"That's 100% the truth, there's no doubt about it.. it's such a mental position, and when you put a harness on a kid he feels like he can't waste pitches or make mistakes."
— Rich Ohrnberger (@ohrnberger) June 13, 2019
Paddack has been limited to roughly 90 pitches per game.
Paddack was limited to just 90 innings last season after returning from Tommy John surgery. Though Paddack made the Padres’ opening day roster, the team has been clear about its desire to make sure Paddack isn’t overworked this season.
On the surface there’s nothing sinister about that desire. But the Padres’ method here could — and this is merely speculation on our part — lead to a scenario where they can game the system in the future.
Paddack, like every other rookie, is subject to service-time rules. If a player spends 172 days on a major-league roster, that counts as a year of service. Players need to have six years of service in the majors before they become free agents.
If a rookie spends less than 172 days on the major-league roster, that doesn’t count as a full year of service. The team gets a seventh year of control on a player for keeping them in the minors for a few weeks. That’s what happened to Kris Bryant and Ronald Acuña Jr. and pretty much every other relevant rookie the past few years.
By sending Paddack down — as opposed to placing him on the IL with “arm fatigue” — the Padres are taking away days Paddack spends on the major-league roster.
Doing so could impact Paddack’s status as a Super Two player, which controls how soon Paddack is eligible for salary arbitration in his career. That status is based on how much service time players acquire in their first three seasons in the majors. While a 10-day stint in the minors doesn’t guarantee Paddack will lose that status, it doesn’t help get him closer to it either.
As far as service time is concerned, it doesn’t sound like this trip to the minors will last long enough for Paddack to have that manipulated.
The likely plan is for Paddack to miss only one turn in the big-league rotation. So, he could be back pitching against the Pirates later this month.
— Dennis Lin (@dennistlin) June 12, 2019
If Paddack stays in the minors for the 10-day minimum, he’s still on pace to be on the Padres’ roster for at least 172 days this season. Another 10-day trip to the minors, however, would prevent Paddack from accruing an extra year of service time.
While the Padres aren’t going to manipulate Paddack’s service time now, it remains a concern moving forward. The team could choose to do the same thing in August and get an extra year of control on Paddack.
The move also opens the door for a situation where Paddack struggles in the second half, and the Padres use that as a reason to send him back down. In both scenarios, the team gains an extra year of Paddack.
Given how well Paddack has performed for the team, the hope is that the Padres actually break the mold and don’t intentionally manipulate Paddack’s service time. But given how every other major-league team has operated over the past decade, the Padres don’t fully deserve the benefit of the doubt.
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