Canadian southpaw James Paxton is in line for big things in his first season with the New York Yankees.
Break out the Tim Horton’s coffee and put the LaBatt on ice, baseball fans. Today, James Paxton makes his long-awaited New York Yankees debut. The Canadian southpaw captured fans’ hearts with an electric Spring Training, going 3-0 with a 2.08 ERA in five starts.
The games actually count now, and this is where Paxton’s real potential will shine. The Yankees acquired him from the Seattle Mariners in the offseason, shipping highly-touted prospect Justus Sheffield west in exchange. That’s quite the risk, especially considering Sheffield was one of the team’s top prospects last year.
Paxton is proving to be worth the risk early on. Even in Spring Training, he pitched as if every game counted. For a pitching staff which ranked tenth in MLB with a 3.78 ERA in 2018, that competitive spirit is a welcome addition.
But James Paxton‘s successful Spring Training signals something else is on the horizon.
On top of fitting in well with the Yankees, he could also be bound for a career year.
James Paxton turned 30 in the offseason, though his record doesn’t look like that of someone with six years’ experience. He is just 41-26 in 582.1 career innings, albeit with a respectable 3.42 ERA. This can be chalked up primarily to injuries, as Paxton has never thrown more than 160.1 frames in a season, a career-high set last season.
Speaking of last season, it truly was a coming out party of sorts for Paxton. Even after posting a strong 2.98 ERA in 2017, he came back stronger the following year. He upped his K/9 to 11.7 from 10.9, fanning an eye-popping 208 batters. Paxton also showcased excellent control, issuing just 42 walks on the year.
Paxton also notched two complete games, one of which was a no-hitter on May 8. It was only fitting it happen versus his home country’s Toronto Blue Jays, and at the Rogers Centre to boot!
Now, he’s on a New York Yankees team built to win now, which means another rise in his numbers could happen.
Ace in the shadows
Though he wasn’t the team’s Opening Day starter, James Paxton may as well be an ace for the Yankees on potential alone. This is great since New York’s X-factor for success is the pitching staff.
However, Paxton is also something of a statistical anomaly. Joel Sherman of The New York Post reported last May the Yankees were having their pitchers throw fewer and fewer fastballs. Paxton, meanwhile is a fastball pitcher who threw that pitch 63.8 percent of the time last year at an average velocity of 95.4 miles per hour. The pitch he used the most after that was his knuckle curve, at 21.5 percent of the time.
Contrastingly, Opening Day starter Masahiro Tanaka only threw 33.7 percent fastballs in Thursday’s start, and 26.2 percent fastballs all of last year.
But therein lies the beauty of having James Paxton in the rotation. Where Tanaka relies on fooling hitters with breaking pitches, Paxton is more aggressive. He prefers to pound the zone and dare batters to challenge him, only to fool them with that nasty knuckle curve or cutter last minute.
Make no mistake, dear readers. He may be the No. 3 man in the rotation once Luis Severino comes back, but the makeup says it all.
When push comes to shove, Paxton is a bona fide ace. In a lineup near certain to average more than the 4.04 runs of support he received last year, a career year is knocking on Yankee Stadium’s front door.
A fine fit
The best part of James Paxton wearing pinstripes is he’s a great fit with the Yankees. Appearing on ESPN’s The Michael Kay Show just one day after the trade and spoke of how excited he was to join the team.
Not only that, but Paxton didn’t backpedal when faced with New York’s World Series hopes for 2019.
“It’s World Series or bust for Yankees fans,” he said, “And I’m excited about having that pressure and being on a team that’s so committed to winning.”
Now, putting Paxton’s competitive spirit aside, think of him next to both Tanaka and Severino. Imagine if all three pitch at their highest level this year. The Yankees could easily have a trio reminiscent of the Atlanta Braves’ Hall of Fame trifecta of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz.
And though James Paxton holds a 7.20 career ERA in Yankee Stadium, let’s not forget he didn’t pitch there until last year. Yes, fans should be rightfully skittish about the Sonny Gray fiasco, but Paxton is a different pitcher. He doesn’t rattle easily and shouldn’t crack under the pressure of a raucous home crowd.
More importantly, the man is 10-3 with a 3.61 ERA against his new team’s AL East rivals. That’s only going to help the Yankees in the long run.
The long and short of it is just like Rocket Raccoon and Groot, the Yankees and James Paxton are a great match.
If certain chips fall into place, he could etch himself in New York baseball lore forever.