James Paxton finally lost his first game on Wednesday, August 21st. He had begun his big league career by going 6-0 with a 1.88 ERA. Over the past 100 years only three other men had started their big league careers with an ERA that low while going 6-0. Yeah, Paxton is good. How good can he be? That's the subject of his Player Profile.
25 years old
6'4”, 220 lbs
Drafted in the 4th round in the 2010 Entry Draft.
Did you note that he is already 25 years old? One of the reasons for that is that after being drafted by the Blue Jays in 2009 in the first round he was unable to reach an agreement with the upshot eventually being that he was ruled ineligible for college baseball so he had to play a year in the Independent League with a team in Grand Prairie Texas. That stalled his development a year.
2010: Four games in the Independent League resulted in a 1-2 record, 4.08 ERA and 1.24 WHIP with 18 Ks in 17.2 innings.
2011: Ten starts at A-ball were followed by seven starts at Double-A. All told Paxton posted a 6-3 record with a 2.37 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and a whopping 131 Ks in 95 innings. Unfortunately he also walked 43 batters leading to a poor 4.1 BB/9 ratio.
2012: Saw action in 21 starts at Double-A. Went 9-4 with a 3.05 ERA, 1.41 WHIP and 110 Ks in 106.1 innings. His walk rate went up, 4.6 per nine. Just not acceptable.
2013: Twenty eight outings at Triple-A, including 26 starts, again led to less than overwhelming numbers. Paxton posted a 4.45 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, an 8-11 record, and one against too many walks though his 3.6 per nine mark was an improvement over the previous two seasons.
2014: Four outings, and again, so many walks (seven in 13 innings). Once again though there were a lot of strikeouts (16 in 13 innings).
Here are his rankings from the Big-3 detailing his prospect status.
2012: 52nd best prospect in baseball
2013: 87th best
2014: 99th best
2012: 59th best prospect in baseball
2013: 92nd best
2014: 68th best
2012: 77th best prospect in baseball
2013: 57th best
An elite prospect for the Mariners, there were still plenty of minor leaguers who were thought of more highly than Paxton the last three years.
2013: Made four starts for the Mariners going 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA and 0.92 WHIP. He struck out 21 and walked just seven over 24 innings.
2014: Paxton was thought to have a chance to fill a significant role with the Mariners much earlier than he did this season. Unfortunately he came down with a strained lat in April, then had shoulder issues in late May derailing his start to the big league season. In six starts this season he's gone 3-1 with a 7.99 K/9, 2.20 BB/9, 2.20 ERA and 1.10 WHIP over 32.2 innings.
A lefty who can sit in the 95 mph range, with more up than that, draws the attention of everyone. At times there have been concerns about the movement on the pitch, sometimes it comes in very flat, and there have also been outings where he was sitting at 90 mph and 97 mph. He's not exactly consistent with the gas from outing to outing. Paxton seems to have a real difficult time keeping his release point consistent even though his delivery is very smooth. Some blame his extreme over the top delivery. Paxton throws a cutter, a curve and a changeup to augment the heater. Of his secondary offerings the curve ball is the best pitch.
Let me be clear here. Though he's looked tremendous in the big leagues to this point there are concerns about his long-term outlook, be it his health, or his inability to consistently locate his pitches.
The strikeouts will be there. In 377.2 minor league innings Paxton had 406 punchouts. In 56.2 innings at the big league level he has 50 punchouts. Yep, big arm.
The walks will be there... even if they haven't shown themselves at the big league level yet. Through 56.2 big league innings he's walked 15 batters leading to a 2.38 BB/9 mark. This is almost certainly a sample size situation. Remember the control issues I mentioned above? Paxton walked 169 batters during his minor league career leading to a 4.03 BB/9 mark. How often do pitchers cut nearly 1.75 batters off their walk rate upon reaching the big leagues? Right, it never happens. He's in a groove right now but he has, to this point of his development, never shown the ability to throw strikes at this level.
Paxton produced a 47 percent ground ball rate in the minors. That's a good thing. Much like the walk issue, Paxton has taken his game to a new level in the big leagues. Through 10 outings his big league mark is 56.6 percent. Again, how likely is it that a pitcher would boost the results that substantially in the ground ball rate upon reaching the bigs? Yep, it doesn't happen.
I'm talking logic, I'm talking history, I'm talking common sense here. Paxton has basically pitched at a level through 10 big league starts that he was unable to sustain in the minor leagues. I'm not doubting the talent, it's substantial. I am seriously questioning his ability to sustain his early work over 15, 20, 30 starts.
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PLAYING TIME CONSIDERATIONS
“He can get it to 99 (miles an hour) and it’s effortless,” said manager Lloyd McClendon. “He’s got that … over-the-top (release) where you just don’t see it. It’s a different angle and it’s very difficult on hitters. I think this kid could be the glue to our rotation.” That doesn't sound like he's going to be coming out of the rotation any time soon, does it? Paxton threw 170 innings last season and is at just 45.2 innings this season. If he can stay healthy there is no reason to think he will be pulled from the rotation – at least because of workload concerns.
Paxton is talented, is left-handed, pitches in a good ballpark and brings the heat. There's little in that makeup that scouts don't like. At the same time he's been dogged by injuries of late. There's also the issue of inconsistency from start to start, the extreme vacillation in velocity from start to start, and the annoying habit he has of being unable to locate the strike zone for long periods of time. Know that he's never pitched as well as he is right now, and that should cause you pause before you go all in.
10 team lg: Fine to use here because, say it with me, he's hot. You'll have a decision to make though if the walks come back, and they likely will.
12 team lg: Right now – party on Garth.
15 team lg: Can obviously give him more rope in a league this deep. Even if he struggles for a couple of outings it will be hard to drop him at this point. In a league this deep you're highly unlikely to find more arm talent on the waiver-wire.
AL-only: Drafted and held, those that took this route are being rewarded. With no innings pitched limit in sight, continue to ride the lefty and hope his control remains and that he doesn't devolve into being an Ubaldo Jimenez type. Hard to hear it now, but his track record suggests it could happen. Sorry to be Debbie Downer.