clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Paxton’s Left Arm is Blowing Up the Radar Gun

James Paxton, a popular sleeper in 2015, is finally awake, and he is asking for your attention.

Paxton's blazing left arm can carry your team very high, and very far.
Paxton's blazing left arm can carry your team very high, and very far.
Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

I acknowledge that I'm late to the party. I can't believe I missed him in my league since lefty fireball starters are the main reason I watch baseball in the first place (FYI, I envy lefties so much that I'm planning to put a boxing glove on my future son's right hand every day to force him to use his left hand exclusively. Please don't tell the police).

Let me step back for a second. Honestly, I know why I missed James Paxton's breakout this year, and I'm sure some of you probably share my experience. In late 2014, when the young southpaw came up to the Bigs and showcased his heart-pounding fastball coming out from his 6-4 frame, I literally jumped all over the Paxton-bandwagon. I was so confident that the kid is about to become the next superstar of the Emerald City, and I reached in to grab him during my 2015 draft.

His season didn't really pan out well as I expected. He was a disaster during the first month of 2015 with 5.74 ERA, and I had to package him with my best hitter to trade him away for another pitcher. He was relatively good for the rest of the season, but he simply couldn't stay away from the DL, and he only managed to pitch 67 innings.

The talent was obviously there, but I noticed couple issues. While he threw one of the best fastballs along with the above average change-up, he didn't have enough repertoire to stay competitive as a starter in this league. Lack of weapon besides the change-up usually means that he doesn't have enough pitches that break away from the same side of the plate, and therefore the southpaw recorded .349 wOBA against the LHB (0.263 RHB) prior to 2016 season.

Moreover, 94 mph fastballs, albeit coming from the left side of the mound, aren't what they were used to be, and they no longer induce enough swings and misses in this league. In 2015, he heavily relied on his four-seamer (71.9% of his pitches), and they only resulted in 3.9% swinging strikes. Overall, he put up underwhelming 7.9% swings and misses and 7.4 K/9 before this season.

In 2016, when he was first activated from the DL, he came back with a new fancy arsenal called 90 mph cutter, and he was fully ready to throw it. From the day one, he used it so heavily that it soon became his second most used pitch after his fastball (21.2%. Curve: 9.1%). His heavy cutter has been extremely effective that its pitch value per 100 is the third highest in the league among the pitchers who used them more the 18% of the time (John Lackey, and Jon Lester), and it has induced jaw-dropping 19.1% swings and misses.

Now with his new effective second pitch in the picture, he doesn't have to try to overpower the hitters all the time, so he has cut down his fastball usage down to 62% (from 71.9%). I'm not sure if that has been the reason, but his four-seamer is now averaging inappropriate 97.1 mph, 3 mph up from the last season. Right now among the starters, only Noah Syndergaard is throwing harder than Paxton does, and Thor is a right handed pitcher. The next hardest throwing lefty is Danny Duffy, and he averages mere 95.1 mph (9th fastest).

If Paxton can continue to do whatever he does now (and stays healthy), it's just a matter of time before he becomes an obvious top 5 pitcher in this league. In fact, his 2.94 FIP is already 5th best in the league (among starters with 80+ IP), and THE BEST in the AL. I know he is probably long gone in most of the competitive leagues, but his current 33% ownership in Yahoo! is just ludicrous. I mean, he is literally the 5th best pitcher after Clayton Kershaw, Jose Fernandez, Noah Syndergaard, and Rich Hill according to the most widely used sabermetric in the modern baseball!

Let's be serious. Even before this year, he was a great groundball pitcher (career 51.3%), and he has finally evolved from a decent starter to an ace with the league's most devastating heater. He is the full package and the superstar in the making, and he certainly deserves a better fate. Go pick him up if you play in one of those 67% of the league where he is still available to grab. We have to fix his ownership and show the world that some of us still care about baseball.

Steamer Rest of the Season Projection