Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
James Paxton, the pitcher who was supposed to send October chill down the spines of the Yankees' potential postseason opponents, has been maddeningly inconsistent. He hasn't gotten an out in the seventh inning for months.
And it seems as if there's some sort of first-inning whammy on him: He's given up 19 first-inning runs in 17 starts, good (well, bad) for a 10.06 ERA. Opponents have a 1.084 OPS against him in the opening frame.
Paxton's other disappointing stats look like this: 5-5 record, 4.20 ERA, just 85.2 innings pitched.
Don't give up on him yet, though. There are reasons to be optimistic, both opinion-based and number-based. Some red flags, too.
Whatever he provides during the rest of the season and in October, he's not the reason the Yankees keep scouring the trade market for potential rotation help. With Luis Severino still mending, CC Sabathia and J.A. Happ encountering struggles of their own and Masahiro Tanaka the most trustworthy October arm, the Yankees were always going to look for elite pitching during the trading season, even if Paxton had been reeling off shutdown starts every five days.
Even with the blossoming of Domingo German, their rotation ERA is 4.26, 13th in MLB. Some believe the Yankees' best bet, if they can't land an ace in a trade, is to bolster the bullpen again, which might help them survive the postseason crucible if Paxton and other starters can't go deep into games.
A major-league scout who saw Paxton pitch earlier this season shrugged off his inconsistencies. He noted that the left knee injury Paxton suffered May 3, the one that kept him out until May 29, might still be reverberating through his season, even if Paxton is not bothered by it. If that's true, there's certainly reason to be hopeful about Big Maple as he moves further from the injury.
"He looked good when I saw him earlier in the season, but not quite what I saw in Seattle (last year)," the scout said. "If he was throwing well before he got hurt, sometimes the time off, coming back, it's hard to get it all back immediately.
"There are a lot of things that could happen. For some guys, once things go a little bad, it's hard to get it back. But as long as his arm is healthy, I'm sure it (his ability) is always there."
There are some indicators that say Paxton may have been a little unlucky - his batting average on balls in play, according to FanGraphs, is .361; the league average is .296.
Recently, Paxton followed three straight solid, six-inning outings, including two against the playoff-thirsty Rays, with a clunker against Colorado over the weekend. He dominated the Red Sox in April, the first of back-to-back 12-strikeout games that gave the Yankees carte blanche to dream on Paxton.
He's even pitched better at Yankee Stadium than on the road. His home ERA is 3.75, more than a run better than his road mark, and he's holding batters to a .238 average in the Bronx. On the road, his opponent's average against is .314.
But his ERA since his injury is 5.06 in 10 starts. His walk rate is 3.7 per nine innings; in each of the previous two seasons, it was 2.4. Aaron Boone noted Sunday that Paxton had "gotten into counts he didn't want to be in" as the fourth inning went on. No surprise that Paxton didn't make it out of that frame.
So maybe Paxton lines up as a Yankee Stadium lefty for the playoffs, offering five-and-fly outings in the Bronx and letting the offense and bullpen finish off opponents. Style points don't show up on World Series trophies, after all.
But maybe, just maybe, Paxton gets further from the injury and consistently delivers the stuff we've only seen in flashes this season.
For now, the Yankees keep looking for pitching help. For lots of reasons, not just Paxton's uneven season.