Tuesday, November 20, 2018

James Paxton - A Sweet Yankees Move

Acquiring pitchers is such a risky move. Elbows, shoulders and just about anything else can derail a pitcher and leave a team in the lurch if they had high hopes for him. That is why signing free agent pitchers is such a perilous business. In James Paxton, the New York Yankees obtained one of the most talented pitchers in baseball while mitigating their risk.

Yes, the trade did cost the Yankees three MiLB players. One of them, Justus Sheffield, might be a special talent in his own right. But Sheffield has yet to prove anything and Paxton is a known quantity in his ability to get MLB batters out.

The best part of the deal is that it does not commit the Yankees to a long-term deal and mega-millions to obtain a top notch pitcher. Paxton is under team control for two more years and signing him via arbitration rates will be much cheaper than getting a similarly talented pitcher with long-term baggage of salary. Oh, the Yankees might still get one of those. But at least one deal was incredibly reasonable.

Will Justus Sheffield turn out to be a great pitcher for years to come? Possibly. The question is his command. The Yankees have been down that road before with Dellin Betances (as a starter) and others--great talent, but not always great execution. The right pitching coach could turn him into a stud. These are all "mights" and "coulds." Paxton has the track record.

The one gray specter with Paxton is the ability to stay on the field. He made significant strides on that side of things in 2018. But he managed only 160+ innings and that is the most he has pitched since he started his career. To the Yankees, and, it makes sense, the risk is worth taking.

What do the numbers tells us about James Paxton?

The Good:

  • He has absolutely owned the Astros but did not fare well in his one start against the Red Sox and struggled against Cleveland.
  • He has won 60% of his games against teams with a record of .500 or better. His home run rate jumps high in this category.
  • He is the rare pitcher who actually dominates the third time through a batting order. For anyone who witnessed with alarm the four or five inning starts for Yankees starters down the stretch, Paxton will help there. He is strong with high pitch counts too.
  • He is actually better against right-handed batters as a lefty hurler than against lefties.
  • Sure, "wins" is not a favored stat these days, but two things about them with Paxton: If you give him three or more runs in a game, he is 36-10 for his career. The Yankee offense should do that easily. And cluck if you'd like, but he has won 60% of his games in his career, a mark that always separated pitchers in this corner of the world.
  • He has always been good with runners in scoring position and in clutch situations.

The Troublesome:

  • The injuries
  • After a great start last year, he was just middling in the second half.
  • He led the league in wild pitches two years ago and had a high count in 2018. Pair that up with Gary Sanchez behind the plate and it seems scary.
  • He had his lowest WHIP of his career in 2018, but that was evened out by a big jump in his homers allowed. His rate in 2018 doubled what it was in 2016 and 2017.
  • He is much better with five days of rest than he is with four days.
  • While the home run rate might be a fluke due to a spike in homer to fly ball ratio, his ground ball rate has dipped six to eight points of the last two seasons.
  • He has never pitched in Fenway Park.
  • The last time the Yankees got a pitcher from Seattle, it did not work out so well. Heh.

All in all, Yankee fans have to be excited by this trade. Some may rue losing Sheffield, but if Paxton can build on 2018 and stay healthy, Sheffield should become a forgotten memory.

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