James Paxton: Buy or Sell?
James Paxton made noise in Anaheim last week with his 2014 debut. The lefty struck out nine Angels, while allowing only two hits and two walks in seven scoreless innings. Taijuan Walker and Hisashi Iwakuma are sidelined for another few weeks, so the Mariners are counting on Paxton to build off of a successful September. With only six starts to his name, the question is whether fantasy owners should do the same. Paxton’s prospect status is polarizing. Scouts see the occasional upper-90s fastball and plus curve, and envision Paxton developing into an ace. Detractors point out the inconsistent mechanics and questionable command, and peg him for the bullpen. However, Paxton has looked the part of the former with a 2.81 xFIP, generating 0.6 WAR in his young career.
His big-league starts offer a small sample, but Paxton’s ability to control his fastball has been a difference maker. He’s lowered his walk rate each of the last four seasons and will settle around 2.50 BB/9 in MLB so far. Paxton might not ever have good command, but he works down in the zone and is showing the ability to work the corners effectively. He has length to his windup, which still can get “hitchy” and lead to release point inconsistency.
The high angle of Paxton’s glove-hand extension means he has to tuck the arm quickly, or else it affects his follow through. The below video is from his Tuesday start. Mike Zunino set up inside and called for a fastball at the knees. Paxton missed badly, leaving the pitch belt-high out over the plate and Albert Pujols made him pay. When Paxton misses, he leaves fastballs up. Though he’ll still battle his mechanics at times, Paxton’s improved control is essential to his success.
James Paxton has also shown improved consistency with his fastball velocity in the majors. Last year in the PCL his fastball ranged from 87 to 97, but he’s averaging 95.1 mph on the season. He’s holding his velocity well, hitting 96 in the 7th inning of his first start. At 6’4, his high arm slot naturally generates good downhill plane. Even if Paxton pitched just off his fastball and curve, he’d generate enough strikeouts and ground balls to make him a legitimate fantasy arm — especially given his home park advantage.
The Mariners worked with Paxton to add a cutter last year. In fact, he wasn’t the only Seattle farmhand to do so. In his two starts this season, Paxton is using his cutter around 16% of the time. He still throws his change-up against right-handed batters, but the cut fastball has been a revelation. Of the 25 cutters that Paxton has thrown this year, only six have been put in play. Though pitchers have shown the ability to succeed with two pitches, the cutter means hitters can’t sit on his fastball (because they definitely don’t want a part of his curveball).
Can James Paxton keep it up?
Paxton is worth the flier at the very least. The fantasy world took notice of his first start- his ownership jumped to over 50% in ESPN, Yahoo! and CBS. For some, the cost of investment is simply a roster spot. However, Paxton left Tuesday’s game with a mild lat strain, resulting in a DL stint. Watch the waiver wire and be ready to pounce on another owner’s impatience. He has value in redraft leagues thanks to his strikeouts alone. If the command and cutter continue to develop, James Paxton is a top-50 SP and a very worthy target in keeper and dynasty leagues.
10 Apr 2014 / Ben Flajole / 1
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