The Evolution Of James Paxton

Last Friday, Seattle Mariner James Paxton went out and held a solid Kansas City Royals offense to two runs over six innings while striking out seven. The line wasn’t the best we’ve seen from Paxton of late, but it was his eighth straight quality start.

The 28-year-old southpaw had been talked about as a future ace for years, but injuries had always hindered the progression. He’s now 12-3 with an AL-leading 2.70 ERA. Those numbers certainly place him among the best in the game.

Paxton’s ability to keep the ball in the yard has separated him from some of the game’s best. He’s never allowed too many long balls in a season. Pitching half of his games at Safeco Field certainly helps. This year, the numbers are even more extreme, as he’s allowed just five home runs in 113.1 innings. Combine that with a solid 1.085 WHIP and 4.13 strikeout-to-walk ratio and you have a very solid pitcher.

The peripherals have always been favorable for him. In fact, he posted a 2.80 FIP in 20 starts last year, though his ERA was much higher at 3.79 ERA. This year, the ERA and FIP are much more in line. However, those 20 starts from a year ago are the most he’s thrown in any big league season. He’ll match that total with his next start, and he’ll reach his previous career high in innings pitched at 121 after 6.2 more frames.

There’s certainly a question about how long Paxton can keep up his current pace before fatigue sets in. Of course, the Mariners need Paxton to continue pitching like an ace if they’re going to be able to make a run at a Wild Card spot and snap the game’s longest postseason draught. As long as he’s throwing the ball well, Seattle is a great choice in our MLB Pick ‘Em Contests.

One thing that Seattle—and its players like Paxton—has to contend with that most other teams don’t is a rigorous travel schedule. Due to its location in the Great Northwest, the Mariners have the most miles traveled every season.

All these factors will likely have an impact on Paxton’s numbers down the stretch, but right now it’s hard to ignore what the lefty has been able to accomplish. He’s already posted a 3.7 rWAR according to Baseball Reference.

He is tied for the seventh-most strikeouts in the second half and has already gotten off to arguably the best second half start in baseball. He’s 5-0 with a 1.41 ERA and 0.84 WHIP. He’s allowed just five runs and 25 hits in 32 second-half innings.

The southpaw is the hottest pitcher in the sport right now and just tied a Mariners record with his seventh straight victory, throwing a quality start in all seven appearances. In fact, his quality start streak stretches back eight games with a three-run, seven-inning performance against the Philadelphia Phillies on June 27.

Nevertheless, the last seven games are where Paxton has really turned things on and helped Seattle race back into the Wild Card picture. In those games, he’s thrown 45.1 innings with a 1.59 ERA, striking out 53 while walking seven. He’s also posted a 0.794 WHIP in that time.

While the long-term ability of Paxton to sustain this level of pitching through the end of the year is in question, he should be set for his next time out when he faces the Los Angeles Angels. He held them to a single run on two hits in a six-plus innings start against them on July 2. This year, he’s allowed them to score just four times—with just three of those runs being earned—in 11.2 innings. So expect the strong pitching to continue.

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