by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
No one is going to question the potential of James Paxton, who has the upside of one of the elite starters in the league. The biggest question has always been his health, with 28 starts and 160.1 IP in 2018 marking career highs. If he can overcome that, just how good can he be pitching with the Yankees’ offense behind him?
He’s already emerged as one of the elite strikeout artists in the league, pairing it with equally impressive control. Just look at the numbers over the past three seasons:
It was 2016 that he started incorporating a “cutter” into his repertoire, a pitch he threw 14.36% of the time in 2018 and yielded a 23.06% SwStr%. That’s clearly a wipeout pitch, and a nasty one at that.
So far it all sounds good, and if opponents aren’t going to make consistent contact some of the other metrics aren’t going to matter too much. That said, we also can’t completely ignore his 39.6% groundball rate and 14.4% HR/FB. While those are extreme numbers compared to the course of his career (and he did improve in the second half), the groundball rate has been trending in the wrong direction:
- 2016 – 48.1%
- 2017 – 44.9%
- 2018 – 39.6%
Moving to Yankee Stadium and the AL East would it be a surprise if home runs became a bigger issue? Just further adding to that idea is the discrepancy between his success at home (2.98 ERA) vs. on the road (3.87 ERA) over the course of his career. The latter isn’t a “bad” number, though it was worse in 2018 (4.24 ERA) as he owned a 1.33 HR/9. With that type of rate being placed in Yankee Stadium, there is some risk that shouldn’t be ignored.
Does that mean he’s not going to be an elite starter when he’s on the mound? Absolutely not and at 30-years old the upside is there, but we also can’t say that he’s a lock to be among the elite. When coupled with the likelihood that he once again misses time there’s at least a small reason to suppress his ranking (think of him more as a SP2 type). That said, we certainly wouldn’t shy away from him either. Just make sure you have the depth to cover for any missed time.
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball
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