by Ray Kuhn
Let’s continue our look at players who will benefit from a delayed start to the 2020 season, which brings us to James Paxton. The difference with Paxton (as opposed to Aaron Hicks yesterday), aside from the fact that he is a Top 100 player, is the fact that he began draft season healthy.
There was a time when I thought it would be a good idea to start a pitching staff with Chris Sale and James Paxton. We know what will happen to Sale when life returns to normal for the 2020 season, and enough time has passed where Paxton has gone from a good pick to a potential bust, and now back to a good pick once again.
At this point Paxton has already resumed throwing in recovery from his lower back surgery, and all indications are that things are going well. By the time we get to whatever modified version of Spring Training we have prior to the start of the regular season he likely won’t be in much different of spot than the rest of New York’s starting pitchers.
So then, can we just go back to viewing Paxton as SP2, or perhaps a higher end SP3?
The short answer is yes. Overall, in his first season with the Yankees (not exactly an easy adjustment for all), Paxton finished the year 15-6
with a 3.82 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 186 K in 150.2 innings Things improved in the second half for the left-hander with a 3.63 ERA and 91 K in 74.1 innings while holding opponents to just a .215 batting average.
We have been waiting for Paxton to take the next step, and the first issue here is his health. For now let’s hope that he got his injury out of the way early, and the reduced schedule perhaps will help to keep him healthy. That is part of the reason why he has to be looked at as more of an SP2/SP3.
From a negative perspective, another concern with Paxton is his WHIP. After posting a 1.10 WHIP mark in each of the two prior seasons it jumped to 1.28 in 2019 as his walk total jumped from 42 to 55. The walks will continue to be a concern, but it does work in his favor that they are balanced out with 11 strikeouts per nine innings.
While it seems like we are piling on Paxton, the other factor that limits his upside and potential value is the propensity for fly balls and lack of ground balls. Despite having a 34.6% fly ball rate for his career, over the past two season’s it was 41.1% and 42.6%, respectively. That has led to a 14% home run to fly ball rate, and it is the cause of the majority of his issues.
At this point I’m not sure we will see a repeat of 2017 and his 2.98 ERA, but the velocity and skills are still there and they don’t appear to be going anywhere. We just need to accept the risk that comes with his health, along with the fly balls and walks, while enjoying the strikeouts and high probability for wins thanks to pitching for the Yankees. There is the potential for more but keep the expectations measured.
Make sure to check out all of our 2020 Fantasy Baseball preseason rankings: