Paxton Trade Helps Yankees, But More Needed In Rotation

Rainman M.

Thursday, November 22, 2018 2:33 PM UTC

Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018 2:33 PM UTC

Arguably New York’s biggest weakness last season was its starting pitching. To help rectify the situation, the Yankees traded for Seattle’s top pitcher, James Paxton. And they’re only getting started.

The New York Yankees traded three prospects to Seattle for the 30-year-old James Paxton. One of those prospects, Justus Sheffield, was New York’s best. Sheffield is reputed for his high-quality stuff, but the Yanks were worried about his command. He had a high walk rate even in the minors. Nevertheless, the Yanks gave him a chance in September and, in his last professional outing on September 30, he walked two batters and gave up three runs to Boston in an inning. Some scouts disagree as to whether his future lies in the rotation or in the bullpen.

Paxton, unlike Sheffield, is a proven starting pitcher. Last year, the southpaw enjoyed a career-high rate of 11.68 strikeouts per nine innings, ranking eighth among starting pitchers in the category. He produced a 3.76 ERA. But his FIP (like ERA, but factors out luck) was 3.24, .11 higher than his career average.

It’s important to New York that Paxton is able to do well against rival Boston. In 74 career at-bats against Boston batters, they are hitting .284, but slugging only .365 against him. Xander Bogaerts hit the only home run against him. J.D. Martinez is 4-for-8 with a double against him, but reigning MVP Mookie Betts is merely 3-for-12 with a double.

Paxton is 2-0 in four career starts against Boston with a 2.49 ERA. Even this number is inflated, though, because six of the seven runs that he allowed in his career against Boston came in one start. Seattle’s defense hurt him in that outing by committing two errors and otherwise failing to help him. Besides that anomalous start, the lefty is 2-0 with a 0.39 career ERA against Boston. For much of the season, Boston struggled against left-handed pitchers and were yielding negative units against them. Even at the end of the season, they still yielded 26.3 more units against right-handed starters than left-handed ones.

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Probably the biggest concern with Paxton is his health. Last season, he missed half of August and July and the number of innings that he pitched, 160.1, was actually a career high. Also, while he did improve his walk rate, he allowed a career-high rate of home runs. He elevated his high-velocity fastball more often and made more mistakes with its location, leaving it too often over the middle parts of the plate. Besides improving his location, he hopes to become more effective by developing a change-up, which will hopefully deter batters from launching his high-heat fastball out of the park.

The Yanks still need to address their starting pitching. Their starters ranked 14th in ERA, which was six spots below Boston and 13 below top-ranked Houston. The biggest difference between Boston and New York was that the former had ace Chris Sale, who produced a 2.11 ERA last season. Houston boasted two starters with a sub-three ERA and a third with a sub-3.20 ERA. The Yanks’ best starter was J.A. Happ, currently a free agent. Second-best was Luis Severino, whose ERA was 3.39 thanks to a largely disastrous second half. C.C. Sabathia, who is nearing the end of his career, and Masahiro Tanaka, were decent. The biggest problem was trying to replace Jordan Montgomery, who will be out until the second half of next season after receiving Tommy John surgery.

Right now, the Yanks are +800 to win the World Series, which puts them tied at third-most favored behind Boston and Houston and tied with the Dodgers. They are +400 to win the AL behind Boston and Houston. New York’s GM Brian Cashman has announced his intention to pursue another high-caliber starting pitcher. Arizona’s Patrick Corbin is rumored to be of interest.

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