Back on April 16, James Paxton dominated the Red Sox for eight shutout innings. The game was at the height of the Replacement Yankees era when the team needed pitching to keep them in games, so their makeshift lineup wouldn’t have to do the heavy lifting. Paxton was brilliant, allowing two hits and a walk with 12 strikeouts over 110 pitches.
The following day, I wrote, “That’s the James Paxton the Yankees Traded For” in response to his first big start as a Yankee. I raved about him accepting and welcoming the pressure that comes with playing for the Yankees and his “We want to beat Boston every time” line to the media. I finished by writing the following:
I certainly don’t have to worry about Paxton’s mindset, and after Tuesday’s start, I don’t have to worry about his performance, knowing he has that level of dominance of him.
Well, not even two months later, I’m worried about his performance.
Paxton still has that level of dominance of him, but we have only seen it twice this season: the April 16 game against the Red Sox and his following start on April 21 against the Royals. Paxton pitched 14 scoreless innings over those two starts with 24 strikeouts as those were the only two starts of the season in which he went at least six innings. His other eight starts?
His other eight starts have been a disaster. OK, seven of his other eight starts have been a disaster since there was his return from the injured list on May 29 against the Padres when he threw only 66 pitches over four shutout innings and was treated more like an opener in that game. Outside of his April 16 and 21 starts, Paxton hasn’t gone six innings in any other start. Actually, forget six innings, Paxton has failed to go five innings in five of his 10 starts as a Yankee.
Last year at the trade deadline, I called James Paxton “blah” and in the same category as Chris Archer and Michael Fulmer, pitchers who I didn’t think were worth trading for since they wouldn’t really make the Yankees that much better and certainly worth giving up high-end prospects for. It was hard to find anyone who shared my perspective. His raw stuff wasn’t the reason I referred to him as “blah”, it was his combination of injuries and inconsistency. When Paxton was on, he was among the best pitchers in the world, but he was rarely on in consecutive starts or for any reasonable stretch of time. We have seen that now with the Yankees as well.
My biggest problem with the Yankees acquiring Paxton was the fact he has never pitched more than 160 1/3 innings in a single season and is good for at least one injured list trip per season. I wasn’t necessarily worried about his overall performance since I knew he would dominate at times and also lay some eggs at times. I was worried about his health, and rightfully so, as he landed on the injured in the middle of his seventh Yankees start, and now says his knee injury is something he will have to pitch through and deal with. After his starts against the Red Sox and Royals, I thought I wouldn’t have to worry about his performance, but he’s been hit around by teams like the Orioles, Giants, Blue Jays and Mets and has provided no length, so now I’m more than worried.
After the Yankees won the first game of the Subway Series doubleheader on Tuesday, I figured they would sweep the day. Paxton against the soft-throwing, left-handed Jason Vargas? That’s about as good of a matchup as you can ask for if you’re the Yankees. But Paxton gave up a double, single and three-run home run to open the game and was eventually pulled in the third inning. He put nine baserunners on in 2 2/3 innings and allowed six of them to score. His line: 2.2 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 1 HR. It was his shortest effort of the season and the most earned runs he’s allowed in a game as a Yankee. As he left the game, Michael Kay said, “Not Paxton’s night.” But when is it going to be his night again outside of those two April starts?
The Yankees need Paxton to either be great or give them length. If he’s going to be a five-inning pitcher, something the Yankees have too many of, then he needs to be great for those five innings. If he’s not going to do that then he needs to give them length. The combination of underperforming and going less than five innings isn’t going to work. It’s not just Paxton either, it’s who the Yankees’ rotation has been through 41 percent of the season. The Yankees have now played 66 games and their starters have pitched six innings in 25 of them and have provided 21 quality starts. Paxton has been a problem, though he’s just part of the problem. But given his stuff and ability, he shouldn’t be part of the problem.
The Yankees chose to pass on Dallas Keuchel, who would have offered them durability and length at just the cost of money. Instead, they will have to address their starting pitching performance and depth issues through a trade, considering they are out of in-house rotation candidates, which will likely cost them both money and prospects. And with the way the trade market has historically played out, the Yankees are about six weeks away from upgrading their rotation.
Even if the Yankees do upgrade their rotation, Paxton is still going to be a part of it and he’s still going to be counted on. We’re nearly halfway through the season, and overall, Paxton has been the guy I feared the Yankees trading for aside from a pair of starts against the Red Sox, who are .500, and the Royals, who have the worst record in the majors.
He needs to better. He has to better. He hasn’t been the James Paxton the Yankees thought they traded for.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is available!