James Paxton: How Good Can He Be?

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The Road Less Traveled

Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Paxton has had an interesting path to the majors, having been drafted by the Blue Jays in the first round, not signing, being ineligible to return to college, playing independent ball with the American Association, and then getting drafted again, this time by the Mariners in the fourth round.

All that work has paid off so far though, as Paxton has been extremely impressive in his first five major league starts following an up and down yet overall successful minor league career. In those five appearances, Paxton has compiled 31 innings, and posted a 1.16 ERA, 2.85 FIP, while racking up 30 strikeouts to just 9 walks.

That sample, while impressive and reassuring, is obviously too small in every regard to be able to draw conclusions from it. But we can combine the major league numbers with his minor league marks and scouting reports to get an accurate picture of the kind of pitcher Paxton is now, and could be in the future.

In his two longest minor league stints, Double-A in 2012 and Triple-A in 2013, Paxton put up a 3.05 ERA/3.29 FIP and 4.45 ERA/3.55 FIP respectively. Those show some different results on their face, but it isn’t all that bad when  you really break it down.

While Paxton gave up more runs and struck out fewer batters with Tacoma (8.90 K/9 in AAA vs. 9.31 in AA), he did so while walking one fewer batter per game, which is a pretty big deal considering Paxton’s achilles heel has always been his control.

When looking at minor league numbers, you can’t always just look at the overall success. Guys are figuring things out and tinkering with their approach to try to combat whatever problems they are having. So Paxton improving on his walks is a positive, even if it came with fewer strikeouts and more runs allowed. We simply have to wait to see if he is able to put all of that together at the major league level.