James Paxton: How Good Can He Be?

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What The Scouts Say

Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

In moving on to scouting reports, you will get varying idea of Paxton’s ability. All of them love his stuff, that is a given. But where the differences arise are in the writer’s confidence of his ability to use that stuff effectively, and continue improving upon his command.

Scoutingbook.com said “His mid-nineties stuff and sick breaking ball hasn’t yet translated to many overpowering performances…,” which echoes the idea that he may not always use his nasty stuff effectively.

John Sickels wondered back in September whether Paxton would be “the guy who looks like a mid-rotation starter, or the guy who will be lucky to have a career in middle relief.” That certainly doesn’t sound very reassuring considering it suggests that Paxton’s relative upside is that of a mid-rotation starter, while also having an equal chance of becoming an average reliever.

What really inspired this post was comments from fellow fans around the internet suggesting Paxton had upside comparable to that of Clayton Kershaw. The comparison makes a level of sense in that both of hard throwing lefties with a good curveball and a similar, over-the-top release. But there are just as many differences that hold Paxton back from that projection, at least in my opinion.

The most obvious difference being age. While Kershaw also struggled with walks early in his career (4.35 and 4.79 BB/9 in his first two seasons), his walk rate dropped to 2.08 in 2011, at age 23. That means his struggles came at ages 20 and 21. Paxton was 21 when he was first drafted and unsigned by the Jays. On top of that Kershaw had a minor league walk rate of 3.7, while Paxton was a 4.0.

It should also be mentioned that, while Paxton throws harder, his overall stuff doesn’t match that of Kershaw. Pitch F/X gave Kershaw’s curveball an 11.6 wCU (curveball runs above average) last season. Paxton’s curve isn’t likely to match that, and even if it does, he doesn’t have another pitch of that value, while Kershaw also has a slider that has had a wSL of 22.6 in the past.

All of Kershaw’s pitches are average or better, and I don’t think Paxton will ever reach that threshold. His changeup has never gotten rave reviews, and he hasn’t thrown his cutter for a long enough period to make definitive claims about it’s value.

None of this proves that Paxton doesn’t have Kershaw-upside. Upside in itself is a very subjective idea, and Paxton may have improved exponentially as of late, with reports that he watched a lot of Kershaw video to make changes to his release point. I just think, with all of the information we have, it is a big stretch to say that Paxton could become the best pitcher in the league.