James Paxton’s short Yankee career has already been a rollercoaster. From the time Brian Cashman traded top prospect Justus Sheffield for “Pax” up to now, us as Yankee fans have felt so many different emotions for the new left-hander. In the beginning the feelings were split, either this guy is a stud and will help lead us to No. 28 or some of us only heard of him from his no-hitter against the Jays last year. If you thought “Big Maple”, who gets his nickname from his Canadian origins, was going to be that stud you were right. However, it took a little bit of time to solidify your thinking.
To start the year the 6-foot-four lefty owned a 6.00 ERA in just three games, but his next to starts were spectacular. He dominated the defending champion Boston Red Sox in the Bronx going eight scoreless innings and struck out 12 in the process. He followed up his best start in Pinstripes thus far with another scoreless six innings to go along with another 12 punch-outs against the Kansas City Royals.
All was looking well for Paxton, until the Yankee injury bug bit him on the knee during his May 3rd start which landed him on the 10-day injured list. The stint lasted 26 days and Big Maple made his return on May, 29th and things just did not look the same. Over the course of the next two months, we wondered if Paxton was really the guy who could stop an Astros or a Twins lineup in an ALCS game. In June Paxton pitched to a 7.15 ERA and July was only slightly “better” where his ERA during the month sat at 5.68. However, the numbers did not tell the full story. Paxton was pitching decently, just not in the beginning of baseball games. On the year Paxton’s first inning ERA is a staggering 9.35 as opposed to his 1.04 second inning ERA. While I do not know what exactly was going through Paxton’s head, I can imagine that he was well aware of those numbers and sought out improvement. Well let me be the first to tell you, James Paxton did much more than improve a little.
The legend of August James Paxton began on August, 2nd. The Big Maple had another stellar start against the Red Sox in the Bronx, which is becoming a theme. Pax went six strong and struck out seven Sox while only giving up two runs, which both came in the first inning of the ballgame. That start set off a chain reaction of great starts for Paxton. Paxton finished August with a 6-0 record, his best month since July 2017, and a lot of momentum.
It’s now September, the home stretch, and James Paxton just keeps getting better and better. Paxton’s August success has carried into September and is only getting stronger. Although only having two starts thus far this month, Paxton has not given up a run in 14 2/3 innings and is striking batters out. He dazzled again last night against the Red Sox, but this time at Fenway. Big Maple went 6 2/3 innings while striking out seven to eliminate the Sox from AL East contention. He also lowered his ERA on the season to 3.96, his first time being under 4.00 since July 15th. After winning eight straight starts, I believe it is safe to say, the Yankees will be riding Paxton into October.
Combined over the last two months James Paxton is 8-0 with a 2.57 ERA, 58 punch-outs, with a .170 BAA (Batting average against). He is using his slider more, or as YES Network broadcaster and former Yankee David Cone likes to call it, his “cutter-slider.” His fastball velocity is now hanging anywhere from 96-98MPH consistently, and he is going right after hitters. Oh, and in those eight starts, Paxton has only given up a first inning run in three outings. That may not be ideal for a guy who you need to be your headliner going into the playoffs, but at the rate at which his first inning number are improving, you should expect even better first innings to come.
The Yankee starting staff has been under scrutiny all season. It reached its peak on the July 31st deadline after Brian Cashman did not make a move for a starter. Paxton’s greatness began shortly after, and suddenly Cash’s no-move deadline does not seem like the worst thing that could have happened anymore. Now heading into October the Yankees have that game one starter. Sure Paxton is no Verlander or Cole, but he can keep up until the “Death Star” bullpen is unleashed. After watching this James Paxton pitch, it is safe to say Yankee fans are excited to see “Big Game Big Maple.”