Some Yankees players take a shine to New York, and some don’t. Typically, it takes the newcomer, especially pitchers some time to sort things out. Enter The Big Maple…
Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman pulled the rug out from underneath baseball on November 19, 2018, by trading for James Paxton. At the time, most knowledgable Yankees fans said, “Okay, we’ve just landed one of the best left-handed starting pitchers in baseball – Good job, Brian. Now, let’s see what he can do in New York”.
Whether fiction or not, no one knows for sure. But we do have a history to reference.
For every CC Sabathia who signed on with the Yankees and immediately led them to a Championship in 2009, there’s an A.J Burnett, whom the Yankees paid nearly $50 million for 34 wins while losing 35. Only to wind up as a lost soul for the remainder of his career.
More recently and fresher in fans minds is the Sonny Gray debacle. Here is a pitcher who was the most sought after starter at the 2017 trade deadline.
Still, with visions of the postseason dancing in their heads, most fans agreed – it’s a good trade. Let’s get it on. Unfortunately, of course, fans were ready, but Sonny Gray was not.
Two years later, Gray is thriving in the small market of Cincinnati where he is among league leaders in ERA and sports ten wins with a losing team. But those two years in New York were painful for everyone.
So when James Paxton took the hill for the Yankees for the first time on March 30, 2019, everyone took a deep breathe asking themselves – Okay, what do we have here?
Results were mixed, and by the time July 26 came around, Paxton was making his 120th start in the big leagues facing the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.
On that day, Paxton’s record slid to 5-6, and his ERA ballooned to 4.72 as he gave up seven runs in only four innings of work in a 10-5 loss to the Sox.
Fortunately, that start proves to be the nadir of his season. Since then, Paxton is a clean 8-0 over eleven starts while zooming his 2019 record to 13-6. Aaron Boone has noticed the difference in Paxton:
Which brings us to the central point, which is that James Paxton is separating himself from the rest of the Yankees starting rotation.
You can say it’s still a tossup as to who Aaron Boone chooses as his Game 1 starter in the ALDS. But the gap is closing fast in favor of Paxton over Masahiro Tanaka.
Big Maple is on the rise, and it can’t be happening at a better time. Credit goes to Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild for doing his due diligence in encouraging Paxton to throw his curveball more often. This, as a way to keep batters from sitting on Paxton’s upper nineties four-seam fastball.
Likewise, dual credit must go to Paxton as well for accepting the advice and formulating the off-speed pitch into his arsenal.
Imposing on the mound, Paxton at 6’4″ 235 lb, he throws strikes, as evidenced by his 3:1 ratio of strikeouts to walks (175-53). Note: All stats sourced through Baseball Reference.
Al Leiter does it best as he breaks down James Paxton for Baseball Tonight on the MLB Network:
While Paxton followed the up and down arc of new arrivals in New York, his trajectory is decidedly on the upswing.
Showing no signs of “newyorkitis,” Paxton has settled into the Big City and adjusted to the transfer from the small-town market of Seattle.
Nothing can be better news for Aaron Boone and the Yankees as they close out the season in anticipation of not one – but three Game 1’s in the postseason.