James Paxton was traded to New York from the Seattle Mariners in November 2018 in exchange for Justus Sheffield and two other prospects. While “Big Maple” was brought to the Big Apple to be the ace of the staff, his career in pinstripes did not start the way he envisioned. The lefty had troubles in the first inning in many of his starts, resulting in a 9.00 ERA when pitching in the first. Those struggles led to an uneven stretch of play and left Paxton with middling numbers mid-year.
However, he was able to turn it around in the second half of the season, accumulating a 10-2 record and a 3.63 ERA, compared to 5-4 with an ERA over four in the beginning half of the season.
2019 Statistics: 150.2 innings, 3.82 ERA, 186 strikeouts, 1.28 WHIP, 11.11 K/9, 3.29 BB/9, 3.86 FIP, 3.5 fWAR
2020 Contract Status: Signed through 2020.
Injuries were a bit of a concern for Paxton when the Yankees brought him over. Despite a few stints on the IL, he started 29 games in 2019, which was the most he has ever pitched in his career since making his major league debut in 2013.
As previously mentioned, Paxton had a serious problem escaping the first inning unscathed. In fact, he surrendered 12 homers in the first inning, most in the league. That "accomplishment" was one of the lowest points he hit during the season, but luckily for New York, he was able to flip the season on its head and turn into the ace they thought they had acquired in the offseason.
Paxton started Game One of the ALDS against the Minnesota Twins, which goes to show the degree of trust the Yankees had in him down the stretch. He threw pretty well, but did give up a bomb in the first inning. Nonetheless, he came just one out away from recording a quality start in his first career postseason game. He ended up starting three games in October, but his most notable one was Game Five of the ALCS. With the Yankees on the brink of elimination, Paxton hurled one of his best starts in pinstripes and out-dueled Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander. Pax dominated the Astros for six innings, allowing just one run and struck out nine batters.
While Paxton was struggling in the first half, former Yankees’ pitching coach Larry Rothschild instructed him to rely more on his knuckle-curve to get outs. That method proved successful, as Paxton won ten consecutive decisions after making the adjustment. With Matt Blake as the new pitching coach, it will be interesting to see what the two come up with going forward.
It wasn't a perfect year, but Paxton was good, and left the Yankees with plenty of reason to believe he could be an elite starter next season. An ace-level campaign in 2020 would be hugely beneficial to all involved, with Paxton set to hit the open market.