Throughout the offseason, fans have questioned the state of the Yankees’ starting rotation. A lackluster showing in the ALDS left a bad taste in everyone’s mouths. That’s understandable, but it does a disservice to the talent in the starting staff. The group has a high floor with potential to be one of the best rotation’s in team history.
James Paxton agrees. The southpaw is at the Yankees’ spring training complex in Tampa, Florida, having arrived ahead of Wednesday’s report date. In fact, he’s already throwing bullpens and talking to members of the media. Consider what he had to say to the New York Post’s Greg Joyce about his teammates in the rotation:
“I think we’re going to be really good,” he said. “I played catch with Severino my first day out and, man, the ball jumps out of his hands, something special. He’s a different animal. The other guys, J.A. Happ, I talked with him the other day. I played with him in Seattle. He’s going to be awesome. Tanaka’s always nasty.
“And then you got CC, who’s just a salty vet who knows exactly what he’s doing out there. I’m really looking forward to learning from him. I’ve watched him throughout my career, just trying to learn from what he does. So I’m excited to get to meet him in person.”
Luis Severino drew the ire of fans after a dreadful slide in the second half, but he pitched like the American League’s top starter through the beginning of July. The right-hander also placed third in the Cy Young balloting in 2017, working to a 2.98 ERA (3.07 FIP). Masahiro Tanaka and J.A. Happ will stabilize the middle of the rotation, and both stand to benefit from a potential decline in baseball’s home run rate. Sabathia, meanwhile, remains one of the game’s best pitchers at inducing soft contact. It’s hard to find a better fifth starter.
As for Paxton, he had a breakout campaign last year. He also has a drive to not just succeed, but to dominate. Think about what he had to say to Lindsey Adler of The Athletic (subscription required):
“It was nice to see some of that success,” he says of his 2018 season. “I know how hard I’ve worked to get to a point to have games like that. But until I throw an 81-pitch game with 27 strikeouts, I will always want more.”
The Yankees acquired the southpaw from the Seattle Mariners on November 19th. He registered a 3.76 ERA (3.24 FIP) over 160.1 innings last year. Paxton’s a strikeout artist, working to a 11.68 K/9 rate. He allowed his share of home runs (1.29 HR/9), but that mark seemed like an outlier compared to his career norms. When paired with Severino, Paxton could help form one of the most formidable one-two punches of any rotation in baseball.
Two things stand out as clear from Paxton’s remarks. First, the Yankees’ pitching staff is underrated. It’s hard to deny the level of talent as he rattles off names. Second, I suspect fans will come to love Paxton. He has fan favorite written all over him, from his power pitching to candid remarks. Keep an eye on him — it should be fun.