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Why James Paxton is lined up for success in his Yankees debut

The left-hander wants to get ahead in the count, and the Orioles boast plenty of free-swinging bats.

MLB: Spring Training-Toronto Blue Jays at New York Yankees Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

James Paxton was the gem of the offseason for the Yankees, acquired from Seattle just weeks into the winter break. Now he faces his first opportunity to perform in the pinstripes, taking the mound in the second game of Opening Weekend on Saturday against the Baltimore Orioles. As an ace-caliber pitcher, the pressure will be on to get out of the gate rolling, but Paxton has a strategy in mind that will be of great aid in starting the season in the win column.

In a recent piece in the New York Times, Paxton went into a small stat that he started following last year called A3P, or “after three pitches”, to track how often he got ahead in the count or got a batter out after throwing just three pitches. Aggressiveness with regard to attacking the zone is something that both Paxton and the Yankees stress, and it’s part of the reason that Paxton has developed into the high-level pitcher he is today.

This concept is great and simple in general, but it should specifically excel in practice on Saturday when Paxton makes his Bronx debut. The Orioles lineup features a ton of youth as they plunge deep into a rebuild, and they were already one of the top Swing% teams last season while finishing in the bottom three for contact rate. Put those two together, and that’s a recipe for buckets of swings and misses. Baltimore versus New York is already the epitome of a mismatch at the team level, but Paxton against the Orioles hitters in particular should be a massive one.

Just look at the names in the lineup that Masahiro Tanaka diced up yesterday on Opening Day. The animated corpse of Chris Davis, who ran a swinging strike rate above 14% last year. Jonathan Villar, who posted a 13.4% swinging strike rate, Trey Mancini and his 13.3% career rate, or youngsters like Renato Nunez and Rio Ruiz who both project to strike out in over a quarter of their plate appearances. Paxton will have every opportunity to get ahead of Baltimore’s hitters, and force them into positions where they’ll have to fight not to be put away.

Furthermore, Paxton could get the chance to feast on this matchup twice in a row. Depending on how the Yankees line up their starters, Paxton could go in the first road game of the season in Baltimore, providing a nice bird-shaped welcome mat for Paxton to trod on as he begins his Yankees career. Even if he winds up pitching the home series against Detroit instead, the Tigers were the top swinging team in all of baseball last year, with below average contact to show for it. Either option bodes well for Paxton to carve up the lineup, and avoid falling behind in the count, as per his preferred strategy.

There are obviously many other factors that play into what makes Paxton a dominant pitcher, but this willingness to go after hitters early and often is what can set him up for consistent success, especially in these early outings. It’s part of what the Yankees pitching philosophy encompasses, and acquiring a pitcher that already agrees with this line of thinking should help to bring out his peak performance. It’s also a strong strategy to deploy in an American League that is largely devoid of new contenders outside of last year’s playoff bunch. Hopefully, it will help Paxton get off on the right foot, and help the Yankees post a better line against the lowly Orioles than they did last year.