Photo: Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire
James Alston Paxton
Height: 6'4" Weight: 220
Bats/Throws: Left / Left
Born: 11/06/1988 in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada
College: University of Kentucky
Nickname: Big Maple
Acquired: Drafted 2010 (4th round)
MLB Debut: 09/07/2013
Free Agent after: 2020 season
Twitter handle: @James_Paxton
It's been a bit of an up-and-down year for our favorite Canadian southpaw. Big Maple was underwhelming in April, going 1-1 with a 5.12 ERA in six starts, then was awesome in May—3-0, 1.67, 51 strikeouts, and, oh yes, a no-hitter in six starts—and then back to just OK in June, when he was 3-1 but with a 4.97 ERA in five games. July was, once again, better at 2-2, 2.78 (four starts), and here we are in August and in his two starts this month he's struggled (1-1, 4.97). Will the real James Paxton please stand up?
We know who the real Pax is, and it's the guy from May. When he's right, he's an ace that can go toe-to-toe with the best of the best. He was snubbed for the All-Star team, thanks in part to roster rules, but he'll get that recognition someday. For now, he'll make do being the pride of the Maple Grove, and with luck he'll get his every-other-month boost early and kick off a great finish to the season with August start number three in Oakland. He's too talented to slump for very long, and he's kept himself healthy over the whole season (minus a brief DL stint that coincided with the All-Star break for inflammation in his lower back) for the first time.
Paxton does have areas of concern, though. Left-handers, for instance, do not seem very intimidated by his stuff; lefties this year are batting .326 off of Pax, while righties manage just .199. Will opposing managers be stacking their lineups with lefties against him from here on out? He's also had a bit of a hiccup in the third inning of his games—he's given up 16 earned runs in third innings this season, with batters putting up a line of .295/.364/.398. It's a curious anomaly, maybe due to batters seeing him for the second time in the game(?), but from that point forward Paxton's back to his usual outstanding self (.214/.257/.365 innings 4-9).
Well on his way to meeting his preseason goal of 200 innings pitched and currently fifth in the league in strikeouts, Big Maple can be key to a successful stretch run for the M's. That said, he knows there's a ways to go and to keep his focus on the here and now. "We all know that our goal is to make the postseason," Paxton told 710 ESPN radio, "but we can’t play every game thinking about the postseason. We have to take it one game at a time, one inning at a time, one pitch at a time, and do the things that are necessary within the games to win."