Mariners: Is James Paxton a top-10 starting pitcher in 2018?

SEATTLE, WA - AUGUST 10: Starter James Paxton
SEATTLE, WA - AUGUST 10: Starter James Paxton /

Mariners starting pitcher James Paxton missed some time this season, like the rest of Seattle’s rotation. If he pitches a full 2018 season, he can be a top-10 pitcher.

The Seattle Mariners did not have the best time with their starting pitchers this year. I wrote about Felix Hernandez and his rapid decline earlier. With most of their rotation on the DL, it’s hard to find someone who stood out. However, with 24 starts, James Paxton showed us a lot.

In his fifth season, Paxton posted a 2.98 ERA, 2.61 FIP and 1.103 WHIP. The FIP shows us that he doesn’t allow many home runs or free passes in his starts. He gave up just nine home runs and 37 walks in 136 innings this year.

Paxton also increased his strikeout rate by almost two strikeouts from 8.7 to 10.3 K/9. His walk rate did also go up, 1.8 to 2.4 BB/9, but it wasn’t a drastic increase.

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He did seem a little erratic on the mound, throwing 15 wild pitches (second-most in the league). Though, with the high strikeouts and lack of runs scored from opposing baserunners, the 15 WPs luckily didn’t come back to bite him.

Paxton’s 2017 season was put on pause in May when he landed on the DL with a forearm strain. He didn’t return until May 31. He was pitching great until finding himself on the injured list again on Aug. 11 and missed 35 days. Paxton made his final four starts.

My colleague Brad Kelly questioned if Paxton’s breakout season would be coming in 2017. If it weren’t for two separate and lengthy trips to the DL, I think he would have been correct. Making only 24 starts prevented him from moving any higher than 18th on the Player Rater.

I’ve said it before, but you cannot predict injuries. Who knew that Paxton would miss two months this season? Everything was going well in his first six starts, 3-0 with a 1.43 ERA and 0.85 WHIP, but the injury bug struck.

Paxton made 30 combined starts in his first three seasons, averaging a 3.16 ERA, 1.255 WHIP and 3.70 FIP in those games. Not a bad line, but it wasn’t until 2016 that he got a better scope of what Paxton can do.

I think the best is yet to come for Paxton in 2018.

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Paxton is ranked within the top-20 starting pitcher across the board. With the usual suspects taking up the top five or six spots, Paxton will have to pitch better than amazing to move into the top 10.

However, with the strikeout rate improving and vulnerable offenses in the American League West, Paxton has a great opportunity to join that elite group by season’s end.