The New York Yankees benefited greatly from the start of the season being delayed because it allowed their injured players to get healthy. That time to recoup health has been great for players like Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. The same cannot be said for starting pitcher James Paxton.
Paxton started his second game of the season Sunday night against the Boston Red Sox, but the results again were not great. Combining his two starts produces a 2020 stat line of a 13.50 ERA and 3.250 WHIP in four innings pitched. The four-inning sample size is small enough for one to take with a grain of salt, but it is also alarming that he has only pitched four innings in two starts.
What is most concerning about Paxton right now is that his velocity is down. His average four-seam fastball in 2019 was 95.4 MPH, but after two starts in 2020, it sits at 91.8 MPH.
“I’m concerned,” said Paxton. “(I’m) doing what I can to figure out what’s going on. I don’t know if it’s going to take some time to build it back up, but I’ll get back to looking at the video tomorrow and try to make some more tweaks and figure out what I can do.”
“I feel like he’s healthy, and I feel like he feels good,” said Boone.” “I do think it’s a little bit mechanically related, a little bit unlocking him bio kinetically and getting all those parts in sync that make him special.”
It is not uncommon for players coming off injuries to struggle with their mechanics and to regain their form at first. In 2019, Paxton dealt with a knee injury, and he did not return to his prominent form immediately upon getting healthy. That was evident by his 9.00 ERA in the first inning of starts, which garnered the most attention. It was also apparent by his ERA fluctuating from 3.38 in April, before the injury, to 7.15 in June, after the injury. It eventually dropped down to 1.05 in September.
Paxton needed to make an adjustment coming off his injury in 2019, but it took time to click. That could be the case right now, as well. Paxton is trying to make adjustments and is actively pinpointing potential problems.
“I was trying to make an adjustment out there tonight by staying up a little taller, said Paxton.” “Last start I was bending over too far. I feel like I made that adjustment, but I’ll have to look at the tape and see what it looks like and then continue to search and try to find what else is going on.”
Until Paxton figures out the problem, the lack of velocity completely alters his game. So far he is throwing the fastball 54.4% of the time. Knowing that there is a high likelihood that they will get a fastball, that is not as hard to catch up to, opposing batters will be more likely to sit on the pitch. That is already apparent by Paxton allowing a hard hit percentage of 57.9%. That is in the bottom 7% of the league, according to Baseball Savant.
In theory, this also renders his curveball not as effective over time because batters are looking for the fastball.
On the surface, things do not look great for Paxton right now. However, Boone likes to look at the positives from his outing.
“There’s some good things to take away from tonight,” said Boone. “…he was pounding the strike zone, he made a lot of quality pitches. We just need to continue to work alongside to find it, and I think it’s in there.”
The caveat is that he is still missing bats. Despite the hard hit numbers and inability to give the Yankees length, Paxton does have a five strikeouts in his four innings. That is good for a K/9 of 11.3 with his curveball, fastball, and cutter being used in the process. That is one positive to focus on in, and Boone is confident that Paxton can return to form.
“I think he can get back there,” said Boone. “We just gotta keep working to get there.”
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images