James Paxton

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James Alston Paxton
(Big Maple)

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Biographical Information[edit]

James Paxton helped Canada take a Bronze at the 2006 World Junior Championship. He was selected 37th overall in the 2009 amateur draft, by the Toronto Blue Jays, with a pick obtained in compensation for the New York Yankees signing free agent pitcher A.J. Burnett. He was the number 1 starter at the University of Kentucky, going 5-3 with a 5.86 ERA. He had 115 strikeouts and 20 walks over 78 1/2 innings at school. His pitches have reached 97 mph on the radar gun. However, he failed to come to an agreement with the Blue Jays before the August 17th deadline for signing and returned to school.

His college eligibility having expired, he lined up with the Grand Prairie AirHogs of the independent American Association in 2010, going 1-2, 4.08 in 4 starts. He was then selected by the Seattle Mariners in the 10th round of the 2010 amateur draft but did not pitch again that year. He went 6-3, 2.37 and 9-4, 3.05 while climbing up the Mariners' organization in 2011 and 2012, the second year with the Jackson (TN) Generals of the AA Southern League. He had a tougher time in AAA in 2013, when he was 8-11, 4.45 for the Tacoma Rainiers but he was still given his first look at the big leagues when rosters expanded that September.

Paxton made his major league debut with the Mariners on September 7, 2013, defeating the Tampa Bay Rays, 6-2, while pitching 6 innings. He went 3-0, 1.50 in four starts that year, and then 6-4, 3.04 in 13 starts in 2014 in a year limited by injuries. He was again limited to 13 big league starts in 2015, going 3-4, 3.90. There was some concern that his career was stalling at that point, as he could not stay healthy.

As a result of his failure to pitch a full season in the majors, 2016 looked like a key year for Paxton in his development. He pitched well in AAA with Tacoma, going 4-3, 4.26, but was inconsistent in the majors. He won only 2 of 8 big league starts in the first half, with an ERA of 3.91, but then began to pitch better. On September 6th, he struck out four batters in the 1st inning. His second strikeout ended with a wild pitch being swung on and missed by Ian Desmond, who reached first base safely. He wound up striking out 8 Texas Rangers batters in that game, but in only 4 1/3 innings after giving up 6 runs in a 10-7 loss. Overall, in 20 starts for the Mariners, he went 6-7, 3.79 in 121 innings during which he struck out 118 opponents.

He started the 2017 season red hot as he did not give up a run in his first three starts, totaling 21 innings. He was 2-0 over the streak. It was the longest scoreless streak to start a season in team history, and he was only the 10th pitcher ever to start a year with three scoreless starts of 6 or more innings each. In the third of these starts on April 15th against the Rangers, he walked the first batter he faced, Carlos Gomez, then after he was erased on a double play, did not allow another baserunner until he gave up a double to Joey Gallo in the 6th, one of only two hits against him that night in 8 innings, during which he piled up 9 strikeouts. His scoreless streak eventually reached 23 innings before being snapped by the Oakland A's on April 20th. In July, he became the first pitcher in Mariners history to notch six wins in a single month when he went 6-0, 1.37; he was also named the American League Pitcher of the Month. But injuries struck again a few days later, as he suffered a pectoral strain and had to return to the disabled list on August 11th. He finished the season at 12-5, 2.98 in 24 starts, pitching 136 innings.

On May 2, 2018, he recorded 16 strikeouts in 7 innings in a start against the Oakland Athletics. It was the most strikeouts recorded by a pitcher at that point of the the major league season, but he was removed with a 2-0 lead, after throwing only 105 pitches and the bullpen was unable to preserve the lead as Seattle lost the game, 3-2. In his very next start, on May 9th, he got some redemption, as he no-hit the Toronto Blue Jays in Rogers Centre, throwing only 99 pitches in the process and reaching 100 mph on the radar gun in the 9th inning. He became only the second Canadian to throw a no-hitter in major league history, after Dick Fowler, and the first to do so on Canadian soil. It was the sixth no-hitter in M's history, but the first one spun on the road. The game itself lasted a mere 2 hours and 19 minutes as Seattle won, 5-0. He added some more canadiana on July 1st - Canada Day - when he allowed just 2 hits over 8 scoreless innings, striking out 11 batters in the process, to defeat the Kansas City Royals, 1-0. That was also his bobblehead day, his figurine immortalizing an incident on April 5th, when a bald eagle, brought into the ballpark to mark the Minnesota Twins' home opener, mistook his right shoulder for a perch and majestically landed on him. This was of course highly appropriate for a pitcher nicknamed "Big Maple". He was on the disabled list for a couple of stretches, one from mid-June to the end of July, and another from mid-August to September 1st, when he came back to strike out 10 batters in 5 innings in an 8-7 win over the Oakland Athletics with the two teams fighting it out for a spot in the postseason. The two injuries were different, as his first absence was caused by inflammation in his lower back, and the second by a contusion on his left forearm, the result of having been hit by a batted ball. In his final start of the year, on September 29th, he recorded his 200th strikeout when he struck out the first batter of the game for the Texas Rangers, Jurickson Profar. He allowed 1 run while striking out 9 in 6 innings but ended up with a no-decision although Seattle won, 4-1. His final numbers were a record of 11-6, a 3.76 ERA, 160 1/3 innings pitched, and 208 strikeouts.

On November 19, 2018, he was traded to the New York Yankees in return for three players - top prospect Justus Sheffield, P Erik Swanson and OF Dom Thompson-Williams. On December 3rd, he was named the winner of the Tip O'Neill Award as the best Canadian baseball player; his win broke a stranglehold on the hardware by Joey Votto, who had won it in seven of the past eight years. In 2019, he had the distinction of being one of the few healthy players on a Yankees team decimated by injuries in April. That ended on May 3rd, when he left a start against the Minnesota Twins after just 3 innings because of a knee injury. Although he minimized its gravity after the game, he still had to go on the injured list. He came back and ended the season with 10 straight wins to finish at 15-6, 3.82. With Domingo German not available for the postseason, he was designated to start Game 1 of the Division Series against the Minnesota Twins. He had a no-decision in that game, but won one game against the Houston Astros in the ALCS, when he allowed just 2 runs in 8 1/3 innings and struck out 12 in his 2 starts.

However, after this successful first season in pinstripes, 2020 began on a bad note for him as on February 5th, he underwent spinal fusion surgery, putting him on the shelf for three or four months. He had first felt pain in late September, but decided to undergo the surgery after a more conservative treatment program failed to deal with the issue. He ended up making five starts during the pandemic-shortened season, going 1-1, 6.64 and did not appear in the postseason. He became a free agent after the season and on February 13, 2021 he signed a one-year contract to re-join the Mariners. However, he made just one start in Seattle, on April 6th, before missing the remainder of the season with a left forearm strain. On December 1st, just before the lockout took effect, he signed another one-year deal, this one with the Boston Red Sox, for $6 million.

He missed all of 2022 because of the injury, but in 2023 he was back to his past dominating form for a stretch. He was the American League Pitcher of the Month in June when he put up an ERA of 1.74 with 34 strikeouts in 31 innings and just 18 hits allowed. He made 19 starts overall that year and pitched 96 innings, ending up at 7-5, 4.50. He managed 101 strikeouts while walking 33 opponents. The next team to take a chance on him were the Los Angeles Dodgers, who signed him to a one-year deal on January 29, 2024.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • AL Complete Games Leader (2018)
  • AL Shutouts Leader (2018)
  • 15 Wins Seasons: 1 (2019)
  • 200 Strikeouts Seasons: 1 (2018)


Further Reading[edit]

  • David Adler: "How the Dodgers can unlock a next-level Paxton", mlb.com, January 29, 2024. [1]
  • Gary Belleville: "May 8, 2018: Seattle's ‘Big Maple’ James Paxton throws a no-hitter on Canadian soil", SABR Baseball Games Project. [2]
  • Theo DeRosa: "Dodgers finalize one-year deal with James Paxton", mlb.com, January 29, 2024. [3]
  • Bryan Hoch: "Yanks get Paxton for top prospect, 2 others: 'Big Maple' fanned 208, threw no-hitter in 2018; Sheffield to Mariners", mlb.com, November 20, 2018. [4]
  • Greg Johns: "Paxton's progression key for Mariners in '18: Left-hander looks to build off successful year, aims for full season", mlb.com, December 15, 2017. [5]
  • Greg Johns: "Paxton no-hits Blue Jays in Canadian homeland: Lefty's 99-pitch gem is second no-hitter by a Canadian-born player", mlb.com, May 8, 2018. [6]

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