James Paxton Expects To Be Better Next Year

James Paxton
Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

All things considered, James Paxton had a productive season. In 19 starts comprising 96 innings, the recently turned–35-year-old left-hander fanned 101 batters, allowed 93 hits and logged a 4.50 ERA and a 4.68 FIP. The erstwhile Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees rotation mainstay put up those numbers with the Boston Red Sox between May 12 and September 1, and he did so after throwing just 1.1 innings over the past two-plus seasons. “Big Maple” underwent Tommy John surgery in April 2021, and he remained on the shelf the following year due to a lat tear incurred late in the rehab process. Factor in the truncated 2020 COVID campaign, and he’d tossed just 22.1 frames since September 2019.

Paxton, now a free agent, has been a quality pitcher when healthy. From 2017 to ’19, the hard-throwing Ladner, British Columbia native went 38–17 with a 3.54 ERA, a 3.26 FIP, and a 30.0% strikeout rate. His heater averaged 95.6 mph over that three-year span, just a few ticks over this year’s 95.3. As for next season, he expects not only to be throwing every bit as hard, but also to be close to his old self in terms of overall arsenal quality. He addressed that subject, as well as his experience returning to the mound in 2023, when I spoke to him at the end of September.

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David Laurila: You came back from Tommy John surgery. What has that experience been like in terms of your pitch quality?

James Paxton: “It’s definitely interesting coming back from it, the stuff differences [and] trying to figure out my arm again. I feel like the fastball came back, it felt really good, but the breaking stuff took some time. The cutter wasn’t the same pitch it was before Tommy John. I’m still kind of figuring that pitch out. I got to a place where it was good enough. I could use it, it just wasn’t the same as it was.”

Laurila: How has it been different?

Paxton: “I used to throw it harder. It was a shorter, harder slider, basically, and now it’s not quite as hard. I used to throw it 88–91 [mph] and now it’s like 85–87. It still has decent movement to it, but again, it’s just not quite the same pitch that it was before I got hurt. Maybe that’s something that will come back in year two. People say that your stuff isn’t really 100% back until the year after your first year back from Tommy John.”

Laurila: What about the movement profile?

Paxton: “I don’t know the numbers. I don’t really pay attention too much to the movement profile details, I just kind of know what it looks like coming out of my hand. But again, it’s really more of a hard slider. I just think cutter with it, because I want it to be kind of a shorter slider off my fastball. I think that it can be effective at a slower speed, although ideally it will be a little harder.”

Laurila: Cutter/slider differences aside, has coming back from TJ basically been like riding a bicycle?

Paxton: “I actually kind of feel like I’ve been relearning throughout the season. But that’s really just with the breaking stuff. More than anything, it’s all about feel and repetitions. It takes time.”

Laurila: What have pitchers who have had TJ told you to expect?

Paxton: “You know, I haven’t really had that conversation with many guys who came back from Tommy John, talking about your pitch mix. It was mostly about just getting your body right and your fastball back. It wasn’t a bunch of stuff about getting your breaking ball back. And again, guys told me that it would take another season. The season after you come back is when you really feel like your normal self again.”

Laurila: You obviously had some really good outings this year. What tended to be the issue when you weren’t going well?

Paxton: “Honestly, just the execution of my breaking stuff. And then toward the end, my last few games, I was having trouble with my front leg. I wasn’t able to brace on my front leg, so I was kind of falling off and not being able to finish my pitches. That was nothing too serious, though. It’s already feeling better.”

Laurila: You’re a free agent this offseason. What are your thoughts going forward?

Paxton: “I think that feeling more comfortable with my stuff will make a difference. I do feel that I threw the ball pretty well this year. I feel positive about what I was able to accomplish after having basically two-and-a-half years away from pitching, but I expect that there will be a extra degree of comfort next season after experiencing this season. My body has felt really good, and I’m looking forward to getting everything in the right place for next year.”

Laurila: You’re how old now?

Paxton: “I’ll be 35 this winter.”

Laurila: That’s not exactly over the hill. Plus, being a left-hander with a healthy elbow, you probably have another five years in you.”

Paxton: “There you go.”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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CC AFCmember
3 months ago

I’m gonna have “I expect to be better next year” on my headstone

skormember
3 months ago
Reply to  CC AFC

LOL