Red Sox starting pitcher James Paxton
Of the three pitchers the Red Sox signed to short-term deals this winter, none have a higher ceiling than James Paxton. His stuff is as good as any left-handed starter in the game, featuring a mid 90’s fastball, an upper 80’s cutter, a knee-buckling knuckle-curveball, and a changeup that gained seven inches of vertical movement from 2018 to 2020. When’s he’s on and his stuff is playing, Paxton can do some magical things, such as his seven inning, 16 strikeout performance against the Athletics in 2018, or his no-hitter against the Blue Jays the very next time out.
The issue for Paxton, however, has always been health. Over his nine years in the big leagues, Paxton has never made 30 starts or thrown more than 160 innings. He has made just six starts since 2019 due to a myriad of injuries, most notably Tommy John surgery this past April.
When Paxton returns at some point this summer, there will be a lot he has to prove. First, he needs to show he has at least a semblance of the stuff that made him an elite pitcher just a few years ago. Paxton is now entering his age 33 season with only minimal work in the last two years. It is highly unlikely that he returns with the same velocity and sharpness he had in his mid 20’s. The question is whether he will have enough in the tank to contribute meaningful innings.
Paxton also needs to prove he can handle a starter’s workload. As mentioned earlier, Paxton has not made it through an MLB season. If he can’t show that he can go deep into games, the Red Sox won’t hesitate to make him a lefty reliever. Whichever way you look at it, Paxton will have a lot to prove this season.