Gnatto has a fun little philosophical question for us:
Matt, if Paxton continues this standard of pitching for 20 more years... When did the upgrade happen?
Or for five more years, like Sandy Koufax. Same question applies. Three ways of looking at it:
I've always been fascinated by the way that no-name players can function as HOF'ers in any particular game, or week, or month. In 2014, Dallas Keuchel took off out of the gate pitching as well as, say, Felix Hernandez. In a given three-game set that year, we had a huge advantage on paper. On the green grass of the field, we had absolutely no real advantage in a Felix-Keuchel matchup.
There were years I didn't quite get that the young Bernie Williams was, in essence, cancelling out Ken Griffey Jr.
In my youth, I was a huge Miami Dolphins fan, and didn't grok the way Mark Van Eeghen was providing the Raiders a 90% cancellation of superstar Larry Csonka. And he seemed like only a supporting player, behind Ken Stabler and Fred Biletnikoff and etc. I figured, they got Stabler, but we got Csonka. They actually had Stabler AND Csonka, but the perception didn't jibe with the reality.
Right now that's happening, to some extent, with Rougned Odor vs. Robinson Cano - Odor is slugging .479 and hurting us constantly. But it doesn't seem, going in to the next Ranger series, like those two players will cancel each other out. They may, though.
Bill James Online has Paxton as only the #171 ranked starting pitcher as of this morning. Probably the Houston Astros fans feel like Lance McCullers gives them the edge in a James Paxton game. How wrong they are.
From the standpoint of "when was Randy Johnson functioning as a stopper?" The answer was, in retrospect, Opening Day 1993 -- 8 IP, 1 ER, 2 BB, 14K. But he walked a lot of guys his next two starts, was 3-2 3.57 after six starts, and as he rained bloody death during 1993 nobody bought in. After he finished 19-8, 3.24 (in the Kingdome!) with 308 strikeouts, people started to wonder. But all that year, he'd been Randy Johnson.
Taking it to the extreme, Friday night, Adam Lind functioned as a 162-homer man. For any given series, if a player slugs .700 for three games, he has provided you Lou Gehrig.
There's added value, though, to having the mystique of a Chris Sale or Cole Hamels. When the league BUYS IN to a dominant ace, it has an impact on the game. The hitters are more defensive, the manager changes his lineup, a Ranger series has a different "script" to it psychologically, and so forth.
Yankees fans used to laugh about the way the Mariners "bought in" to Pedro Martinez' invincibility. Pedro had a losing record against the Yankees, if I recall correctly, and fans thought of it as a curse. We'd go in hanging our heads for the beheading and Pedro would oblige.
Supposing that James Paxton throws pitches just like these for the next year, three years, and maintains his current #1 position in xFIP ... when do people buy in? About next June, June 2017. If then.
WILD CARD GAME
In Strat-O-Matic, I'd probably start James Paxton next week in the WC game over Felix. But the Mariners are giving Felix what, one MILLION dollars? The suits are married to him, and the clubhouse is his. Who you and I might think has the best chance of winning, ain't going to have anything to do with Felix' rank and preminence for the duration of his contract. ... well, unless he had a Jered Weaver falloff or something.
There was a lot made, even by Servais, of Paxton's need to get GROWF on the mound, to pound his mitt after escaping from a rally. Dr. D smiles wrly at this. Like Earl said, after a guy starts winning he seems to have gained the "winner" mentality. Then he goes back to a losing team and his character flaws emerge again...
Jim Palmer, Mike Mussina, Bob Griese, George Gervin, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Robinson Cano :- ) ... it's just not in their nature to play angry. Back in the day, Edgar Martinez was considered to have problems with clutch hitting ...
Personally I enjoy Paxton's attitude, like "It's just a game. I'll give you my 100%, but we ain't pulling kids out of burning buildings here." With some athletes, this unflappability -- even detachment - is considered a great strength.
I DIG that about James Paxton.
ALL THINGS CONSIDERED
Not to duck the question, who's "better," Paxton or Felix? In Dr. D's mind, after 5 games' worth of Zeusian performance?
Lots of times, pitchers turn out to be up and down on their velocity. This was never a question with the Unit or with Justin Verlander, but it is for most guys, like Kershaw. If you could guarantee that Paxton is going to maintain this velocity, 95-98 MPH, I'll take Paxton over Felix, trade you Felix for him right now in rotisserie. No other preconditions other than continued velocity; the foshball is there, as is the fastball inside. Grant me a clause that I can trade back, if the velo sinks to 91-95, and I'll swap you.
What's the chance of 96+ MPH from here to the wire? 70%?
If his velocity is going to be NEXT level, 98-100 MPH, then I'll take Paxton over anybody in the AL. Easily.