By Ryan Hueter
2017 was a breakout campaign for Seattle Mariners left-hander James Paxton. Despite two trips to the disabled list, Paxton registered career highs in wins (12), starts (24), innings pitched (136), strikeouts (156) and ERA (2.98).
Overall, he went 12–5 with a 2.98 ERA (45 ER, 136 IP) with 156 strikeouts and 37 walks in 24 starts. Paxton allowed only nine home runs while limiting opponents to a .223 batting average against. His nine home runs allowed were the fewest of any pitcher with at least 135 innings of work this season.
Though injuries limited him from officially qualifying for the American League ERA title, Paxton became the fourth pitcher in club history to record an ERA of 3.00 or better in at least 135 innings pitched. He is the first Mariner to do so since Felix Hernandez posted a 2.14 ERA (56 ER, 236 IP) in 2014 and the first Mariners left-hander since Randy Johnson recorded a 2.28 ERA (54 ER, 213 IP) in 1997.
In addition to being named the Mariners Pitcher of the Year by the Seattle chapter of the BBWAA, Paxton earned American League Pitcher of the Month for July and was named AL Player of the Week twice. He picked up the weekly awards on April 17 and again on July 31, sharing the honours with Texas’ Adrian Beltre. Paxton is the only pitcher in club history to earn two Player of the Week awards in the same season.
“James is a big part of what we do,” Mariners General Manager Jerry Dipoto said during a press conference after the season. “In knowing that you had him coming around every fifth day, the offensive players looking at James and understanding that that’s your win day. That was the day you could settle down your bullpen. That’s the day you could rely on the ace to just go snub them out.”
During a couple of stretches in 2017, Paxton was one of the most dominant pitchers in the majors, going 5–0 in his first eight outings and winning seven consecutive starts at one point.
He began the 2017 season with three consecutive starts of at least six scoreless innings, becoming the 10th pitcher in Major League history since 1900 to begin the season with back-to-back-to-back outings of six-plus scoreless innings apiece. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound left-hander did not allow a run in his first 23 innings, the longest streak to begin the season in club history.
Paxton put together another outstanding stretch in July and the early part of August, reeling off wins in seven straight starts. From July 2 to August 4, he went 7–0 with a 1.59 ERA (eight ER, 45 1/3 IP) with 53 strikeouts and seven walks in seven starts.
It was during this stretch that Paxton became the first Mariner to pitch at least six innings while allowing two-or-fewer runs in seven straight starts since Hernandez posted an MLB-record 16 consecutive starts of seven-plus innings and two-or-fewer runs allowed in 2014.
“He was as good as you can be for those seven to eight starts in a row, just dominant, Cy Young Award-type stuff,” Mariners manager Scott Servais told MLB.com’s Greg Johns. “Overall, it’s a good year. His numbers are outstanding, he’s won a lot of ballgames for us. He was the one constant in our rotation that allowed us to reset every five days. And when he went out, it was crushing.”
The lefty from Ladner, B.C., went 6–0 with a 1.37 ERA (six ER, 39 1/3 IP) with 46 strikeouts and six walks in six starts in the month of July. Among Major League leaders for July, Paxton ranked first in wins (6), tied for third in innings pitched (39.1), fourth in ERA (1.37) and tied for fourth in strikeouts (46).
He became one of 10 left-handers in MLB history to record at least six wins with an ERA of 1.40-or-better and at least 40 strikeouts in any calendar month, the first since the Dodgers Clayton Kershaw in June of 2014.
With six wins in July, Paxton also became the first Mariner in club history to record six wins in any calendar month.