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One of the keys in fantasy baseball is to find values in the middle to later rounds. Drafting a pitcher that exceeds value can provide a huge boost in getting your team to the top of the standings. With few reliable aces early in the draft and a lot of injuries among starting pitchers, uncovering some late-round gems is crucial, especially if you miss out on Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Noah Syndergaard or Madison Bumgarner.
One of these values to consider is James Paxton. There is a lot to like about the Mariners left-hander. He averaged close to 97 miles per hour with his fastball last season, had an 11.7 percent swinging strike rate, a 22.9 percent strikeout rate and a 4.7 percent walk rate. He had a 48.1 percent ground ball rate and 30.1 percent fly ball rate.
Paxton made 20 starts and went 6-7 with a 3.79 ERA and 1.31 WHIP. Those numbers won't excite many and could suppress his value. The underlying numbers indicate he had some bad luck with a .347 BABIP, a 66.3 percent strand rate and 2.80 FIP.
Paxton threw 121 innings with the Mariners last season and 50.2 innings in the minors. The 171.2 innings combined was the most he has ever thrown in a single season. Paxton got better in the second half of 2016, producing a 24.4 percent strikeout rate, 3.4 percent walk rate and a 1.11 WHIP over 72.2 innings. Mariners' manager Scott Servais believes Paxton is ready to take the next step saying the last hurdle Paxton needed was between the ears. Servais believes Paxton did that last season.
Paxton went into spring training last year vying with Nate Karns for the final spot in the starting rotation. Karns didn't impress, but Paxton had an awful spring and began the season on the Triple-A squad. Paxton worked with Tacoma pitching coach Lance Painter and tweaked his arm slot to make it lower, which resulted in increased velocity and better movement on his cutter. The initial results weren't good. When Paxton was called up to start June 1, he lasted 3.2 innings and allowed 10 hits, eight runs – three earned – walked one and struck out seven. However, Paxton figured it out and got better and better over the course of the season.
Clearly, the change in arm slot resulted in better command in addition to the velocity gains. Paxton had a 3.53 BB/9 in 2014 and 3.90 in 2015 before 1.79 last year. He threw first-pitch strikes 62.3 percent of the time. Paxton is 28 and has had issues staying healthy so there is some risk. Injuries have limited him to 46 starts over the last three seasons. He spent time on the disabled list last season in August, but it was an elbow contusion caused by a line drive that hit him.
There is risk with many pitchers, but Paxton isn't costing much in early drafts and in home leagues he will come at a cheaper cost. Paxton is a cheaper arm to target in the middle rounds.