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Why Paxton is still the choice over Gray

Some saw the James Paxton deal in the same light as the Sonny Gray one: a solid pitcher who was coming into New York. But with the All-Star break less than a month away, has Paxton been a better version of Gray?

As of June , the two have a similarity score of 0.44 out of 1. This takes into account hitters’ outcomes such as barrel percentage, type of contact, walks, and strikeouts. Let’s dive into how they have matched up this year.

Arsenal

First of all, Gray has featured a much more diverse repertoire this season. He has featured six pitches: four-seamer (thrown 35.7 percent of the time), slider (20.6 percent), curve (20 percent), sinker (15.8 percent), changeup (7.6 percent). He also rarely uses cutter (0.3 percent). Conversely, Paxton has relied on mainly three pitches: four-seamer (64.2 percent), cutter (20.7 percent), and curve (14.6 percent). He uses his changeup only 0.5 percent of the time.

Head-to-head stats

Player

OPP BA K% wOBA

Exit Velocity (MPH)

Paxton

.234

30.9

0.302

89.0

Gray

.227

25.6

0.278

86.5

Based on the above subset of stats, it appears as if Gray is fairly comparable to Paxton in terms of production. Gray also bests Paxton when it comes to WAR: 1.9 to 1.6. Granted, this does take into account Paxton’s last two starts, which have not been good. Additionally, Gray has thrown 66.2 innings in comparison to Paxton’s 49.0.

Gray has also been doing a better job of keeping the ball in the park: he has a 0.54 HR/9 while Paxton’s mark sits at 0.92. This, however, is much better than Paxton’s 2018 HR/9 which was 1.29.

But who would you want?

The real question for me, however, is who would I want on the mound for the Yankees in a playoff game, since the Yankees would make the playoffs either way. Even with his recent struggles, I would still side with Paxton.

Paxton does not have any playoff experience, but he has delivered excellent performances this year that give insight into what he can be. Gray has an average leverage index (LI) of 0.96 and Paxton has one of 0.93. A neutral LI is 1.00, so these are both farily netural on average. Working off of this, Gray also has been better in WPA/LI. WPA (win probability added) looks at a pitcher’s contributions using win expectancy, and so the higher WPA/LI the better. Gray is at 0.51; Paxton is at a mere 0.09. For context, 0.0 is average and 1.5 is considered above average.

It may be the bias in me, but if I put the two pitchers in Yankee Stadium, I would choose Paxton. For one, he is a left-hander, which plays well in the Bronx. Additionally, watching him pitch he seems to have more power than Gray did, and even when he is struggling he seems less fazed. With the Yankees’ bullpen, I would place my bets on Paxton being able to give five solid innings versus Gray.

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