Before the game that we will not mention happened, James Paxton saved the Yankees’ season in Game 5. His final line was 6.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 4 BB, 9K on a season-high 112 pitches. He shut down the mighty Astros, and by the end of it, we were all feeling like this:
Let’s take a look at how he did it. Here is his strikezone plot from Friday:
You see a ton of fastballs up, and the off-speed pitches thrown down and away to lefties or down and in on righties. Overall the command was not great, but there weren’t too many pitches over the heart of the plate, which explains why Houston was only able to muster 4 hits off him.
Pitch Velocity and Type
This chart tells us two very important things about Paxton’s performance. Number 1, he held his velocity throughout the game. Look at the red line showing fastball velocity. It stayed right around 95-96mph all game, which is huge. Even though he threw a ton of pitches, Paxton was still able to rear back and let it rip all the way through.
Secondly, he threw A TON of fastballs compared to any other pitch. Of his 112 pitches, 75 were four-seam fastballs, which is 67%. By the end of the season, that number was closer to 50%, so you can tell Paxton was feeling his heater last night. Perhaps that was the strategy because as we detailed earlier, Houston struggles against high-velocity fastballs. Paxton certainly has a high-octane fastball and he used it to great effect last night. He got 17 swing and misses on 55 swings on the pitch, which is good for a 31% whiff rate (which is fantastic).
Let’s take a look how he approached each inning.
You can see Paxton was all over the place in the first. The fastball was missing up, inside on righties, and even low. The off-speed pitches were also way off the plate. The first inning was probably Paxton’s worst on Friday night and the only one in which he gave up a run. First-inning runs were a theme for him all year, and it was good he was able to limit the damage to 1 fluky run before settling in.
Now we’re starting to see the game plan. Fastballs located up at the top of the zone and the knuckle curve mixed in low to change the eye level. Paxton got his first strikeout of the game in this inning on a filthy pitch to Yordan Alvarez. Obligatory GIF is here:
Here is where things get interesting. This inning was the second time through the order, and you can see Paxton mix in more cutters low in the zone as well as the fastballs located here. Continuing with the high fastball approach likely wouldn’t work against the great top of the order hitters, and it was great to see Paxton start to mix things up.
This is by far my favorite graphic. In the fourth inning, the bottom of the lineup was up and Paxton completely blew the fastball past them. Those guys struggle against high, hard heat and Paxton dominated them like an ace should. It was beautiful to watch.
The fifth inning is where we see the evolution of Paxton the pitcher. Going through the lineup for a third time meant breaking out his fourth pitch, the changeup. They were not very effective and actually led to a walk to Altuve, but mixing things up helped keep hitters off-balance and from sitting on his other pitches. You also see many more cutters worked in here, especially against the lefty-hitting Michael Brantley.
In his final inning, Paxton was clearly working in on righties and away on lefties. Against the bottom of the lineup, he again reverted to mostly using his fastball to overpower them with the off-speed pitches to put them away.
It was a complete performance from Paxton in the sense he had to battle and switch how he attacked hitters each time through the order. He started off with a ton of fastballs and later mixed in his cutter and even his changeup later on.
I love how they took into account which batters are good against certain pitches and changed the game plan according to that. Guys like Altuve and Bregman crush fastballs, so using the cutter and even changeup against them is necessary to avoid big hits. Alvarez crushes fastballs as well, and he was the prime target for Paxton’s developing knuckle-curve. Paxton struck him out twice on that pitch. Lastly, Chirinos was fed a steady diet of high fastballs and also struck out twice on that pitch.
Paxton gave the Yankees exactly what they needed in Game 5 – a huge start that saved the bullpen. After Game 4, Paxton said he would have to leave it all out there like CC, and he sure as hell did. The Yankees acquired Paxton to be an ace, and in the playoffs he was. Here’s to hoping he can take this performance into the offseason and continue just like that next year.