At Safeco Field there's no questioning who's King. That's Felix Hernandez who is currently riding a streak a modern major league record 16 game streak in which he's pitched at least seven innings while allowing two runs or fewer. However there is a Prince emerging in the Pacific Northwest and his name is James Paxton.
Sidelined since April 8 by a lat injury, Paxton returned to the Mariners' rotation on August 2 and has been a shot in the arm for a team with its sights on its first postseason appearance since 2001.
Lowest ERA Last 2 Seasons (Minimum 8 Starts)
How good has Paxton been thus far in his short career? Awfully good. In fact after rendering the Tigers lineup hapless on Friday night, he owns a career ERA of 1.88 through nine career starts with an unblemished record of 6-0. To put that in perspective, the only pitcher over the past two seasons to make at least eight starts with a lower ERA than Paxton's is reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw who enters today's start with a 1.81 ERA since the start of 2013.
Paxton's calling card is his ability to keep the ball down. Against Detroit on Friday 71.7% of his offerings were in the bottom of the strike zone or below. This season only two pitchers, Wade Miley of the Diamondbacks (three times) and the aforementioned Hernández managed a greater percentage of low pitches in any game.
As a result Paxton owns the lowest fly ball rate of any pitcher who has made as many as five starts this season. A mere 12.7% of the balls put in play against him are in the air.
So while the Tigers (David Price) and Athletics (Jeff Samardzija, Jon Lester, Jason Hammel) raided their youth to bolster their staff for the stretch run, the Mariners instead add an ace-quality arm from their own disabled list. So far he's every bit the pitcher they hoped he'd be.