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Should James Paxton be in the Mariners Hall of Fame?

Six tumultuous years in Seattle give the Big Maple a perplexing case

Seattle Mariners v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

The Mariners Hall of Fame is a relatively silly institution.

Induction into the team’s Hall of Fame doesn’t hold the same weight as the National Hall and isn’t quite the same honor as having a jersey number retired. It’s more a recognition of company loyalty than anything else. Still, being in the Mariners Hall of Fame is undoubtedly cool and presumably means a lot to each of the nine current members. As of this writing, only nine people have been recognized as a Mariner Hall of Famer.

· Alvin Davis (inducted in 1997)

· Dave Niehaus (inducted in 2000)

· Jay Buhner (inducted in 2004)

· Edgar Martinez (inducted in 2007)

· Randy Johnson (inducted in 2012)

· Dan Wilson (inducted in 2012)

· Ken Griffey Jr. (inducted in 2013)

· Lou Piniella (inducted in 2014)

· Jamie Moyer (inducted in 2015)

Three of these men are also National Hall of Fame players, while Niehaus got in as a broadcaster in 2008 after winning the Ford C. Frick Award. Piniella has an alluring chance at the National Hall of Fame as well, while Davis, Buhner, Wilson, and Moyer will have to settle for beloved hero status across the Pacific Northwest.

According to the team itself, the only criteria for making the Mariners Hall of Fame as a player is to have at least five years of service time with Seattle. We can go ahead and write Ichiro Suzuki in with a permanent marker, as well as Félix Hernández and Kyle Seager whenever they retire. By almost every measure, those are three of the best players in franchise history, and they are also synonymous with the club.

Unfortunately, unless the rules are changed (or he returns to the M’s), Nelson Cruz is ineligible due to only playing four years in Seattle. This is also the same frustrating rule that keeps Mike Cameron and Kazuhiro Sasaki on the outside looking in. But, during the team’s miniature run of success from 2014-18, the Mariners employed a handful of players who will present compelling cases for the team’s Hall of Fame once they hang ‘em up for good. One such player, 2010 fourth-round pick James Paxton, spent six years wearing blue and teal while also delivering one of the best pitching performances in the organization’s murky history.

To examine Paxton’s case, we’ll look at his raw numbers with Seattle, how they stack up against those already in the Mariners Hall of Fame, where they rank in Mariners history, and some romantic things beyond the statistics.

James Paxton (2013-18)

Seasons w/ SEA Starts IP W L ERA FIP WHIP ERA+ K/9 bWAR fWAR
Seasons w/ SEA Starts IP W L ERA FIP WHIP ERA+ K/9 bWAR fWAR
6 102 582.1 41 26 3.42 3.13 1.187 117 9.5 10.9 13.6

The sad truth of the matter is that injuries will largely define Paxton’s time in Seattle. If we throw out his first year, which was only four starts in September 2013, Paxton averaged just 111.6 innings per season. After making the MLB rotation out of camp in 2014, he strained a lat muscle after just two starts. 2015 saw him strain a tendon in his finger and miss three months. While fully healthy for 2016, an abysmal Spring Training performance meant that Pax spent the beginning of the season in Triple-A. He wouldn’t make his 2016 debut until June 1, and he repaid the team by striking out six or more hitters in 12 of his 20 starts.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Seattle Mariners Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

2017 – his best season by far, and one that saw him make a then career-high 24 starts – still brought a strained pectoral. In 2018, a 16-strikeout outing and the no-hitter preceded an outing two months later in Anaheim when he was pulled in the first inning with back troubles. Then came the cursed Jed Lowrie comebacker that hit him on the pitching arm and after that, he was being fitted for pinstripes. While 2018 is remembered mainly for what didn’t happen, Paxton was able to make 28 starts and get himself paid.

Had he been able to make, say, 12 to 15 more starts in his Mariner career, Paxton’s counting stats would put him in a much better position. Talent was certainly never the issue. It was simply staying in the rotation.

Paxton vs Current HOF Pitchers

Pitcher Seasons w/ SEA IP W L K ERA FIP WHIP ERA+ bWAR fWAR
Pitcher Seasons w/ SEA IP W L K ERA FIP WHIP ERA+ bWAR fWAR
Randy Johnson 10 1,838.1 130 74 2,162 3.42 3.34 1.250 128 39.0 44.2
Jamie Moyer 11 2,093.0 145 87 1,239 3.97 4.38 1.254 112 34.2 29.9
James Paxton 6 582.1 41 26 617 3.42 3.13 1.187 117 10.9 13.6

Both of the two pitchers in the Mariner Hall of Fame threw over three times as many innings as Paxton, making these numbers a bit lopsided. Paxton’s ERA/FIP/WHIP and ERA+ hold up tremendously against Johnson and Moyer, but again, the injuries take their toll in other categories.

If we try to ignore the injuries by breaking things down by average season, Paxton has 206 strikeouts per 162 games, more than Moyer but not even close to the Big Unit. Paxton averaged 2.27 fWAR per 162, losing out to Moyer’s 2.72 and Johnson’s utterly ridiculous 4.42. bWAR is even less kind, grading the Big Maple at 1.82 wins per season while the other two clock in above 3.0.

Paxton’s Ranks in Mariner History

Stat Amount Rank in Mariner history
Stat Amount Rank in Mariner history
K 617 10th
ERA* 3.42 T-1st
FIP 3.13 1st
WHIP 1.187 2nd
K%* 25.7 2nd
ERA+* 117 2nd
*among starting pitchers w/ at least 500 IP

This is where it gets interesting. Hilariously, Paxton, Johnson, Hernández, and Hisashi Iwakuma all posted identical 3.42 ERA’s with the Mariners. In both strikeout percentage and ERA+, the only person in front of the Canadian left-hander is Johnson, who I will remind you is probably the greatest left-handed pitcher ever. Finishing in the top ten in total strikeouts is no small feat either considering how much time Paxton spent on the shelf.

If there is a case for Paxton to get in, it lies in the advanced stats. By FIP, WHIP, strikeout percentage, and ERA+, there is no denying that James Paxton is one of the best pitchers to ever wear a Seattle Mariners jersey. Being one of the best pitchers to ever wear a Seattle Mariners jersey seems like a pretty good reason to be in their Hall of Fame, but as we’ve seen in a few other areas, it’s not that simple.

Beyond the Numbers

We’ll always have the no-hitter, which is one of just five individual no-no’s in franchise history. We’ll cherish memories of the Maple Grove forever, our “Eh” chants ringing from here to British Columbia forevermore. Having an entire section of the stadium devoted to one player – which began completely organically – speaks to how beloved Paxton is in this region.

New York Mets v Seattle Mariners Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Pax was also one of the only pieces of connective tissue from the Jack Z era to the early stages of Jerry Dipoto’s takeover. He was a physical representation of good things coming for those who wait, no matter how much they’ve been burned before. All of that stuff matters in a sentimental way, which is no small part of how Dan Wilson got in the Mariners Hall of Fame. But the blunt truth is that Big Maple never did grow as tall as he likely could have and didn’t play nearly enough games to earn Wilson’s king-sized status in Seattle.

Should He Be In?

Probably not. If you were to make an all-time Mariners roster, I think Paxton could get the fifth starter role after Félix, Randy, Jamie, and Kuma, but he doesn’t quite have the credentials to be a Mariner Hall of Famer. Mark Langston tossed 1,197.2 innings for the M’s (more than twice as much as Paxton), racked up more strikeouts, wins, bWAR, and fWAR, and he’s still not in. If the Mariners ever adopted a football-style Ring of Honor, Paxton for sure gets a spot, but he falls a few kilometers short in the pursuit of a Hall of Fame plaque.

Of course, if the Mariners re-sign the big fella and give him more time to pad his stats…