James Paxton ended an April 21 start against Texas with a 5.61 ERA after allowing five earned runs in four innings to the Rangers. Since then, he has allowed just 10 hits and two runs with 33 strikeouts in 22 innings over three starts, culminating in Tuesday's no-hitter.
Compare that to this season's other pitcher with a complete-game no-hitter, Sean Manaea, and you see a pitcher who started strong but has stumbled a bit in recent starts. Manaea no-hit the Red Sox on the same day Paxton struggled against the Rangers, but has allowed four earned runs in each of his past two starts.
So, if you're picking just one for the rest of the season starting today, which no-hit hero is your preference?
Eric Karabell: My rankings point toward Paxton, so I should trust my process and stick with that, even though I believe each lefty is for real. The problem with Paxton has rarely been skill, but durability, although that is often disregarded as a skill. If you ask me which hurler is more likely to pitch 170 innings, it is no contest. It is not Paxton. But Paxton possesses more strikeout upside. I cannot see Manaea ever posting a 16-strikeout outing. I can see Paxton looking a lot statistically like Arizona's Robbie Ray from last season, if he can only stay out there for close to 30 starts.
Tristan H. Cockcroft: It's Paxton by a large margin, though that gap is mainly due to my valuations weighting the "best performances on an individual-start basis" strategy this season. I want the highest single-game ceilings, and Paxton's is significantly higher than Manaea's.
The numbers alone prove it, as since June 1, 2016, the date Paxton was promoted to the majors for good, the Seattle Mariners ace has the advantage in the following categories: ERA (3.37 to 3.50), strikeout rate (27.0 to 21.3 percent), walk rate (6.3 to 6.6 percent), strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.25 to 3.24), well-hit average (.134 to .181), ground-ball rate (45.4 to 45.0 percent) and swinging-strike rate (13.8 to 12.7 percent). Paxton also throws his four-seam fastball much harder (96.0 compared with 91.7 mph during that same time span), which helps make his overall offerings less hittable by right-handers (.283 compared with .319 wOBA allowed, same time span), giving him less of a platoon-split concern of the two.
The anti-Paxton case is durability, as he has never exceeded 171 2/3 innings in any of his previous seven professional seasons and has averaged 128 and change in his past five (spanning the entirety of his years with major league service). Manaea, however, also has yet to show he's capable of a 200-inning seasonal workload -- his max was 166 1/3, in 2016 -- though each of his totals in his two big-league seasons exceeded Paxton's career-high big league number, plus Manaea is three years and three months younger and not as deep into his professional career. It's not unthinkable that Manaea could deliver 30-plus starts and 200-plus frames this year, which would give him a realistic shot at beating Paxton on the final Player Rater, but it's also just as likely that Paxton could handle 25-28 starts and 170-180 innings, in which case his superior skills should give him a significant advantage on said Rater.
AJ Mass: Since I'm tasked with providing weekly rest-of-season rankings for points leagues, the easiest way to answer this question is to simply check my notes and see that Paxton is my No. 39 SP while Manaea is at No. 58. Done and done. But of course, that does little to explain why these two no-no celebrants are ranked in those slots.
First and foremost, Paxton checks all the boxes in terms of track record with a career ERA of 3.30 and an increased K/9 rate season over season from 2014 to present. Quite frankly, I'd probably have him just outside my top-10 SP if not for the fact that last year he threw just 136 innings -- and that in and of itself was a career-high total. There's definitely an injury history to be somewhat wary of with Paxton, but the performance when healthy has always been solid.
Then there's Manaea, who had an amazing April only to see May's action slip a bit. Flash back to 2017 and you'll see a 5.18 ERA in April that bounced back in May with a 2.63 ERA. So, there's a history here of streakiness from the A's hurler and none of his peripherals suggests he's any different in 2018. If anything, his 84.3 left-on-base percentage indicates even more ERA regression to come and call me concerned that his last two four-run outings both came against lineups that had already seen him this season and made the necessary adjustments.
Kyle Soppe: If I can only have one, it's Paxton by a decent amount. Sure, the fact that he has never thrown 140 big-league innings in a season is a concern, but it's becoming clear that the risk is outweighed by the potential reward. This offseason, Rich Hill was among the top 100 players taken off fantasy boards and I had no problem with it. Why? Clayton Kershaw, probably the greatest pitcher of this generation, was the only starting pitcher (minimum 250 innings) who gave us a lower ERA from 2014 to 2017. That sort of upside is just as hard to find as a pitcher without at least some level of injury concern, so I'll happily take my chances.
Paxton is the superior pitcher in this showdown when it comes to strikeout ability, so when you combine that with greater ratio upside (there was only one month last season in which Manaea had a sub-3.50 ERA), the risk that comes with Paxton is more than worth it, in my opinion.