Paxton is named American League starting pitcher of the month, while Diaz takes home American League reliever of the month honors.
ARLINGTON, Texas — One was an expected winner, and upon closer inspection of his numbers, the other should have been just as expected as well.
On Wednesday, the Mariners had a pair of pitchers pick up awards for their performances in July. As anticipated left-hander James Paxton was named the American League starting pitcher of the month. In what shouldn’t have been a surprise, but might have been to some people, Mariners’ closer Edwin Diaz was named the American League reliever of the month.
Paxton was a lock for the award given his ridiculous July where he set a Mariners’ club record by becoming the first pitcher to win six games in a month. Besides the 6-0 record in July, Paxton posted a 1.37 ERA, allowing just six runs in 39 1/3 innings pitched. He also struck out 46 batters and walked just six. Paxton had a 2.0 Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in July, highest in the AL.
Of those six wins, how many times did Paxton think he had optimal stuff?
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“Probably half of them,” he said. “Half of them I felt like I really had all my stuff clicking on all cylinders and the other three I either had two pitches or one pitch early. But thing about those three games is you find something late that gets you through the last three innings. You find a breaking ball or a cutter and that’s what gets you through.”
This isn’t a mindset or ability to adjust that Paxton was always equipped with.
“It’s learning how to use my pitches and combat how lineups are attacking me,” he said. “And it’s just executing the pitches that I do have working for that day that really helped.”
Paxton became just the seventh left-handed pitcher to earn six wins and record at least 40 strikeouts in any single calendar month since 1980, joining Randy Johnson (April 2000 and April 2002 with the Diamondbacks), Steve Carlton (May 1980 with the Phillies), Clayton Kershaw (June 2014 with the Dodgers), Chuck Finley (July 1997 with the Angels), Floyd Bannister (August 1983 with the White Sox) and Johan Santana (August 2004 with the Twins).
The 1.37 ERA for a month was the second lowest in club history. Felix Hernandez posted a 1.22 ERA in June of 2014. Overall, Paxton is 11-3 with a 2.68 ERA with 125 strikeouts and 31 walks in 18 starts and 107 1/3 innings pitched. He technically isn’t the ERA leader in the AL because he’s 2/3 of an inning short of reaching the minimum, which is one inning pitched for every game your team has played.
While it was a given that Paxton would win the award, Diaz wasn’t viewed as a certainty. His July performance was worthy, but under the radar. In 13 appearances, he posted an 0-1 record with eight saves and a 1.98 ERA.
“Really happy for Eddie,” manager Scott Servais said. “If you look at the entire season — coming off the WBC and having a hiccup and us moving him out of the closer role for a couple of weeks to get multiple innings and get his mechanics together and come up with a different routine — since he’s been back in there, he’s been very good. He’s really responded well.”
Diaz struck out 21 batters in 13 2/3 innings pitched and limited opponents to a .163 batting average against. The Mariners won each of his last 10 appearances in July.
“That’s a pretty good month,” he said. “That’s my best month of the season. I was pitching aggressive and being able to command pitches. That’s what I did all month.”
The eight saves in July were second most, trailing only Tampa’s Alex Colome, who had nine. Beyond traditional numbers, Diaz posted a 0.9 Fangraphs WAR, which was best of any American league reliever. He also had a 1.18 Fielding Independent Pitching (a metric measuring pitcher performance by removing plays that involve the defense), which was fourth lowest in the AL.
Overall, he’s 2-4 with 21 saves and a 3.15 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 45 2/3 innings pitched, Diaz credited the regular work late in games in July as also a reason for his success.
“I like to pitch a lot,” he said. “When I keep pitching a lot, I have a feel for everything. My command is there. Even when I pitched four days in a row, that fourth day I was feeling great.”