Late after the Omaha Storm Chasers era dawned, the Royals signed former Nationals reliever Steven Shell to a minor league contract.
Steven Shell is a 27-year-old 6’4″ righty from Oklahoma. He was drafted out of high school by the Angels in the third round of the 2001 draft. It took him until 2008 to reach the majors (with Washington) and he hasn’t pitched there since 2009. He missed a lot of 2010 with an elbow injury while at AAA Tacoma with the Mariners organization. He was also hit in the face by a line drive in 2009 when pitching for Tacoma. It’s fair to say his career has been a bit tumultuous.
So, what do we have in Shell?
Well, in just 55 major league innings, Shell has a 2.45 ERA and a 4.18 FIP. That FIP and the BABIP of .232 against him makes you realize he’s been fairly lucky in his short time in the majors. He does have a decent K/9 of 7.5, but he also walks 3.6/9 IP. He gives up fewer hits than several current Royals pitchers, only allowing 6.4/9 IP. Those 55 innings were split into 50 innings in 2008 and only 5 in 2009, though, so it’s hard to tell if he can be productive in the future. However, his minor league stats agree fairly well with those numbers, though he walked fewer batters in the minors than in the majors. His ERA in 72.2 IP (9 starts) this past season with Tacoma was 3.59 and he had ratios of 9.4 hits/9, 2.4 BB/9, and 6.3 K/9. So, his effectiveness may be in the past, though he has typically given up more hits in the minors than he did in the majors.
As for his arsenal, Shell features a fastball, curve, slider, and change, according to the PITCH F/X data.* He heavily relies on his 89-mph fastball, throwing it about 60% of the time. He obviously doesn’t have much heat on the pitch, and his 75-mph curveball reflects that. He throws the curve about 27% of the time, adding on a slider for 7.2% and a changeup for 3.6% of his pitches. Both the slider and change sit at about 81 mph. Speedy pitches definitely aren’t Shell’s main feature.
*It also has a sinker listed, but it was only seen 4 times, so it’s hard to say if Shell actually throws one or not. FanGraphs also shows a split fastball, but he only threw it 1.7% of the time, so who knows if it’s actually existent.
His curveball is the most hittable pitch he throws, as it’s driven into play 20% of the time he throws it. On the other hand, his changeup only results in a ball in play 11% of the time. The fastball and slider both sit around 16-17%. From the data on Texas Leaguers, Shell’s curveball appears to have some significant dive and right-to-left slide on it (compared to his other pitches), but the slow speed likely makes it easier to spot than his other pitches. All of his pitches are thrown from a consistent 3/4 arm slot. You can see the movement in all his pitches in these charts, first from the top:
And now from the side:
*Pitch type key: FA – fastball; FF – 4-seam fastball; CU – curveball; SL – slider; CH – changeup; SI – sinker.
You can tell that his curveball moves very differently from the rest of his pitches, so the speed is the likely factor that causes him to have a bit of trouble missing bats. I’ll restate my above mention that giving up hits isn’t Shell’s real problem, though (at least not with the low BABIP). Hitting his spots is the most important thing, and if he misses his spot then the curveball becomes a very hittable pitch. When you think of the defense we have in KC right now, this could be a problem if Shell is called up.
Shell has a chance to make the team and be a decent guy out of the bullpen. He doesn’t have the strongest arm, but he seems to locate his pitches well. I saw him pitch for Washington in 2008 and was impressed by his ability to shut down batters in both games I saw. However, in the first game he struck out two and walked four, so his control seems to come and go. In the four total innings I saw him throw, though, he only gave up one hit, so when he’s controlling well he can keep the other guys off the bases. Of course, you can say that about pretty much any pitcher. For a guy with no power to his pitches, though, Shell needs that control to succeed. It’s there, but it comes and goes.
I’d say Shell stands a better chance of being a useful arm in KC than Mendoza, Rupe, or Marte had this season. I highly doubt he’ll be the second coming of Bruce Chen, but he could surprise some people. Shell will start off as a Storm Chaser (it’s really weird to write that) and we could see him in a Royals uniform as soon as May or June, judging by the relievers this past season. I approve of this signing in that it blocks no one, is a cheap contract, and gives us a chance of finding something useful.
*Stats from FanGraphs, Texas Leaguers, and Baseball Reference. Charts from Texas Leaguers.