The first game from James Shields as a Royals was pretty good from a basic analysis. Giving up 8 hits, no walks, and 1 run over 6 innings while striking out 6 is a solid performance. That is what we hope to see a lot of. I wanted to go a step further though, and look at PITCHf/x from the game to see if his stuff looked the same as last year and if the injury risk concerns from this article were showing up still. In light of Hunter’s article this morning I feel the need to tell you that one game is far from definitive on anything, so this is more the beginning of tracking Shields this season than an answer to anything.
Velocity was not an issue yesterday. All of James’ pitches were in similar speed ranges to the last couple of years, or a tiny bit higher according to Fangraph’s PITCHf/x data. It is good to see his velocity already here this early in the season. Movement on the pitches looked mostly similar as well. The fastball especially looked like it was similar as far as vertical and horizontal movement. Of his three main pitches, only the cutter looked like it was moving a little bit less and two things could be contributing to that. His overall speed of his cutter was a couple of miles per hour above last year yesterday, and it was a cold game which can affect the pitcher’s grip. All looks good so far. Let’s continue on to the injury risk factors from Zimmerman’s article a couple of months ago.
Two concerns to look at here, release point movement and Zone%. Per the aforementioned article, James’ Zone% from 2007 through 2011 was in the 51 to 52% range. He was throwing the ball in the strike zone a little over half the time. In 2012 that slipped to 45%, and an inability to throw strikes could indicate a problem. Yesterday his PITCHf/x Zone% was 52, so back in line with the five years prior to last year. That’s great, but over one game may not mean much. The pitch release point had the same issues that were there last year. His horizontal release point moved from -1.75 to 0, although most of the pitches are clustered around -1, if you look at a presumably healthy pitcher like Justin Verlander all of his pitches yesterday were between -2.5 and -1.5 a much tighter cluster. The range of horizontal releases for Shields is almost twice that of Verlander. Next time Shields is pitching I need to look at his location on the pitching rubber to see if this is still due to moving his starting foot position, which was the concern highlighted by Zimmerman.
Overall James Shields had a nice start to begin his career as a Royal, minus the run production that handed him a loss. Most of the signs in the PITCHf/x data are what we want to see with good velocity, movement, and Zone%. I will continue to monitor his release point to see what is driving it and if inconsistency continues.