Apr 07, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Kansas City Royals pitcher James Shields (33) delivers to the plate during the first inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

So Far, So Good

We now have five games of James Shields as a Royal in the books.  I wanted to go over the performance so far to see if anything stood out, and review the injury risk issues that I covered after the first start.  If you don’t want all the detail my overall analysis is so far, so good.  Otherwise, read on for the litany of statistics to come.

One of the most important things the Big Game James brings to the table is the 7 innings per game that he is thrown.  Last year we got used to seeing Royal starter after Royal starter bounce in the 5th and 6th innings, or 3rd inning for Jonathan Sanchez.  It is a lot more fun to look at the pitching match-ups each day and feel like the odds are in our favor.  Beyond lasting into games, there is a lot to like so far from Shields.  His 8.23K/9 and 2.31BB/9 are in line historically.  The strike out rate is down slightly from last year, but not in a way to be concerned about and last year was a career high.  These are typically the first thing I look at, and then I moved on to stats that might tell us about how lucky he has been so far.

April 20, 2013; Boston, MA USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher James Shields (33) walks to the dugout after pitching in the fourth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

LOB% looks normal, and BABIP was .284 and only slightly below expectation.  The only issue to count on going forward is that Shields will likely give up a few more home runs.  Right now he has a 6.1% HR/FB rate, which is unsustainable and should regress toward 11% over the course of the year.  This has led to a 0.51HR/9 which is about half of James’ historic rate.  So it looks like overall he has been just a bit lucky with batted balls in play and with fly balls staying in the park, but as you will see in a moment that even if those rates were normal, his expected performance would still have been very good.

So far Shields has an ERA of 3.09 and WHIP of 1.09, which is pretty great.  Even better though, the stats that try to correct for the luck issues look good too.  His FIP is 2.68, xFIP is 3.23, and SIERA is 3.40, so nothing about his performance to this point is pointing to major drop off.  What the stats are saying is that as the HR rates come back to normal we would expect his ERA to move up by only a tenth of a point or two.

Next I looked at his pitch mix to see if he is attacking hitters any differently than in past years.  It seems that he is using his cut fastball much more often than in he had any previous year, this being offset by fewer curves and change-ups.  The pitch values (runs above average by pitch type) say that his cutter has been his best pitch, so he or Salvador Perez calling the game seem to be managing the pitch selection well.

Finally, I went back to the PITCHf/x charts and ZONE% to see if the injury risks discussed  (see link to previous article above, link to Zimmerman’s article is in there if you don’t know what I am referring to) last year are still hanging around.

The velocity chart from Fangraphs shows no issues, and really wasn’t an issue last year, but is still nice to see.

James seems to be hitting the strike zone well.  Baseball Info Solutions has his ZONE% at 48.3% and PITCHf/x has it at 47.3%.  Both numbers are up significantly from last year.  The BIS number is in line with his 2010 and 2011 performances.  Prior to 2012 his PITCHf/x ZONE% were in the low 50s, so that is still slightly below historic rates, but not far enough off for me to be too concerned due to the increase from last year to this.

The horizontal release point was the last concern, and it still seems to move around horizontally more than I would like.  In the first four games especially this was true.  This chart is from yesterday though, and aside from a couple of pitches, the mass of points shows much more consistency.  I will continue to keep an eye on this, and hopefully the consistency will follow last game and continue to get better.

Overall James Shields has been a huge upgrade over any of the “Aces” the Royals have had leading their starting rotation for the last decade with the exception of Zack Greinke’s couple of good years.  This still hasn’t made me forget Wil Myers, but I have to admit that the success so far has dulled the pain a little.  Shields has been fun to watch, and has lived up to every expectation to this point.  So far, so good.

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  • jimfetterolf

    So far the Royals are winning the trade fWAR 1.2 to zero. The fact that Shields, and to a lesser extent Davis, have been able to toe up with good pitchers and give a chance to win every start is even better.

    • Brian Henry

      The Royals would need a HUGE lead at the end of this year for me to believe they win the trade overall from a WAR perspective since we only get two years of Shields versus six years of Myers. Like my post a week or so a go said, Davis is going to need to be really good because Odrizzi is likely to bring some wins in for the Rays at some point too.

      • jimfetterolf

        I’m not that impressed with Odorizzi and didn’t consider him our best pitching prospect, that would be Yordano Ventura, and with the TJS rehabbers and Ventura coming along I didn’t think he’ld pitch much at all for the Royals. I think Dayton Moore had the same view on Odorizzi. Jake may turn into a decent pitcher, we won’t know for awhile.

        As for two years of Shields, maybe less than that as I see him traded ASB ’14 for prospects, but even with that 40 or 45 games of playing .500 against opposing aces has a great deal of value in taking the Royals to the next steps, which are contention and becoming an attractive destination for FAs, as well as filling the stands. If Davis is just a solid 3/4 for the next few years, that’s a fairly easy win, as the first tenth of the year shows what pitching can accomplish, even without much bat. We will probably be discussing this for years :)

        • Brian Henry

          Odrizzi is not someone I expect a lot out of, but even a 4th starter who can eat some innings has value. Look at guys like Kevin Correia and what teams will pay them to show up and pitch every fifth day. I think he can turn into that.

          • jimfetterolf

            I used to be fairly high on Jake, but the second half of last year exposed him, most troubling was high pitch counts and facing teams for a second time. We could say, “But what about Duffy and pitch counts?”, which has validity except that Duffy has top drawer stuff while Odorizzi didn’t even, stuff-wise, comp well with Luis Mendoza.

            I think Jake getting bombed by Reno, then looking over matched in his two late Royals’ starts made Dayton think that he’ld have a hard time using him this year or next year with his new rotation and with Will Smith ready in Omaha and with three TJS rehabbers plus Ventura in sight. There was a crowd on the horizon and Jake had some glitter but didn’t project in KC. That’s a trade waiting to happen. If I had to guess, I’ld say Odorizzi would be traded by this time next year, don’t see how he’ll fit with Tampa.