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.
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.