James Shields arrived in Kansas City with high expectations and under heavy scrutiny. Such is life after one of the biggest trades in franchise history.
Now that Shields has made his final start off 2013, we can look at the whole season and see that he was as advertised. He was a workhorse, throwing 228.2 innings in 34 starts, the most innings from a Royals starter since Zack Greinke threw 220 in 2010. He contributed 4.1 bWAR and 4.5 fWAR this season, joining Greinke and Gil Meche as the only 4+ WAR starting pitchers in the Dayton Moore era. His 196 strikeouts tie him for sixth place (Kevin Appier – 1997) in Royals history for a single season.
This season has been one of Shields’s best. In 2011, he finished third in AL Cy Young voting after a 2.82 ERA in 249.1 innings, good for a 134 ERA+. His ERA+ this year is 131. He gave up 20 homers this year, the lowest number he’s allowed over a full season in his career. No doubt Kauffman Stadium helped – right? Actually, Shields gave up twelve of those homers at the K (107 IP) and only eight on the road (121.2 IP).
Overall, Shields saw a drop in his K% and a jump in his BB%. In 2011, he struck out 23.1% of the batters he faced. In 2012, he struck out 23.6%. This season his strikeout rate was down to 20.7%. At the same time, his BB% went from 6.7% in 2011 to 6.1% in 2012 but has jumped to 7.2% this year. His ground ball rate dropped as well, from 46.2% in 2011 and 52.3% last year to 41.6% this season.
Perhaps that’s some cause for concern. Shields is going to turn 32 this winter and has logged more than 200 innings in seven straight seasons. It’s worth noting as well that while Shields saw a decline in both rates this year, both are still above league average. His HR/FB% was the lowest he’s ever seen at 8.6%. Baseball-Reference’s game logs show that Shields allowed 197 fly balls in 16 home starts, giving up 12 homers, for a 6.1 HR/FB% at the K, so while he gave up a higher number of homers, the K seemed to help him keep the ball in the yard.
And while Shields saw a dip in his strikeout rate, over his last eight starts, he struck out 26.9% of the batters he faced, and both games in which he struck out 10 batters happened in that stretch.
Shields threw seven innings or more in 21 of his 34 starts this year. He reached at least six innings in 30 starts. Only once did he leave before five innings – his 9/6 start against Detroit. He threw 3.2 innings and got rocked. Of his 34 starts, 27 had a game score of 50 or better, and seven were at 70 or better.
He’s been exactly who they expected him to be: a strong, reliable starter, and a leader in the clubhouse.
The next step comes in 2014, the last year of Shield’s current contract. He’s said he’s interested in an extension that would keep him in Kansas City beyond next season, and I’m sure the Royals would be interested in having him as well. It would certainly change the evaluation of the Wil Myers trade if the Royals were able to add two potential years to his Royals tenure.