A New Storyline Emerges: James Shields and His “Old-School Soul”


It’s a theme around baseball every spring that hyperbole will run rampant, and somebody will say something that makes a fair amount of the listening and viewing audience plant their flag into the ground while saying “you see, that’s why I like that guy”, that really doesn’t mean anything at all.

Our first visit to the latter camp comes via James Shields with his quote in this article on ESPN.com earlier this week.

“I feel like I have an old-school soul,’’ Shields said. “I pride myself on going deep in games. I don’t care if I give up four runs or no runs. I like saving the bullpen. I think it’s very important.”

Let’s ignore for a second that everyone should care whether James Shields gives up four runs or no runs, and James Shields giving up no runs is far more important than James Shields going nine innings, and focus on the first nine words of what’s sure to be the swoon-inducing phrase of the season.

“I feel like I have an old-school soul.”

For all the good that Shields brings to the Royals, and there’s plenty of that as Matt Klaassen writes, one thing that will not be fun to listen to all summer is the overreaching narrative that he’s a “bulldog” or a “gamer” or in this case, an “old-school soul”.

This is a thing with the Royals — especially the Royals under Dayton Moore — the pumping up of semi-meaningless or superfluous traits as somehow meaning more-than. There’s been no shortage of detractors of the regime that has yet to win even 76 games since it took over, and one of the major reasons for that is their crippling focus on the things that cannot be defined, cannot be measured, and cannot be used to predict future performance. The last of those things being the most important.

Because in James Shields the Royals now have something they haven’t had in nearly two full seasons, and have really only had one of in the last decade: a legitimate No.1 starter.

While I could argue that there really are only ten No.1 starters throughout baseball (there are, though I’d let you talk me into there being 12), at the very least there is a clear-cut difference between Shields and the rest of the staff. That’s a nice change.

He’s finished with below a 3.30 xFIP the last two seasons, and he’s only finished higher than a 3.90 xFIP once, his rookie season. The guy can pitch and pitch well, there’s no need to pump him up with these undefinable buzzwords.

But that’s what’s going to happen and the people will love him for it. Sure, the quote was his words and not the organization’s, but given what fans have endured during the past seven years, given the hyperbole surrounding Yuniesky Betancourt’s “defense”, Chris Getz being “mistake free”, and Jeff Francoeur’s “leadership”, James Shields’ “old-school soul” will be another marker down the road of irrelevant storylines the Royals will have this season.

Besides, when I think old-school soul, I don’t think James Shields, I think Al Green.