I have been keeping an eye on James Shields due to some injury concern since the beginning of the season. You can check out my previous posts and links to Jeff Zimmerman’s and John Kalk’s work for more explanation on why I am looking at these factors through the links. There may still be some minimal concern, but there may be another explanation for the deviations from Shields’ historic rates.
First let’s look where there have been no problems:
Fangraphs shows that Shields is maintaining his increased velocity that he started to show last year, and is consistently low 90s and able to get in the 94 or 95 MPH range at times. He has been very consistent here and there are no injury concerns due to velocity.
Zimmerman originally was worried about two things including Shields moving around on the rubber, which was leading to release point inconsistency at the end of the season last year. The wider than average horizontal release point is still there somewhat, but it has been very consistent throughout the season if you go game by game. I will refrain from posting game by game release point charts because they are boring. Take my word for it or head over to Fangraphs and check them out. I have not noticed James moving his foot on the rubber, but the pattern looks similar to the end of last season so he might still be doing it. I will be at The K on Sunday when Shields is slated to start, so I will try to pay attention to his starting point on the
May 6, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher James Shields (33) walks to the dugout after the sixth inning of the game against the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
mound throughout the game.
That leaves one more concern. Throwing the ball in the strike zone consistently is good, and hard for a pitcher who is hurting. Last year Shields’ Zone% was way lower than his historic rate slightly above 50% with a 41.7% from Baseball Info Solutions and 45% from PITCHf/x. This year his Zone% is 42.4% (47.2% PITCHf/x) so it is still low, but not as low as last year. The last 4 games have been especially bad from BIS, but PITCHf/x says last game was back in the low 50s, so it is hard to say if the control is deteriorating as of late. It still doesn’t look as bad as the end of last year either, so their may be nothing here, or there might be another reason for missing the strike zone more often.
Last season’s worst Zone% was also the season with the best velocity and strike out rate. It’s possible that Shields has dialed it up a little over the past two seasons and given up some control in an attempt to strike out more batters. His walk rate did not increase last year, so he did not pay for it last year in that manner, but so far this year the walk rate is up a little bit. One other thing too, what is a good Zone%?
Bartolo Colon and Cliff Lee are good examples of strike throwers right now and they are in the 53% are by BIS and 60.8% and 57.2% respectively by PITCHf/x. That being said there are plenty of good pitchers in the range James Shields is now hanging out in. If there has been a change in his approach to pitching, it has not lead to control issues bad enough that we should be overly concerned.