Shields is a really big deal
James Shields is even more important than you think.
Like many fans, when the Padres were in the hunt for the right-hander, I had to research a pitcher I had never seen. Even with interleague play, the American League is like this fuzzy world that is only visible from miles away, like elephant graveyard Simba asks his dad about when they’re on top of Pride Rock.
James Shields, as I have learned, is a big deal. No pitcher has been as good as he has been over the past decade (except Justin Verlander, who gave a lot of ground last year). I won’t bore you with numbers, but Shields either leads or is near the lead in every pitching statistic for the past 10 years. At 33, he is no spring chicken, and this contract is maybe one year too long, but he has shown no signs of regression.
His signing is a huge move for 4 main reasons:
- Changing leagues will make him better. Shields gets to pitch in Petco Park and AT&T Park in 90 games, 2 extreme pitchers parks in which he will likely take the hill 15-18 times. Here’s a quick rundown of Park Factors (lower the number, the more it favors pitchers):
Kauffman Stadium: 95 (Shield’s home last year)
Petco Park: 82
AT&T Park: 74
In a vacuum, this means Shields stands to give up 13% fewer runs by default. Don’t forget about Dodger Stadium, also, which has a park factor below 100. Throw in the fact that Shields no longer has to deal with the designated hitter (which is worth about 1-2% of increased run production in the AL) and you have a pitcher who might be as much as 15% better than last year, all things being equal of course. In case you’re wondering, that would make a 3.21 ERA instantly become 2.72. I realize there is not a 1-to-1 relationship with all these numbers. I am, admittedly, making gross estimates. Still, 2.72 would have been the 9th best ERA in the National League in 2014 (barely north of Tyson Ross’ 2.81).
- Shields makes everyone else in the rotation better. I don’t mean Shields will teach his wipe-out changeup to the rest of the Padres. When Shields absorbs all those innings at the top of the rotation it lowers the demands on the rest of the rotation. In effect, Ian Kennedy, the guy with the 3.63 ERA (27th best in the NL last year) is the number 4 starter. That means an opposing team can miss the Padres top starter in a 3-game series and still have to deal with Ross, Cashner and Kennedy. There is no soft spot, at all, in the top 4.In addition, this means there is only one more spot in the rotation. Any Padre who wants to make more than a few starts has to defeat everyone else for that spot. Competition is always good. The Padres fifth rotation spot could Brandon Morrow, Odrisamer Despaigne, Robbie Erlin, Matt Wisler, Josh Johnson, or someone else who takes the bull by the horns. It reminds me of the scene in “The Dark Knight” when the Joker asks 3 thugs which one wants to join him, he then throws down a broken pool cue and says they’re having “try-outs”… whoever wants the most, gets it, boys.
- Shields will make the bullpen better. The Padres ranked in the lower-third last year in innings from their starters. This is likely due, in large part, to the high pitch counts and/or low innings from guys like Despaigne, Jesse Hahn, Eric Stults, etc. With Shields likely to take at least 200 innings off the ledger, the workload in the bullpen will decrease. This should, potentially, increase effectiveness. It should also be noted that the Padres now have 3 starters (Shields, Ross, Kennedy) around that 200-inning mark. That’s 600 innings accounted for, which is a very good thing to count on.
- Shields has a post-season history. It has been said that teams have to learn how to win. James Shields has logged more innings in the post season than the entire Padres pitching staff combined. Some intangibles in baseball are without metrics, and this is one of them. Some in the Royals organization credit Shields with helping shape the culture that led them to the 2014 AL pennant. It stands to reason that Shields can do the same in 2015.
Don’t forget the Padres have an offense, now.
What does all this mean? It is getting really, really hard to control my excitement for this season. It also means my wife and kids will miss me a lot this summer.