The Pittsburgh Pirates need to bolster a starting rotation that currently ranks 23rd in ERA. With options such as Chris Sale and Chris Archer seeming to be unrealistic, could James Shields enter the fold?
The Pittsburgh Pirates bread and butter over the course of their last few seasons has been a strong starting rotation. This season, however, it has been a real struggle for the team. Their current 4.85 ERA ranks 23rd in all of baseball. The Pirates are not having quality starts either, as the team’s quality start percentage of 42 percent ranks number 22. Averaging only 5.4 innings per start, the team ranks 28th in baseball, as the Pirates starters are not going deep into games.
On top of the struggles of the rotation struggling mightily, two internal options have gotten injured as well. Tyler Glasnow was placed on the disabled list with a shoulder injury and Chad Kuhl left a start in Triple-A Indianapolis with right triceps discomfort. After looking good in his four previous July starts (3.57 ERA and 3.01 FIP), Francisco Liriano tossed a clunker last night against the Seattle Mariners. The Pirates two starters that have been the most consistent are Gerrit Cole, who has been hurt twice, and rookie Jameson Taillon, who the team is limiting his pitches and innings. The team needs help, and could Big Games James Shields help that?
On the 2016 season, James Shields has posted a 4.68 ERA, 5.15 FIP, and a 4.93 xFIP. The 5.15 FIP ranks eighth worst in the game and he ranks seventh worst in xFIP. His numbers don’t indicate he has pitched well, and he has not for the most part of the year. Part of his problems have stemmed from his four starts from May 31st through June 18th. In those four, Shields went only 11.1 innings and posted a 24.62 ERA and 13.55 FIP, mainly in part due to his 31.8 percent home run to fly ball ratio, a number that couldn’t sustain.
In Shields other 17 starts this season, he has pitched rather well. In 111.2 innings, Shields has allowed 33 earned runs for an ERA of 2.66, noticeably better than 4.68 season mark he has posted. His FIP, though, is still a high number of 4.29, showing how he has gotten some luck. He has 3.14 walks per nine rate and a strikeout per nine rate of 6.45. He’s not striking many hitters out, but he has been a better pitcher and has had more control than Jeff Locke and Francisco Liriano.
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The difference for Shields in those 17 starts has been his ability to use his change, curve, and slow curve. In 185 at bats ending in those three pitches, opponents are hitting .220 with a .341 slugging, and he has 47 strikeouts using those three pitches, 27 percent of at bats ending in those three pitches have resulted in a strikeout. When Shields has his changeup working, he is the pitcher worth $75 million over four years. In those four straight starts where Shields got rocked, opponents hit .360 with a .560 slugging against those three pitches, and only 12 percent of at bats end in those pitches (25) ended with a strikeout. Shields getting the changeup back has been the key in his strong 17 starts.
On just changeups alone, left handed hitters hit .600 with a 1.00 slugging and zero strikeouts in ten at bats ending in a changeup in that stretch of bad games for Big Game James. In his other 17 starts, Shields has had 59 at bats against left handed pitching end in a changeup, and opponents are hitting .237 with a .271 slugging percentage, and he has eight strikeouts against left handed pitching using the change. With his resurgence using the changeup, and his 2.11 ERA in his last seven starts after getting shelled in his four previous ones, James Shields should be an intriguing target to take a look at.
Starting in 2007, James Shields has gone at least 200 innings a season. He is a horse that can be counted on to make each and every start. He is under contract this season, with an opt out clause, and under control for 2017 and 2018, as well as having an option for 2019. The Padres are on the hook for $11 million of his $21 million in both 2017 and 2018, so the Pirates would get a cost controlled pitcher, similar to Jon Niese. If the Pirates can get the White Sox to eat some more of the money, the Pirates can a veteran horse and staff leader for the next two years and two months. The veteran staff leader is something that looks like the Pirates are missing with AJ Burnett retiring, something that cannot be quantified, and adding Shields to the mix would be a boost to the current staff, even with a regression likely occurring.