Key Stats: The player they nicknamed Big Game comes away from the 2011 season finally haveing some luck on his side. He set career bests in ERA (2.82), Wins (16), strikeout % (23.1%) and opponents AVG (.215). He cut his ERA nearly in half from 2010 despite advanced ERA measurements that were similar from the year before (xFIP, SIERA). Shields finished in the Top 10 in all of baseball in ERA, IP, Complete Games, Shut Outs, Strike Outs and WHIP.
Skeptics Say: His BABIP was well below league average at a mere .258. He stranded a career best 79.6% of his baserunners (he is usually closer to 71%) and his BB rate went up a 5th straight year. 2011 was the only season he has ever posted an ERA under 3.00. Despite the BABIP, LOB%, and BB/9, the rest of his peripherals all point to a more “coming of age” moment than a lucky season. Mike Podhorzer points out that he was mixing his pitches better and didn’t throw his fastball as much this season, showing he has developed more of an understanding in how to pitch and make the most of what he has.
Peer Comparison: Shields throws a 90mph fastball, and gets people out with a really good change up that drops in velocity by about 13 mph. He has solid control, with a career 3.64 K/BB. He has been susceptible to the long ball over his career with a 1.17 HR/9. As I stated already, his ERA finally matched where his other 5×5 stats say it should have been. Interestingly, there is another pitcher out there with a 90mph fastball, a great change up that drops by about 13 mph, has a career 3.55 K/BB ratio and a HR/9 over his career of .96. Now, I’m not saying these guys are identical, but it certainly is nice to think that Shields has the ability to pitch as well as Johan Santana over his career, eh?
Team Outlook: The Rays dangled Shields as trade bait as recently as November, but now are saying he is off the market, though that doesn’t mean they won’t listen to offers. As it stands now it’s looking like Shields will remain a Ray and be part of a very impressive rotation. Rays Rant points out that January is the busiest month for the Rays offseason historically, so who knows what will happen with names like Theriot and Trumbo or Morales being mentioned as possible targets.
What They’re Saying: CBS Sportsline – #10 in the Top 100 Starting Pitchers; Tristan Cockcroft of ESPN.com – #17 in the Top 75 Starting Pitchers & #70 in the Top 250 Players; RotoChamp – #103 in the Top 300 Players
Projection: I think we have seen a sign of things to come with Shields as opposed to just a good season and then back to being above average. Without significant additions to the Rays lineup, though a full season from Longoria and Jennings could count as additions from last season, we may not get more than the 16 wins Shields delivered last year. I would take that with another 220+ innings pitched and K/9 over 8.
16 Wins, 3.12 ERA, 205 K, 1.10 WHIP in 220 IP