Is James Shields' seeming ability to elevate his game in certain situations just one of those things, or is it one of *those* things?
It’s common knowledge that James Shields is one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball. Over nine seasons as a pro, he has pitched at least 200 innings eight times, and produced at least 2.0 WARP eight times—without ever topping 3.5. His excellent FIPs from his sophomore season on have never strayed from a .8-run band.
Yet one of the keys to Shields’ success in recent seasons has been his inconsistency—specifically, his ability to pitch significantly better with runners on base, and especially when they reach scoring position. Since joining the Royals, he has been worse than the average pitcher with bases empty, and a true ace with runners on:
The rest of this article is restricted to Baseball Prospectus Subscribers.
Not a subscriber?
Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get access to the best baseball content on the web.
What it's like for the players who haven't been in October--and what it's like when that changes.
Though the day was certainly scripted and carried out to honor a Yankee (and sports) icon, Derek Jeter Day also doubled as an October baseball reunion. As the Wild Card era has expanded postseason opportunities for franchises, players, and fans, a select group of major leaguers have seen their dreams of competing in the postseason come true over and over and over again. Jeter has appeared in 158 playoff games, tops in MLB history. Also on the charts and in attendance at Yankee Stadium were no. 2, 3, 6, 7, and 10 on the postseason games played list: Jorge Posada (125), Bernie Williams (121), Tino Martinez (99), Mariano Rivera (96) and Paul O’Neill (85). Reggie Jackson had played in the most postseason games (77) before the addition of the wild card; he was there. Add Michael Jordan to the invite list and you’ve tallied another 179 playoff games of experience to the group, though he would carry the nickname “Mr. June” more fittingly. As a matter of math, the 14 athletes gathered at this on-field mixer share 1,252 games of postseason experience among them, which takes into account Joe Torre’s 142 games of managerial duty.
As we all looked on, a quick glance to the Royals dugout showed that day’s opposing team taking in the festivities from the top step. This gathering of onlookers were composed almost entirely of players who know what the playoffs look and feel like based only on stories they’ve been told and televisions they have watched. Sure, James Shields has battled six games, Omar Infante 30 and Raul Ibanez 44, but nearly every starter on that squad has had nary a sniff of October’s magical scent.
Should WAR(P) systems adjust their defensive measures? Okay. Now, which direction?
We heard the first blows in the nascent MVP debate of 2014 unfold just last week. At the time, Alex Gordon led all players in fWAR (by a narrow margin), largely on the basis of his extraordinary defense in left field (15 fielding runs above average, fifth highest in MLB). In response, Jeff Passan wrote that the idea of Alex Gordon as the best player in baseball was absurd.
Much wailing and gnashing of teeth ensued. To some of the doubters of sabermetrics, Gordon’s triumph on the leaderboards was yet more proof of the uselessness of WAR(P). To others, arguments against Gordon may have seemed ill-formed.
How much of Danny Duffy's breakout season can be traced to James Shields?
On July 21st, the Royals dropped to eight games below the Tigers, following a fourth consecutive loss. The negativity that so often envelopes Kansas City baseball returned. Fans checked prospect lists rather than the standings in preparation for the trade deadline, and some even rationalized that a fruitful haul would be preferable to a spot in the Wild Card game. That and other beliefs about this year's team have since been challenged, as the Royals have claimed first place after winning 17 of their past 21 games.
The highlights from Art Stewart's and Sam Mellinger's new book.
The Art of Scouting, a new book written by Kansas City Star columnist Sam Mellinger, was released last week. The title belies the content to some degree, since what follows is not a scouting manual (though there is a chapter that covers the basics, like the 20-80 scale). Instead the Art in question refers to long-time scout Art Stewart, whose seven decades in the game are covered in memoir form.
Has the Royals' new hitting coach fixed what ails their offense?
The Royals have had a roller-coaster season. No team has seemed more alternately doomed and formidable while playing to a near .500 record. Because they came into the season poised for a playoff run, with the Shields/Myers trade looming large, the stakes for the team are high. Yet, depending on the day, the team appears to be either ready to make a deep playoff run on the back of fireballing phenom Yordano Ventura or poised on the precipice of failure and an impending teardown.
Much of the anxiety imparted by the Royals stems from the performance of the so-far anemic offense, which generated higher expectations in the spring. Seemingly skilled hitters like Billy Butler and Mike Moustakas have not met their relatively optimistic projections. Without an obvious explanation (such as injury) for their underperformance, hitting coach Pedro Grifol got the axe in late May, replaced by Dale Sveum, the former Cubs skipper.
The Royals score 11 runs off a defending Cy Young winner for the second straight day, the A's continue to trouble Yu Darvish, and much more action from Tuesday.
The Tuesday Takeaway
For much of Angels starter Matt Shoemaker’s career, the odds have been stacked against him. Shoemaker went undrafted out of Eastern Michigan—where he had a 4.83 ERA and 1.36 strikeout-to-walk ratio in three seasons—and spent parts of the next seven years in the Angels’ minor league system before making his major league debut last September. On Tuesday night, Shoemaker toed the rubber against the Indians for what turned out to be the best outing of his short big league career, and he was well on his way to a complete game before a short rain delay in the ninth inning brought a premature end to his night.
Thick and meaty reports on two high-profile minor-league teams.
Jason Knapp RHP, Texas Rangers
Got the back story on Knapp from Chi Chi Gonzalez and Cody Buckel. Knapp was originally in the Cliff Lee trade going to Cleveland, had two shoulder surgeries the next year and was cut by Cleveland. Has been out of pro ball since 2010, I believe. He met up with his old pitching coach at UPenn and started a throwing program. Paid for his own third surgery and started working hard. Since last surgery, Knapp said it took him roughly 16-18 months to feel healthy. Threw at UPenn for a full year and got noticed by a Rockies scout; explored his options and signed with Texas. He’s on a strict throwing program; every outing is 25 pitches or less, no throwing the next day after an outing, extreme running the next two days. He threw Wednesday during the day and I asked Chi Chi how he felt yesterday and everything was good. Knapp threw flat grounds from 45-60-75 feet yesterday; marked the first time throwing the day after an outing. The plan is to build arm strength until he feels 100 percent, then keep him in relief.