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|CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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In 2013, James Shields, alongside Wade Davis, arrived in Kansas City as the figurehead of the Royals' slow, steady yet terrifying ascension to rulers of the entire sport. When facing a pair of weak and vulnerable White Sox offenses, he was merciless, chewing up 73 innings over 11 starts from 2013 to 2014, striking out 65 batters and compiling a 2.47 ERA.
That guy is not coming to Chicago.
Shields is also better than discrete events like giving up home runs to Bartolo Colon, and getting ripped publicly by his owner after giving up 10 runs to the Mariners would suggest, but there is real decline. There's no pitching metric in the world that is fond of how he has dovetailed a large spike in his home run rate with his home stadium becoming Petco Park (1.4 HR/9), and his walk percentage (9.5) has doubled since his last year in Kansas City.
The big gain in strikeout rate he experienced last season has returned to his career average (20.1 percent), and now that he's sitting around a 90-mph average fastball, there's nothing that has emerged in his game to counteract that deterioration, even if the changeup is still a devastating offering. PECOTA slots him for a 3.88 ERA the rest of the season, and all parties should walk away satisfied if he lands in that general area.
At 34, and closing in on 2,200 major-league innings under his belt, this downward slide is to be expected. The selling points for Shields at this point are durability, and context. He's riding a streak of nine straight seasons with over 30 stars and 200 innings, and while PECOTA expects the latter of those streaks to die, he still soaks up workload at a rate well beyond that of the typical No. 4 starter. And that context is crucial. Carlos Rodon's frustrating first half aside, Shields is coming on because of Miguel Gonzalez and Mat Latos.
Latos has the third-lowest strikeout rate of any qualified starter in baseball and save for some April magic, would be sporting a truly grisly stat line to match his 119 cFIP. Gonzalez, picked off the waiver wire after being released by the Orioles out of spring training, has yet to last six innings against any non-Royals competition. With Shields' arrival, Gonzalez is ticketed to the bullpen, perhaps because it was an easier conversation to have with him than it would have been with Latos, but either way, the Sox have gone from praying for rain twice for every trip through the rotation to just once.
That's a benefit worth paying for, and with the Sox only obligated for at most $27 million through 2018, they are securing aging, durable competence for under market value. That said, it would be best for all involved if Shields pitched well enough to inspire him to use his post-2016 opt-out: Shields could strike free agency one last time during what looks to be a barren talent market this offseason, some other team could wind up paying to find out how graceful his twilight years end up being. —James Fegan
It's hard to believe that moving out of Petco Park (or at least no longer starting approximately half of one’s games there), could actually be a positive for a pitcher’s future production. That said, things have changed out in San Diego. The fences have been moved in and the defense the Padres provide is, to put it nicely, not doing the pitchers any favors. Regarding team defense, Shields will be going from the Padres, who currently have the eighth-worst park-adjusted defensive efficiency, to the White Sox, who currently have the fifth-best park-adjusted defensive efficiency. While these teams’ offenses are currently scoring almost the same number of runs per game, the Padres will likely continue to be sellers, whereas the White Sox will likely continue to “go for it”, which (along with some rebound from Jose Abreu) indicates that the White Sox will score more runs going forward.
While going from the DH-less league to the league with the DH is generally a negative, Shields goes from very good hitting division in the NL West (especially when we remove the Padres from the opponent pool) to a much more mediocre one in the AL Central (which includes the now injury plagued Royals). Whether Shields is a viable fantasy starter will ultimately depend on how he deals with his decreased velocity, but, regardless, the external factors should help.
No longer in the starting rotation, Gonzalez now carries little value for fantasy baseball participants. He will continue to do so until (and if) he gets another shot in the rotation. —Jeff Quinton
|SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Acquired RHP Erik Johnson and 3B-R Fernando Tatis Jr. from Chicago White Sox in exchange for RHP James Shields and cash. [6/4]
When the Padres dealt for Johnson, they acquired a pitcher who had never given up a home run to Bartolo Colon. In that sense, perhaps, he’s an upgrade over James Shields. In every other sense, Johnson’s probably an inferior starting pitcher. In each of the past four seasons, the White Sox gave Johnson just enough MLB starts to test him out, and just enough rope with which to hang himself. His career DRA is an almost-respectable 4.56 over 18 starts, but his career cFIP is a worrisome 117, substantially worse than league average.
It would be one thing if Johnson had shown consistency at Triple-A, grinding away and earning chance after chance–but that really hasn’t happened. Last year, his time in Triple-A Charlotte was excellent: he struck out more than a batter per inning and posted a 2.37 ERA. Of course, the season before his ERA at the same level was 6.73 and he couldn’t strike out more than 5.5 guys per nine innings, and his performance this season hasn’t been up to last year’s standard. The real issue here is control: with below-average velocity on most of his offerings, Johnson needs to outpace a 4.5 BB/9 mark like the one he’s posted in the big leagues. If he could find something closer to his 3.4 BB/9 from four years at Triple-A, maybe the friendly environment in PetCo Park could make him a worthwhile roster, if not exactly valuable.
No, acquiring Johnson is about grabbing a fifth- or sixth-starter to slot in as Shields’ replacement while clearing salary. If he turns into one of Petco’s magical ace relievers or establishes himself as a solid starter somehow, then that’s found money at this stage. The star of this acquisition for the Padres wasn’t Johnson or Tatis, it was the giant pile of cash that they won’t have to spend over the next couple of years. —Bryan Grosnick
As you probably should have guessed from the name, Tatis Jr. is the son of former big-league infielder Fernando Tatis. While he wasn't considered one of the elite prospects of the international free agent class coming out of the Dominican Republic, he was well known, and the White Sox gave him $700,000 on signing day, also known as July 2.
Like his dad, Tatis Jr. has shown the ability to make hard contact to all parts of the field, and he has an easy, smooth swing that he repeats well for someone who won't turn 18 for another seven months. The swing is geared toward contact, but he does have strong wrists and some bat speed, so he could have average power as his frame fills out.
Tatis Jr. was signed as a shortstop, but he's currently only an average runner who isn't going to get any faster, and the lack of athleticism likely means he moves off the position. Those strong wrists mentioned above do give him a strong throwing arm, and with scouts saying he has good baseball instincts, he could be a quality third baseman.
Giving any kind of ceiling or floor is basically impossible for Tatis Jr., as he has zero professional experience and is the age of most high school juniors. Based on reports and video, he does look like a potential contributor, but the ceiling isn't huge (or vaulted, I guess you could say), and like all teenagers, there's a ton of volatility here as well. —Christopher Crawford
Wait? Shouldn’t all the contextual factors that led to an up arrow for Shields call for a down arrow for Johnson? No and the following sentences will explain why. Mainly, contextual factors only matter if a player has an opportunity, and in Chicago, that opportunity was not there for Johnson. In San Diego, there should be plenty of opportunity for Johnson in relatively short order. —Jeff Quinton
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