While I was driving home from a late meeting tonight, Dave Wills and Andy Freed were sending James Shields back out to the mound for the 9th while discussing his career Complete Games. All 5 of them (last night was his 6th but, he hadn’t yet finished it when Andy and Dave were having this discussion).
I almost had to pull over I was so surprised.
I mean, of all the things Shields has been and can be, the one unvarying strength I have always defended is his ability to eat innings. In fact, thanks to Rays PR, I know that Shields is one of five pitchers to work 200 IP and fan 150 hitters in each of the last four seasons (Justin Verlander, CC Sabathia, Dan Haren, Matt Cain). But, in all that time, and all those innings, he has given the ball to Joe Maddon all but 6 times. That just boggles the mind.
So what gives? Shields clearly has the physical makeup to throw a lot of innings. So, the reason he isn’t finishing games isn’t fatigue or pitch count. Also, based upon this handy information from Brooks Baseball, his pitch speed was just fine in the 9th inning tonight. So, it doesn’t appear that his pitches lose any of their bite late in games.
That can only mean that Joe Maddon thinks other pitchers are better matchups the last time through a batting order. Looking at Shields’ career splits, Maddon might be right. Here are Shields’ career splits based on number of prior at bats with a particular batter:
|1st PA in G, as SP||4.41||.264||.305||.427||.731||94|
|2nd PA in G, as SP||3.52||.267||.315||.435||.749||99|
|3rd PA in G, as SP||3.29||.274||.317||.464||.780||106|
|4th+ PA in G, as SP||3.00||.299||.341||.490||.831||120|
It isn’t surprising to see some dropoff in success as hitters see more of Shields in a game. I think that is true of every pitcher. But Shields sees a marked dropoff his fourth time through the rotation. And, given the huge number of hits and baserunners he’s allowed, he gets to that fourth rotation earlier than the 9th inning. That makes it look like Joe is taking the ball from Shields because he is managing trips through the order more than he is managing innings pitched. (Which, to Joe’s credit, makes a lot of sense).
So, we probably won’t see Today’s Game James throw a lot more complete games unless he gets his strikeout numbers back where they were during his 3 CG season in 2008. But, let’s hope we do, because he has been great three times in a row now.