James Shields Signs with the Padres: What it Means for the Dbacks


This is the last time that I will talk about James Shields for at least a month. Just getting that out there right now

Yesterday, the last remaining big free agent finally made a decision as to where he will pitch in 2015. After months of speculation and unknowns, James Shields has finally made up his mind, and found the deal that works best for him.

Of course he decided to sign with the Padres, who seem to  have an endless supply of cash on them, and new general manager A.J. Preller is taking advantage, and trying to make the Padres a winning team right now.

He has certainty made the Padres relevant again. He already added Justin Upton, Will Myers, Matt Kemp, and Derrick Norris, and now he is adding a starter that is guaranteed to put up 200 plus innings, and lead your rotation.

The N.L. West just got tougher today, and that is not good news for the Diamondbacks. Remember a few years ago when expectations were so high for this team under Kevin Towers, and they didn’t live up to them?

Well, this team wont have to worry about that in 2015. Now, most people will say that the best the Diamondbacks can hope for is a fourth place finish.

The Dodgers are the Dodgers, the Giants have won three World Series in the past five years, and they seem to get it done every year no matter what under the best front office in baseball, and most people will pencil in the Padres in third place with a chance to win a wild card.

Trying to evaluate whether or not the Diamondbacks should have signed Shields is really complicated to do. I don’t know if I have ever seen a more interesting free agent case than Shield’s. His market changed so much over time, and I never really knew which teams were actually in on him.

There is a reason why Dave Stewart and the Diamondbacks were so interested in him for so long. He is going into his age 33 season, and he is the most durable pitcher in the sport. Shields has pitched at least 200 innings for the past eight seasons, and since 2007 he has pitched 1,785 innings which is number one in all of baseball ahead of Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez.

Many people wont consider him an ace, but when you look at his run prevention numbers, he belongs in that group. Shields is one of only two pitchers to throw at least 200 innings, and record an ERA+ of at least 109 over the past four seasons along with Hernandez. ERA+ adjusts a pitchers earned run average for the ballpark they pitch in.

Shields is also in elite company when it comes to limiting home runs, walks, and hit batters while racking up a ton of strikeouts. He is one of four pitchers to post a 3.60 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) while pitching at least 200 innings over the past four seasons joining Hernandez, Cole Hamels, and Madison Bumgarner.

Most people consider King Felix, Hamels, and Bumgarner to be elite aces, so in that regard, Shields should be in that category.

Granted, Shields K/9 dropped last year to 7.14 from 7.71 in 2013, but his fastball velocity actually increased a little bit. According to Brooks Baseball, in 2013 Shields fastball velocity was 93.00, and in 2014 it was 93.67. His curve-ball which generates more swings and misses than any of his other pitches increased in velocity in 2014.

Shields also made up for his drop in strikeouts, by also decreasing his walk rate in 2014. Shields has also made at least 33 starts over the past eight seasons. For me, Shields is an ace.

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Now the question becomes: Should the Diamondbacks have pursued him more aggressively

I wrote an article for the site explaining the reasoning for why the Dbacks should have pursued him. It centers around the fact that the Diamondbacks don’t believe they are rebuilding, and the front office thinks that this team can compete this year.

Considering how tough the N.L. West is going to be, and given how tough it is to score runs in the senior circuit, Shields would have been a great addition. This team desperately needs an innings eater who is consistent and durable. Even if this team doesn’t win this year, they would have him at the top of the rotation to teach the young pitchers that are coming up through the system, and the hope is that he could lead this team back to the postseason.

Based on the fact that his velocity hasn’t decreased, the innings shouldn’t be an issue when you look at it from that perspective. Shields has always been a ground ball pitcher with a career GB% of 44.7% which is good when your pitching at Chase Field.

He ranked 24th in all of baseball in RA9 WAR with a 3.9 mark. RA9 WAR.

On the other hand, the fact that Shields has pitched so many innings over the past eight seasons can be a downside as well. Even though his velocity has stayed consistent, his strikeout rates are decreasing, and he is missing less bats.

His deception with his fastball might be deteriorating, which is not a good sign. Plus he is past his prime, so at some point his velocity is going to regress.

The biggest argument for not signing Shields is where the Diamondbacks are right now as a franchise, and the way their building their team.

As much as Dave Stewart and Tony La Russa think that this team can win and compete in 2015 in the N.L. West, its just not practical unless a miracle happens. The best this team can hope for is third place and I think 81 wins would be nice, but I think they will win between 76-78 games.

So is adding an aging pitcher on a four year contract that will take the team over their projected payroll mark the best idea. When you look at it from that perspective, probably not.

In that sense, even if Shields gives the Diamondbacks three or four extra wins and the Diamondbacks win 82 games, that isn’t enough to make the playoffs, and is 75 million over four years really worth it at that point? Plus given how much young pitching depth they have right now, I don’t know if adding another starter is the best idea.

I like the arguments for signing Shields, and for not signing Shields are both valid, and I wouldn’t be disappointed either way. The worst thing is that Shields is in the N.L. West, which makes our division so much tougher.