Myers in one hand is worth more than Shields in the other. (Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Reality Check: James Shields Is Not An Ace


Will they or won’t they? The James Shields for Wil Myers trade rumors just won’t go away and I for one am getting tired of them. Even if given the chance to make that deal straight up, I’d tell the Rays no thanks. Of course now we’re hearing the Royals would have to give up Myers and something else.

Walk away Dayton, walk away.

Myers may never amount to anything in the major leagues, but he is a potential impact bat and one of the best the Kansas City organization has developed in their history. Trading six years of control of said impact bat for a pitcher is not a wise move unless:

  • You know you are in a place to contend and making the deal puts in in the mix to not just win a division but legitimately reach the World Series.
  • You get a young, stud pitcher who would front many if not most of the rotations in baseball either immediately or down the road. The point here is that you need to land a true and legitimate ace, or a pitcher that you believe can develop into that.

When it comes to James Shields and the Royals, neither of these conditions are met.

On the first issue, adding James Shields would get Kansas City much closer to having a bonafide major league rotation. It’s something we haven’t seen around these parts in a very, very long time and it’s certainly something I’d love to see (who wouldn’t?). However, even with Shields in the fold, the Detroit Tigers are still the favorites to win the AL Central and given the quality of teams in the AL East and AL West these days, it’s safe to say that second in this division isn’t going to land a wildcard spot. As much as I hate to admit it, there’s also a real good argument to be made that the Chicago White Sox would still be above KC in the division’s pecking order, especially if the Royals send will Myers packing to get another starting pitcher.

On the second condition James Shields is obviously not young. He will turn 31 years old in two weeks, but that doesn’t bother me so much since he’d likely only be with the Royals for the two years and $21 million left on his current contract.

What people continue to miss, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why, is that James Shields is not a stud pitcher. Maybe it’s because he pitches for the Rays and they tend do things right – at least recently. Maybe it’s because he got tagged with the nickname “Big Game James” along the way and people put too much stock into that. Whatever the reason for the general perception, the belief that James Shields is an ace is completely misguided.

It’s a myth and the Royals appear to be chasing it.

In seven major league seasons, Shields has thrown 1,454.2 innings pitched which averages out to nearly 208 innings per year. That’s fantastic. He takes the ball every fifth day and gives his team a chance to win. Of course just taking the ball when it’s your turn is just part of the equation. Heck, even Kyle Davies and Luke Hochevar have managed that along the way.

To average 208 innings per year you also have to go deep into games and that is one area Shields truly excels as he’s averaged 6.2 innings per start. That would, without a doubt, be a revelation in Kansas City as we all to often go a week or significantly longer without our starter walking to the mound in the seventh inning.

Since joining the Rays rotation back in 2006, James Shields is ninth in all of baseball when it comes to innings pitched.

Of course some of that is circumstantial since many careers have started and ended in that seven year stretch and as you can tell by the list of eight guys above him, it doesn’t mean you are an ace, or even a #2 starter (see Arroyo, Bronson). Some of these guys are the cream of the crop in baseball but for me the above contains only three no doubt aces (Verlander, Hernandez and Halladay) with two others either at that level or just on the cusp (Sabathia and Cain) depending on how narrowly you want to define things.

Regardless of definition though, if durability and ability to pitch deep into games were the only criteria, I’d be fully on board with the thinking that Shields belongs in the pantheon of major league aces.

Of course it’s about much, much more than that.

Moving on to other statistical measures, Shields has an excellent 3.68 SO/BB ratio since making his major league debut. If you’re wondering where he ranks among starters to throw 500 or more innings between 2006 and 2012, the answer is 11th, right behind the likes of Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Madison Bumgarner, Sabathia, Halladay and Haren. Included in that group above him are two pitchers – John Smoltz and Mike Mussina – who are no longer active. Strangely enough #2 on this list, with a 4.70 SO/BB, is former Twins pitcher Kevin Slowey who spent 2012 in Triple-A pitching poorly.

Over the years Shields has maintained his walk rate and has kept it at exactly 2.3 walks per nine innings each of the last three seasons. While doing that he’s bumped up his strikeout rate. His career SO/9 sits at 7.7 but in the last three seasons he’s gone from 8.3 to 8.1 to a career best 8.8 in 2012. That 7.73 career mark ranks 47th in baseball for pitchers to throw 500 or more innings since 2006. However, if we bump the innings requirement up to 1,000 he shoots up to 17th.

Interestingly enough Scott Baker who I regard as the biggest missed opportunity of the Royals offseason thus far has the same career 2.1 BB/9 as Shields, has a 7.2 SO/9 and has pushed that rate into the eights as he’s matured. In terms of SO/BB since 2006, Baker ranks 13th, just two spots behind Big Game James.

Here are his ranks in some other statistical categories using the same years (2006-2012) and same 500 inning minimum as I did for all of the above. On each stat I’ve noted a couple names that stick out. Either because the Royals recently acquired them (that should be a red flag for you), they are still on the market, or to give a general sense of some of the names around Shields.

Now, if you’re really paying attention – or even just kind of paying attention – you probably noticed that when I listed the nine pitchers who have logged the most innings since 2006 that I included their career ERA+ in each case until I got to Shields.

It was intentional and I regard this statistical measure to be one of the most damning pieces of evidence that proves he is not an ace – though I think his outside the upper echelon ranking in the other areas builds a strong case on it’s own. Before I reveal his number, feel free to go back up and look at the ERA+ for the other eight pitchers in the bulleted list. Or I can sum it up for you … You have Halladay at the top with a mark of 134, Verlander, Hernandez, Sabathia and Cain in the 120s, Buerhle at 119 and Haren at 116. At the bottom you have Arroyo with his slightly above league average 104 ERA+.

James Shields career ERA+ is currently at … 107.

Only twice in seven seasons has he recorded a mark better than Cain’s career 124 ERA+ and last season Shields finished at 108. Recent acquisitions Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie have career marks of 97 and 103 respectively. Guthrie’s 2012 performance as a Royal worked out to a mark of 130.

If we are asking the question would adding Shields upgrade the rotation, the answer is decidedly yes. He would move to the front of the line and become the Royals best starting pitcher while bumping someone like Luis Mendoza or Will Smith out of the mix.

However, if we are asking the question is James Shields an ace, then the answer is decidedly no.

Don’t get me wrong, he’s a very good pitcher but he’s not great and if I’m going to watch one of the top-5 prospects in all of baseball get dealt, Dayton Moore better have something great coming our way. James Shields is a lot closer to the Bakers and Guthries of the world than he is to the Cains and Buehrles out there. He also light years from belonging to the real aces in baseball like Verlander, David Price and Clayton Kershaw.

There are many reasons that Shields is the starter that Tampa Bay is most willing to trade right now and make no mistake it’s not just a matter of the dollars. They know all of the above. They know he’s not an ace. They know a lot of people around the game, especially teams like the Royals (who are hardly forward thinking in their evaluations) perceive him to be one. Aside from the reliability and durability, the Rays know he’s the most easily replaced in their rotation in terms of results relative to league average. Understand though, that’s not to slam James Shields as we’re talking about a rotation that one through five is currently better than anything Kansas City can send to the mound on Opening Day.

Wil Myers straight up for Shields is simply too steep a price for what the Royals would get back in return. Even if Myers is just major league average or slightly above average during the next six years, James Shields would have to pitch at a level beyond his career best in the next two seasons to make it a worthwhile trade for Kansas City. Take the six years versus two years piece and then throw in the $21 million they would have to pay Shields versus the major league minimum of about $1 million for the next two season combined that Myers would cost them. It’s starting to look like an albatross of a trade and my assessment doesn’t even factor in that Myers could hit the ground running in a Ryan Braun like fashion. It’s not likely since a very select few have Braun’s impact right off the bat, but Myers has that level of talent.

The ultimate bottom line here is that for a player of Wil Myers’ potential, landing a good #2 starter is simply not good enough.

Tags: James Shields Kansas City Royals Tampa Bay Rays Wil Myers

  • Stillroyal

    Please forward this article to Dayton Moore stat!

    • http://puckettspond.com/ Wally Fish

      If only it were that easy!

  • jimfetterolf

    Lot of numbers, but looked like Shields had a 4.3 fWAR, 18th among qualifying pitchers and about 2.5 wins better than Hochevar at twice the price, so a solid #1 and innings eater. I still wouldn’t trade Myers for two years of him, much rather have Anibal Sanchez and save Myers.

    • http://puckettspond.com/ Wally Fish

      Hey Jim, glad to see you around again!
      If 2.5 wins better than Hochevar is your bar for someone to be an ace, more power to you I suppose though that’s an extremely low bar to set. For me, 18th in anything in baseball does not make a player elite, and elite is what an ace is supposed to be in my mind. Maybe it’s just semantics on the differences between being a #1 and an ace?

      That aside, it sounds like we’re on the same page regarding Myers.

      • jimfetterolf

        I think we need to define “ace”. My rough definition is the top half of the top 30 qualifying pitchers. That puts the line around 5.0 or above, but just use the front page of fangraphs to see the #1s.

        As for 2.5 wins better than Hoch at twice the price, that is the value received for giving up Myers with his upside. That doesn’t win the Series, probably doesn’t make the playoffs, gives five more wins in two years. Even with Verlander we probably weren’t a .500 team last year, we went through that with Zack.

        • Stillroyal

          I think “Ace” means difference maker. Someone who will stop a losing streak. Shields is good….even very good. But he’s not even the 2nd best pitcher on the Rays.

          In the end we are all on the same page. Trading Myers is a bad idea. Trading him for Shields is patently dumb.

          • http://puckettspond.com/ Wally Fish

            I think difference maker is a good straight forward way to define it. For me there are 6-10 “aces” in baseball – they are the guys you would pick to start building a rotation around without even thinking about it. They are the guys that you send to the mound with the utmost confidence that they are going to put your team in position to win regardless of the opponent and opposing pitcher.

            When I think about who I would want in my rotation Shields is pretty far down that list and to Stillroyal’s point I would definitely take David Price (who wouldn’t) and I’d also opt for Matt Moore out of the Rays rotation. I know there are a lot of people who like to downgrade and poo-poo Hellickson but there are a lot of reasons to like him more than Shields at this point as well (for the record I’m not claiming Hellickson is better than Shields).

            I’m not opposed to trading Myers, if we’re talking about Matt Moore as the return, I’ll drive Wil to Tampa Bay and drop him off myself. (Not that the Rays would do that given Moore’s contract and upside). Madison Bumgarner is another guy I’d consider. But for me the Royals need to go “young” for “young” if they’re even going to think of dealing Myers.

          • jimfetterolf

            “Difference maker” is a bit vague. One idea I’ve kicked around is based on quality starts, even Verlander gave up five runs five or six times last year, but would be a consensus ace due to consistent ability to dominate a game.

            Do agree on young for young but prefer old for young, which is why I’ld be concentrating on trading Gordon for the next Matt Moore or Jeremy Hellickson, grow our own. We have the money to sign another FA or two without giving up any prospects and that, along with acquiring more hot MiL arms, puts us in position to contend and sustain, two top goals for me.

  • natfan

    it figures that somebody named wally fish thinks that shields is not an ace. shields is an ace he is way better than anything that the royals have now so if you guys want to keep finishing in the bottom half of the al west you have to give something to get something good luck with hochevar hahahahahah

    • http://puckettspond.com/ Wally Fish

      I suggest you get beyond my name which is what it is and actually read the article. I clearly state that Shields is better than anything the Royals have at the present time. I don’t think any Royals fan would complain if Shields were on the open market and it was just a matter of spending money.

      Also the Royals play in the AL Central but thanks for the inane comment either way.

      • natfan

        Wally, I’m sorry about the name comment, that was poor on my behalf. however Shields is a number 1 starter on most teams and clearly worth more than will Myers alone. Also mybad I meant AL Central, also the Royals won’t win the division because the tigers are a much better club but as a rays fan i would like to see the royals make a run for the division. The Royals do have some good young players and I wish them well.

        • http://puckettspond.com/ Wally Fish

          Water under the bridge my friend.

          There is a difference between being a number 1 and and ace. All aces are #1s but the converse is not necessarily true. I would argue he’s not a #1 in any but the loosest of definitions but that’s just my opinion (one however that I believe is born out in the stats and his resume).

          I completely agree the Tigers are well in front of the Royals. Even with Shields KC is still well behind Detroit and would need a LOT of things to break right to compete.

          As a Rays fan I know you’ve seen your share of dark times and your team got through them by making intelligent decisions. For me trading Myers for Shields is not a smart decision for KC.

          • jimfetterolf

            I don’t think Detroit is that far ahead, most of their advantage is that they split well against KC, which split well against Chicago. Primary goal would be just to play .500 against Detroit and the rest will take care of itself. Maybe this year Gordon doesn’t take strike 3 with the bases loaded or Hosmer whiff on three straight change-ups. Little things :)

  • Joe Schlatter

    You guys are right. We should keep stockpiling talent instead of trading for proven talent. I mean, he COULD be very good. If he is, the the Royals MIGHT be able to outscore other teams this year. Why try and get better pitching when you can have a better bat in the lineup. I mean, although hitters get up once every nine at-bats, and pitchers are on the mound every pitch, Wil Myers is worth it. He will probably hit a hundred home runs next year. At that pace the Royals will have a decent shot at making the playoffs.

    • http://puckettspond.com/ Wally Fish

      I’m ALL for trading Wil Myers or anyone else if it is a move that makes the team better both now and tomorrow. What they need is a true front line starter (which Shields is not IMO) and they need said starter to have a future in Kansas City that is more than just 2 years (which Shields does not given our tightwad owner).

      Even if you discount my points and the premise in the above article and think James Shields is an ace, what does acquiring him for Myers and others really get the team? At best they’re probably jockeying for 2nd in the Central which is the weakest of the three AL divisions.

      Why trade 6 years of a player (and more) that really only needs to be league average over that span to equal or surpass the value that Shields at his best will provide in 2?

      If they were to make the move for Shields it’s going to cost them $21 million in salary, one of baseball’s five best prospects and apparently other players. It’s not like James Shields is the only option out there, and as I pointed out above, his reputation far exceeds what he’s actually done over his career thus far.

    • jimfetterolf

      That would be every pitch for seven innings once every five days. We would be trading 900 games of Myers for 60 games of Shields. We used to have an ace and it didn’t really help much.

  • Deep thinking

    I can’t believe your big punchline was career ERA+ Way to gloss over two really poor seasons and an otherwise excellent career. Peripherals? Recent history? Stuff? Nah, let’s just slap his career ERA down. Lemme guess, next you’re going to write an article about how Greinke’s is only 114 so he’s not worth whatever he gets…

    • jimfetterolf

      The beauty of so-called advanced metrics is that a stat can be found to support almost any possible thesis.

    • http://puckettspond.com/ Wally Fish

      Gloss over the peripherals?

      Pretty sure I dedicated several paragraphs in the middle of my article to his hit, walk and strikeout rates as well as his SO/BB and his rankings relative to other pitchers. I also refer to his career best ERA+ and the fact that he has only had two 120+ seasons which is far from excellent. I intentionally did not address his terrible season because everyone has a bad season and I give him a mulligan for that aside from keeping it in his average because it is a part of his track record.

      Recent history does not support any conclusion other than what I came to – in the last three years he’s been terrible, above average and slightly above average. That’s not what I look for in an ace/frontline starter.

      His stuff also clearly does not rank among the majors best at his position. I didn’t bring it up because it was a non-starter and something I assumed to be understood.

      Greinke does have a 114 but he also has a 200+ season on his resume which breaks out to one of the best seasons by any pitcher since 1901. He also has taken a much different path than Shields in his career so that’s not apples to apples. Zack is also two years younger and has much better stuff but that aside, I never said whether I believe Greinke is or is not an ace.

      Discussing whether someone should get X on the open market is entirely different than whether or not the Royals should TRADE for a pitcher. Players are worth what they get paid and I hope he sets a new MLB record for contract value for a starting pitcher. I’ve always loved Greinke and always will.

  • kcjamfan85

    A good article, I agree completely. I was making the exact same argument the other day. Also what I don’t believe you mentioned, there is no replacement in the system for RF. KC cant compete in the FA market, sp do you risk another trade? Myers can give KC a much better team 2014-2017 when they have a shot to do more than play .500.

  • jimfetterolf

    Wally, I do appreciate bloggers who manage their threads, kudos to you. That is a critical part of building a community. Thanks.

  • Stillroyal

    There are probably 11 pitchers I’d consider an Ace if money, age, and years were of no concern. (In no particular order):

    Verlander
    Price
    Kershaw
    Greinke
    Sabathia
    Strasburg
    Gio
    Halladay
    Lee
    Cain
    King Felix

    I’m sure I’m probably missing someone (Moore perhaps?) but the point is every one of these pitchers would be considered an “Ace” by the most casual baseball fan or the most discerning sabrematrician.

    Also, since age, years, and $ do matter most of these guys are already making $20-$25 million (Verlander) or are already on the wrong side of 32 (Lee) or are still early in their years of service (Strasburg) or more than one of these (Halladay).

    Personally, I’d have liked to have seen us trade Chen and Frenchy, non-tender Hoch, and add that money to the millions we saved on not re-signing Soria and make a run at Zack. Considering what we offered Dempster we could easily have afforded to enter the Greinke sweepstakes by making a couple of simple moves.

    If we are committed to trading prospects we should be shopping our young guns in the lower levels (Zimmer, Selman, etc). If they won’t be ready for another 2-4 years and we need pitching now to go with all of our young hitters who are ready, wouldn’t that make more sense than trading a major league ready prospect who may or may not be the next Albert Pujols? Sure, he could end up being Bob Hamelin but even Big Bob gave us one great season which is half of what we’d get from Shields in the best case scenario. I have no desire to be the team that traded away Jeff Bagwell, John Smoltz, Lou Brock, Ryne Sandberg, or Curt Schilling.

    • http://puckettspond.com/ Wally Fish

      Nicely stated. Add Jered Weaver to your list and I think you’ve identified the front runners for the “ace” designation and even a few of those are perhaps borderline depending on how you define things.

      • Stillroyal

        Yeah, good catch. I forgot Weaver and he falls perfectly into the $20-25 Million club. To be honest, a case could be made for Lincecum. 2012 was a disaster for him and with that as the most recent evidence of his ability it is easy to eliminate him. I don’t think it would surprise anyone if he returned to form in 2013. But he’s off the list for now.

        And P.S. If Wil turns out to be the next Bob Hamelin or Brad Kominsk I am perfectly ok being the team that didn’t trade him.

  • Stillroyal

    Well, there you go. We have officially lost our collective minds. A sad day in KC indeed.

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