May 2, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher James Shields (33) delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

James Shields: A Different Kind of Ace


There have been many conversations among Royals fans about the “aceness” of James Shields. Is he just a really good pitcher or is he a legitimate ace?

I tend to pay attention to the past 3 years of data, which is why I originally didn’t consider James Shields an ace when he came to Kansas City. His ERA blew up in 2010, finishing at an unsightly 5.00 on the year.

However, I think that while we weren’t looking, James Shields has become an ace by just about any standard. It would actually be difficult to make a case against him.

Most baseball fans have an internal idea of what an “ace” is: some subjective standard that measures just how much dominance a pitcher must display before he is bestowed with the title.

Many people think the most important attribute of an ace is the ability to compete for an ERA title. Some believe that strikeouts are the key. Others believe that reliability is the most important attribute. For most of us, it is some combination of these three factors—with our preferences leaning slightly one way or another.

Generally, though, we agree on some things.

Aces usually have to throw at least 200 innings a season, have a consistently low ERA, and throw mostly quality starts.

From 2011-2013 only nine pitchers have thrown an average of 200 innings per season and had an ERA+ of 115 or higher. James Shields has a higher ERA+ in that time than pitchers who are considered unquestionable aces, especially Felix Hernandez, Cole Hamels, and David Price.

Rk Player ERA+ IP GS CG SHO H R ER BB SO ERA HR BF HBP BK WP
1 Clayton Kershaw 167 697.0 99 10 6 508 191 171 169 709 2.21 42 2721 11 5 23
2 Justin Verlander 148 707.2 101 10 3 578 248 221 192 706 2.81 62 2850 12 4 12
3 Cliff Lee 139 666.1 93 8 7 597 222 207 102 667 2.80 66 2643 10 0 5
4 James Shields 124 705.2 100 16 6 618 268 247 191 644 3.15 71 2865 24 3 22
5 Cole Hamels 123 651.1 95 6 2 564 242 228 146 612 3.15 64 2622 17 5 10
6 Hiroki Kuroda 123 623.0 97 4 3 592 242 224 143 478 3.24 69 2553 18 1 31
7 David Price 122 622.0 92 6 1 543 234 216 149 574 3.13 54 2494 17 1 16
8 C.J. Wilson 119 638.0 101 3 1 572 284 239 250 567 3.37 50 2693 24 3 24
9 Felix Hernandez 118 670.0 97 10 5 612 257 238 169 661 3.20 48 2726 22 3 38

Something intangible seems to keep James Shields just on the periphery of most “Ace” conversations when he should be smack dab in the middle. It’s not that he doesn’t have the stuff to achieve the most elite level of play, either.

In 2011, he finished third in Cy Young voting. In 2012, he threw a complete game shutout on just 98 pitches. He allowed just three hits, no walks and struck out eleven. In his final game that year, he threw another complete game, this time only allowing two hits and striking out fifteen.

I think that most fans do not consider Shields on par with Verlander, Hernandez and Price because he hasn’t put together a truly exceptional full season. Despite putting up a 124 ERA+ from 2011 to 2013, he has never had an ERA+ above 134. That comes nowhere near the 174 that King Felix posted in 2010, or the 172 by Verlander in 2011,

Shields is more consistent. A grinder. He doesn’t fence with batters like Price or Kuroda, parrying bats with overpowering breaking pitches. Shields is a pitbull, determined to stand his ground even if he gets a little scuffed up in the fight. He’s steadier, healthier and more consistent than most, but his top end performance isn’t in the stratosphere alongside Verlander and Hernandez. Shields doesn’t have great stuff. It’s just good stuff.

However, somehow, his stuff is so consistently good that’s he’s achieved greatness. Being among the top five pitchers in the game over the course of three years should make anyone an ace. Even though Shields doesn’t seem like the creme de la creme, maybe we should start thinking of him as the ace he’s proven to be.

Tags: James Shields Kansas City Royals