Buy Low Candidate: Is James Shields The Perfect Pitcher To Target?

To classify James Shields 2012 campaign as anything but a bitter disappointment would be an understatement. Drafted to anchor fantasy rotations, Shields has posted the following ugly line:

8 Wins
123.2 Innings
4.44 ERA
1.48 WHIP
114 Strikeouts (8.30 K/9)
37 Walks (2.69 BB/9)
.344 BABIP
68.8% Strand Rate

Unfortunately, things have been even worse of late. He has allowed 10+ hits in four straight starts. He has allowed 4+ earned runs in five straight starts. In fact, he has allowed four earned runs or more in 11 of his 19 starts this season.

It’s not surprising that he has a below average strand rate, currently sitting at 68.8%. Before we declare it a lock to improve, he actually posted a 68.4% rate in 2010. Similarly, his .344 BABIP is nearly identical to his .341 mark from that season.

There is one major difference , however, that gives us optimism that this year is not going to result in a mirror image of two years ago (he had a 5.18 ERA and 1.46 WHIP). That is his groundball rate, which is currently a career best 53.6%.

Before we write that mark off, it has actually been consistent all year long:

  • April – 56.5
  • May – 61.5%
  • June – 43.1%
  • July – 53.7%

You couple that number with his third straight season with a K/9 above 8.0 and his always impressive control (career BB/9 of 2.13) and there is an awful lot to like. Can he maintain the groundball rate? It’s hard to say for sure, but according to Fangraphs he is using his cutter more than ever (22.2%), and that would help justify the change.

What we always like to see in starting pitchers is a high groundball rate, good control and an above average strikeout rate. Not only is Shields showing all three, he is excelling in all of them. While the results have not been there, we have to love the potential for him to turn it around.

There have been some rumblings that he could potentially be traded away from Tampa Bay. Maybe a change of scenery would do him good but, if that happens or not, fantasy owners need to have him high on their target list. Pitching in the AL East is difficult, but he clearly has the skill set to thrive.

Try and get him now before the price tag goes up.

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