Originally written on Baseball Professor  |  Last updated 2/17/13
There’s something exciting about the thought of James Shields pitching for the Royals. Maybe it’s because part of me is excited about the Rays losing such an important member of their rotation. Maybe it’s because I love Kansas City’s young offensive core and I really want to see them do well. Or maybe it’s because the Royals haven’t made the playoffs even once in my entire lifetime. (Yes, you read that right. I was born in 1986.)Despite seeing his ERA rise 70 points last year to 3.52, I’d argue Shields had his best pro season in 2012. His strikeout rate was a career-best 8.82 K/9, his walk rate stayed in the low 2.00s, and his 3.81 K:BB ratio was his best since 2008, way back when he was a low-velocity, control-first pitcher. The new Shields is more dominant, and somehow he managed to assert that dominance while increasing his ground ball rate to a career-best 52.3%. For comparison, his previous best was 46.3% (2008).Shields had spent his entire seven-year major league career with the Rays (or Devil Rays) so there’s always the chance that a new environment could have an impact on his stat line (Carl Crawford, anyone?), but that’s always tough to quantify until we actually see it. For now, Shields is still in the prime of his career and should be valued as such.At a GlanceStrengths: W, K, QS, K/9Neutral: ERA, WHIP, LWeaknesses: nonePlayer ComparisonBest-case scenario: David Price (TB)Likely scenario: Zack Greinke (LAD), Adam Wainwright (STL), Madison Bumgarner (SF)Worst-case scenario: A.J. Burnett (PIT)James Shields 2013 Fantasy ProjectionProjecting how much a player will regress from a career year that appears fueled by luck (such as Shields’ 2011 season) usually has an element of guesswork. Shields’s 2012 season showed us how he should perform if all his luck-based peripherals sit right around league average.Pretty much all of his skill variables (K rate, BB rate, GB:FB ratio, LD%) stayed the same or improved, but his BABIP (.292, league average was .293), strand rate (71.9%, league average was 73.0%), and HR/FB (13.4%, league average was 11.3%) all sat near the league norm. That means his 2012 season is a pretty accurate representation of who Shields really is, statistically speaking.Now, while Shields has always been plagued by higher-than-average HR/FB rates, both Tropicana Field and Kauffman Stadium rate as pitcher’s parks according to StatCorner.com so there might not be much change there. It remains to be seen if Shields can win games for a team that hasn’t won anything in 27 years, but wins are still 80% the pitcher and just 20% the team. If Shields can go the projected 225 innings with a solid ERA, 15+ wins shouldn’t be a huge stretch.
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