Scouting The Trade Market: James Shields

The RAB Radio Show: July 22, 2011
A quick note on Curtis Granderson and plate discipline

If you can’t beat him, trade for him, amirite? Rays right-hander James Shields has dominated the Yankees twice within the last two weeks (one earned run in 15.2 IP), but that’s not the real reason we’re talking about him here. Tampa is gradually dropping out of the race and the generally belief is that Shields’ days with the team are numbered as he gets more expensive and their next top pitching prospect (Matt Moore) gets closer to the show. The Reds are one team with interest, and earlier this week Buster Olney (Insider req’d) noted that no one explores options more thoroughly than Tampa. If they move him, it’ll be because they’re improving the team, not just saving money.

So with all that in mind, let’s break Shields’ game down and see what kind of fit he is for the Yankees, if he’s one at all…

The Pros

  • Shields is in the middle of the best season of his career. His 2.53 ERA is backed up by a 3.14 FIP and a 2.98 xFIP, and he’s got career highs in strikeout rate (8.69 K/9), swing and miss rate (11.6%), and homerun rate (0.86 HR/9). His 45.6% ground ball rate is his second best ever, and although his 2.30 BB/9 is his worse walk rate since his rookie year, it’s still pretty damn good.
  • Although his world class changeup gets most of the attention, Shields legitimately throws six different pitches. That low-80’s changeup works off three different fastballs: a low-90’s four-seamer, a low-90’s two-seamer, and a high-80’s cutter. He doesn’t use the last two often (6.8% and 4.9% of the time this season), but he does use them. Shields is throwing his high-70’s curveball more than ever this year (22.0%), which is part of the reason why he’s had so much success. A slider is his other offering.
  • That repertoire is the reason why Shields has virtually no platoon split for his career, though he has a slight one in 2011. It’s not significant enough to worry about. Because that’s not good enough, he also has arguably the best right-handed pickoff move in baseball. He leads the league with ten pickoffs, and runners have stolen zero bases off him in three attempts this season. During his career, runners have stolen just 38 bases in 62 attempts (61.3%).
  • Only eight pitchers have thrown at least 200 IP every season since 2007, and Shields is one of them. He’s on pace to do it yet again this year. You don’t throw that many innings without being healthy, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that Shields has never been on the disabled list. He’s obviously a career AL East pitcher and has been very successful in baseball’s most unforgiving division, so the transition should be minimal. Shields has pitched in the playoffs and in the World Series, so that’s another plus.
  • The contract is as friendly as it gets. Shields will be paid a total of $4.25M this season (about $708k per month), then there are club options for 2012 ($7M with a $2M buyout), 2013 ($9M with a $1.5M buyout), and 2014 ($12M with a $1M buyout). Escalators tied to innings pitches, starters, and finishes in the Cy Young Award voting could put another $6M in his pocket. Either way, that’s an absolute steal.

The Cons

  • As great as he’s been this season, we can’t completely ignore Shields’ atrocious 2010 campaign. His 5.18 ERA didn’t match his 4.24 FIP, but Shields led the league in hits allowed (246, or 10.9 H/9), earned runs allowed (117), and homeruns allowed (34). Opponents hit .294/.338/.490 off him overall and .313/.356/.534 off him away from pitcher friendly Tropicana Field.
  • The roads woes are not an isolated incident either. Shields has been a 4.67 ERA (~4.45 FIP) pitcher away from home over the course of his career, when batters have tagged him for a .276/.323/.467 batting line.
  • I don’t put much stock in this stuff, but Shields hasn’t pitched well against the Red Sox in his career, a 4.95 ERA and ~4.05 FIP in 18 career starts. His numbers at Fenway Park are even worse: a 7.71 ERA with a ~4.90 FIP in eight career starts. In fairness, he did throw a complete game shutout against the Red Sox earlier this year, the video you see above. As for the current version of Yankee Stadium, he owns a 3.71 ERA (~4.40 FIP) in four career starts there.
  • Shields is incredibly homer prone. That 0.86 HR/9 this year might be a career best, but it’s still not all that great. He allowed one homer for every six innings pitched last season and 1.1 HR/9 from 2007-2009. His career HR/FB% is 11.6%, which is quite high. It’s not uncommon for changeup pitchers to be homer prone, every once in a while they’ll leave one up, and a high changeup is just a batting practice fastball.
  • He’s been healthy in the big leagues, but it’s worth nothing that Shields did miss the entire 2002 minor league season because of shoulder surgery. Once it’s in a guy’s past, he’s never really clear of danger.

The elephant in the room here is the intra-division issue. Brian Cashman and Rays GM Andrew Friedman have made exactly one trade with each other, a 2006 swap that involved Nick Green coming to New York and cash going to Tampa. Talks between the two clubs about Matt Garza never really got off the ground this winter because “strong impressions were that it would be something that would cost us more because we are in the division, kind of like Roy Halladay,” according to Cashman. “There was also reluctance from them to trading within the division.” That whole intra-division thing would be a major, major obstacle.

In terms of talent and expected production, Shields is about as good as it’ll get. He’s not in the Halladay/Cliff Lee/Felix Hernandez/uber-pitcher category, but he’s proven over several years to be a well-above-average hurler in the tougher league, and this year he’s been ace-like. He’s still very much in the prime of his career at age 29, so there’s no reason to expect a significant age-related drop-off anytime soon. And that contract, goodness is that contract favorable. Any team that trades for him would be getting more than three of his peak years for a total of $29.5M or so, assuming all the options are picked up. That’s a steal, fire-your-agent kind of robbery.

The Rays are extremely well run and have a knack for getting both quality and quantity in trades. They turned Jason Bartlett (Jason Bartlett!) into three big league relievers and a useful prospect. We saw the Garza haul, which cost the Cubs their two top prospects (Chris Archer and Hak-Ju Lee), two other near-MLB ready prospects (Robinson Chirinos and Brandon Guyer, both of whom have played in the bigs this year), and a serviceable bench player (Sam Fuld). You’d have to mark up from there if you want to envision a package for Shields because he’s better now than Garza was last year and he has a much more favorable contract than his former teammate. Think two top prospects, three other near MLB ready guys, and maybe more. I don’t believe a trade of this magnitude would happen between the two teams, but the Yankees would have to strongly consider it if Tampa shows the willingness to move him to one of their biggest rivals.

Update: Buster Olney says the Yankees called the Rays about Shields, but were told that he’s not available.

The RAB Radio Show: July 22, 2011
A quick note on Curtis Granderson and plate discipline
  • King George

    Two words: NOT. HAPPENING.

  • Bryan L

    I can’t see Tampa dealing Shields at this point in time, especially being dealt to NY. It would be nice though, don’t get me wrong.

  • steve (different one)

    Would love to have him and would trade almost anyone, but there is no chance the Rays trade him to the Yankees.

  • Frank

    The odds of the Yanks getting Shields are about the same as the temperature dropping into the low 60’s tonight.

  • Guns of the Navarone

    Even though it will never happen, this is my dream scenario. There’s not much I wouldn’t give up to get him. He’s awesome.

    • Ted Nelson

      He’s awesome *this season, in Tropicana Field*… I think that’s what you meant there.

      • CMP

        I think he said what he meant. If you want to say something to the contrary then you should say it, not put words in his mouth.

        • Ted Nelson

          Thanks for the advice…

  • Jack Merridew

    And for next week’s scouting the trade market: Tim Lincecum

  •!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

    According to Olney, the Yanks called to inquire on him and were told that he’s not available.

    • The Big City of Dreams


    • The Big City of Dreams

      Whoops wrong person

  • Angryankee

    You actually put time into this article?

    • jayd808

      A tough crowd here….My only whining complaint was the following: “He’s not in the Halladay/Cliff Lee/Felix Hernandez/uber-pitcher category…” How bout our big uber-guy?

      • jramey

        Clayton Kershaw too!

  • Ted Nelson

    This is the same James Shield who this season is breaking both the 3.85 FIP and ERA mark for the first season in his entire career. He’s a good pitcher, but I think a lot of people are taking it way too far and being way too “what have you done for me lately?” in saying they would trade anyone to get him. Also ignoring that he pitches in an extreme pitchers park and his home/road splits are significant.

    Ubaldo Jimenez comes up and people go out of their way to say that the guy is not that good… then James Shields comes up and several people say that they would give anyone to get him? How short are people’s memories? Do people not realize that Coors is one of the most hitter friendly parks in baseball and the Trop is one of the most pitcher friendly?

    Maybe he’s taken a real step forward, but maybe he’s having a career year (60% of a year really) he will never repeat. I would certainly trade for him, but I would not give up “anyone” to get him.

    His BABIP is .259, his LOB% is over 80, and his HR/9 are 0.86. His FIP is a run lower in the Trop than on the road. He’s gotten worse as the season has worn on.

    • Slugger27

      Its because he’s on the rays. They have aa perception of never making any personnel/scouting mistakes ever. Their front office is constantly overromanticized, and if their collection of geniuses deems shields worthy of being a no. 2, then everyone buys in. Let’s face it, if the rays traded for ubaldo, everyones view of ubaldo would change drastically, as he must be undervalued if tampa acquired him. There’s also the national league thing.

      For the record, I agree with everything u said, and I believe ubaldo is the superior pitcher, just offering an explanation to why they’re perceived differently

      • Ted Nelson

        Yeah, I was thinking the same thing in terms of the Rays being the new “it” thing. Friedman is the new Epstein or Beane.

        • Slugger27

          If they had drafted culver, there would’ve been 100 comments on how the yankees could let tampa steal a talent like that in their own state. Friedman walks on water in the sabr community, it is what it is.

          • Mike Axisa

            What bad moves have they made that you feel they don’t get criticized enough for?

            • CP

              The drafted Tim Beckham.

            • Slugger27

              Im not saying theyre undercriticized, im stating my opinion of why shields is viewed in a completely different way from ubaldo. I think its cuz he’s on the rays. Friedman (rightfully) has earned a good reputation in the world of advanced stats, and its my position that people subconsciously ovevalue the players on their team/trades they make because of it. They’ve made mistakes: beckham over posey, the burrell contract off the top of my head, but they’ll never make “big” mistakes cuz their payroll doesn’t allow them to take chances that the yanks and sox do.

              If shields had all the same numbers and pitched for the white sox or whoever, I don’t think he’d be valued the same by the majority of posters here. Like I said, im just offering my opinion to teds very valid question

              • Ted Nelson

                Good points.

                Comes through to a large extent with the draft. Rays took a bunch of guys who were ranked low if at all by BA, Law, etc. Fans crushed the Yankees for the Bichette pick and the Culver pick last season, but the Rays get a bunch of praise. If you look at the Rays draft record outside the top 5 picks, it’s not necessarily any better than the Yankees. Hard to compare since without the top 5 picks Rays might have still make good 1st round picks and/or spent more $ elsewhere, but I would really call it quite comparable. The general trend is to bow down to their drafting and rip the Yankees’ drafting to shreds.

                • JobaWockeeZ

                  Oh batshit insane. Crawford, Shields, Hellickson, Wade Davis, Desmond Jennings, and Jake McGhee are miles better than what the Yankees ever done in the 2000s.

                  I find the notion hilarious that Rays players are so overvalued because they are Rays but then we say the Yankees are the best or nearly the best at everything.

                  • The Big City of Dreams

                    So you don’t buy into the Rays get high picks so it’s not hard to produce top talent?

                    • Billy Bats

                      No, I buy into the Rays spend more in the draft, therefore, they get better players in the draft.

                      The Yanks spend more in IFA, therefore, they get better players in IFA.

                      It’s always about $.

            • Ted Nelson

              My personal thing is not so much that Friedman/Tampa (or Epstein/Boston or Beane/Oakland when he was still the “it” guy) aren’t good/well run… it’s just that people tend to extend that to every single thing they do as if they don’t make mistakes and their players are better than they actually are. The Shields love being a really obvious example.

              Even your analysis basically gives him a pass for the same things you knocked Kartsens’ sustainability at this level for earlier: low BABIP, LOB% over 80. I agree that Shields is a lot better than Kartsens and Kartsens is really unlikely to sustain this pace… I just think the bias of not scrutinizing Rays players comes through there.

              • JobaWockeeZ

                If you can quote, or link to anyone saying that they don’t make mistakes I’ll concede but I get the feeling that since Cashman or others don’t get nearly the same praise that everyone else is overpraised.

    • craig

      Yeah, I was going to mention that his #’s are very strong this year and his BABIP is unusually low. Regression is a bitch.

    • Preston

      Agreed. The reasons to like Shields are his durability and contract. He’s probably never going to be this 2011 Cy young candidate version of James Shields ever again. And I think this would be a trade that would really hurt in the long run. Think about how dangerous a tandem Montero and Longoria at the corners could become. And the Rays are stacked with out-fielders and middle-infielders. Add Banuelos and Betances to their already deep pitching and they’d have the potential to dominate us for an extended period.

    • Billy Bats

      On your original post about Ubaldo vs. Shields.



      Not saying I wouldn’t take Ubaldo over Shields (you must consider age, contracts, and prospects needed to get either), but it’s not as cut and dry as you think. Especially when one has done it in the AL East and the other in the NL West.

  • Kevin M.

    As an aside what were the Jays seeking for Halladay? Was it Joba and Montero+? Whatever it was it was probably a big mistake to not pull the trigger on that one.

    • Ted Nelson

      This comment is about 10 years too early to even consider.

      • Kevin M.

        True, but I’m basing on the status of the proposed pinciples as of today.

        • Ted Nelson

          But what’s the point of judging Montero at 21 before he has an MLB PA? I could see if he were out of baseball, but most analysts/journalists still have him as a top 10 prospect in baseball. To a lesser extent the same goes for Hughes/Joba at 25/26 and maybe whatever “some more” was (Gardner? Robertson? some scrubs? …).

          • Preston

            Plus you have to factor in what we’ve done with the money we saved by not getting Halladay. Like signing Cliff Lee… Oh, wait I mean Rafael Soriano.

          • Voice of Reason

            If the throw ins included Brett Gardner, then all of a sudden it would have been a horrendous move. Funny how hindsight works.

    • Kevin M.

      Yeah, looks like they wanted Montero plus one of either Joba/Hughes and some more according to Heyman. What a missed opportunity.!/SI_JonHeyman/status/6507042956

      • CP

        Montero, Hughes plus someone else for 1 year of Halladay? He’s great, but that’s overpaying.

        • Kevin M.

          Wasn’t just one year….Hallady signed a very reasonable extension with Philly right after the trade and have to assume he would have done the same with the Yankees (albeit for a few more dollars).

          • The Big City of Dreams

            It would have been great to have him but I don’t think there was any chance he was coming here.

          • Preston

            That’s the part that sucks. We had no way of knowing that he was going to be reasonable with his salary demands. didn’t he sign for 3/60? As a free-agent he probably could have demand 6/150.

          • CP

            have to assume he would have done the same with the Yankees (albeit for a few more dollars).

            No we don’t.

            He was under contract for one season (2010) after the trade. Maybe he would have signed an extension, but maybe not. Maybe it would have been below market value, but maybe not.

            The only thing that was guaranteed at the time of the deal was one season of Halladay pitching.

  • CP

    I like these ‘Scouting the Trade Market’ articles, but damn could I use some real trades…

  • cranky


    Tampa is as likely to trade Shields to the Yankees as the CBS evening news is likely to play a Michelle Bachmann lesbian sex tape.

    • Johnny Nitro

      Oh God please let that happen. Preferably with Bristol Palin. I’m a chubby chaser, sue me.

      • The Big City of Dreams

        Big girls need love too

  • Jedile

    Gardner, Nova, Romine, and some PTBNL for Shields and Upton.

    YEAH!!!! I’m kidding of course

    Actually.. I’m quite happy with our prospects, can’t we just keep them and hope for the best? I mean it’s not like it’ll be the end of the world if we miss the playoffs, right? We will manage to sign a starting pitcher or do something crazy like promote an arm to be the fifth starter.

    • The Big City of Dreams

      can’t we just keep them and hope for the best?


      This is the Yankees…that doesn’t happen here.

      •!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

        Actually, for the most part, it does. Look at the roster. Jeter, Posada, Mo, Cano, Hughes, Joba, Gardner, Robertson. That outweighs trading A-Jax, IPK, Vizcaino, or even Lowell. In the case of the first two, proper value was brought back too. Everyone deals some prospects here and there. For the most part, the Yanks have been smart about it, after the 80’s of course.

        • The Big City of Dreams

          I guess you have a point. I’m guess my thing is how the recent crop of guys have been handled. I know someone will say they were handled properly and some Yankee fans are too hard on the FO.

  • David, Jr.

    The Rays are likely looking at in two ways, both of which are smart:

    Sell at the top.

    Just like Colorado, in that they perceive it as a market without top starters available, so therefore the haul could be larger than normal.

  • Tom in Georgia

    CBS would broadcast a Bachmann lesbian sex tape in a NY minute.

    • jayd808

      I agree. He completly lost me with that analogy.

  • OldYanksFan

    Shields is a very nice Pitcher with a whooping 141 ERA+ in 2011, against a six-year career ERA+ of 105. He is the very definition of ‘selling high’.

    My guess is TB would only do a deal with us if Cashman turned around, bent over, and begged to be raped.

    With the ARod, Teix and Jeter contracts, and our $200m payroll, we have to be very careful about trading our top prospects for ANYONE. This is not prospect hugging as much as our team NEEDS to be able to fill some positions with cheap labor. Outside of Posada, their is little salary relief in sight. Phil, Joba, Swisher, Cano and Granderson are all getting more expensive.

    If we can’t grow some of our own, the middle of this decade could be just brutal.

    • Jerome S.

      If we can’t grow some of our own, the middle of this decade could be just brutal.

      [Immature giggles]

    • Jorge


  • MikeD

    Shields is 29? No way he’ll be on the team much longer. Channeling their inner Jack Weinberger, the Rays need to keep adding to that 700+ consecutive starts by pitchers under 30.

  • David, Jr.

    Off topic, but an interesting article:

    • The Big City of Dreams

      Good read.

  • TheLastClown

    I don’t know if anyone’ll even read this, but I have a question about FIP & xFIP.

    If xFIP replaces any given pitchers HR rate w/ league average, how can a lower-than-average HR rate result in a higher FIP than xFIP?

    This is probably just ignorance on parade, but any help’s appreciated.

    • Jerome S.

      He’s got a higher-than-average HR/FB rate, I guess.

      • TheLastClown

        Yup. Ignorance on parade.