Over at Driveline Mechanics, I did an analysis of James Shields' mechanics...
James (Jamie) Shields, a 16th round draft pick (466th overall) in 2000, hails from Hart HS in Newhall, CA. He lost his 2002 season due to a shoulder injury, but has otherwise been effective at every level of baseball, progressing from low-A ball in 2001 to an MLB debut in 2006, throwing 124 innings for Tampa Bay and posting a 4.38 FIP, 7.4 k/g, 2.7 bb/g, and 1.28 hr/g stat line. He also contributed 6.8 win shares, quite good for a rookie who had limited action in the majors at age 24.
In 2007, Shields broke out – he threw 215 innings with a 4.00 FIP (3.91 xFIP), 8.1 k/g, 1.6 bb/g, 1.24 hr/g – improvement in all his peripheral statistics, and though he still gives up more than his fair share of home runs, his walk rate depresses the value of those home runs. He posted 20 quality starts out of 31 possible, and had a few appearances that fell just short. He only allowed 5+ earned runs in 6 of his 31 starts, only getting blown out vs. the Yankees on July 22nd (3.1 IP, 10 ER).
Shields gives the Rays an excellent #2 starter behind Scott Kazmir, and he is a major key to the long-term success for the franchise. Like many of the Rays players, he is young, cost-controlled, and homegrown. Marcel projects him to throw 180 innings with a 4.08 ERA, sporting peripherals somewhere between his 2006 and 2007 seasons. Shields will have a much-improved defense behind him in 2008 with ROY frontrunner Evan Longoria at the hot corner and Jason Bartlett replacing the stone hands of Brendan Harris at shortstop.
Using the PITCH f/x tool that Josh Kalk developed, we can see that Shields relied on four pitches – fastball, curve, change, and a splitter.
|type||Speed (MPH)||Break x (inches)||Break z (inches)||Balls||Strikes Called||Strikes Swinging||Foul/Foul tip||In play outs||Singles||Doubles||Triples||Home Runs|
Shields throws a two-seam fastball with good lateral movement in on right-handed hitters and dominates with his change-up variants. His change features nearly-identical lateral break as his fastball but is over 8 MPH slower and has 6 inches of depth in comparison to his fastball. A great changeup will look exactly like a fastball at release, and there is no doubt that Shields’ offerings are effective - check out the number of strikes swinging on his changeup!
His splitter is another interesting pitch, only differing 3 MPH in speed, but little lateral movement and similar depth to his fastball give him another pitch to confuse the hitter with. Interestingly enough, Shields throws his breaking ball predominantly against left-handed batters (only 15 thrown to righties; 36 to lefties) and his splitter against right-handed hitters. He throws his fastball/changeup combination to both types of hitters equally. Most starters will use their changeup to negate the platoon advantage that hitters have and will throw their breaking ball as their out pitch against same-side hitters. Shields simply dominates everyone with his changeup, which is an excellent sign, as he should have no major platoon splits. (In 2007, he held righties to a .717 OPS and lefties to a .671 OPS.)
You will be hard-pressed to find a person who likes the changeup more than me - I grew up in awe of pitchers like Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, who combined pinpoint control with the ability to change speeds at will. The fastball/changeup combination is their primary weapon at getting hitters out, and it has worked for over 20 years. Shields throws his changeup aggressively, and likes to work low in the zone:
If you look at the grouping right below the strike zone, you can see a ton of “strike swing” marks. Shields sets up the hitters with fastballs low and in on the hands, and then hits them with the same pitch with even more depth and takes 8 MPH off of it. Here’s the PITCH f/x data detailing Shields’ fastballs to show exactly how he likes to attack the hitter:
Notice his consistency; this is what makes his changeup such an effective weapon. It looks and moves just like a fastball, but it arrives later and disrupts the hitter’s timing to no end.
Shields has excellent mechanics, as well. Here’s a clip of him throwing his fastball:
Here’s what I like about him:
Shields strides directly at the target and does not reverse rotate his shoulders, keeping the acromial line pointed at home plate and not to the right side of it (from the pitcher’s perspective). This will keep his arm from moving laterally behind his body, which can cause his arm to not be in the “ready” position at footstrike. His arm action is controlled, with an early hand break, and a sweeping circle that goes down, back, and up smoothly with no hitch in it. I do see signs of the “Inverted W,” as Chris O’Leary calls it, at this frame:
However, at footstrike, Shields has his arm in the high-cocked (ready) position, which will avoid excess load on his Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL):
Ball Release / Followthrough
Shields has an excellent release point. In my opinion, he avoids what Mike Marshall would call “Pitcher Forearm Flyout,” where the arm is unnecessarily moving laterally across the body and the ball travels in a tangent line from the arc of the arm path. Shields drives the arm to the target and releases the ball as best he can in a straight line to home plate, which will help his control and cut out extraneous load on his shoulder and elbow. He also doesn’t stop at release; he features an aggressive finish and points the throwing-arm shoulder at the target, indicating that he is taking the ball in a straight line as previously mentioned.
The only thing I’d like to see from Shields is to finish with a stronger front-side glove position; currently he finishes with the glove at the hip, just like his teammate Scott Kazmir. Tom House is a fan of finishing with a firm front side, led by the glove, and I agree. I’d prefer that Shields tucked his glove-arm elbow into his ribcage when he finished, but it’s not a major issue.
All in all, James Shields utilizes his excellent mechanics and his nasty fastball/changeup combination to give you 180+ IP of performance worthy of a #2 slot in the rotation at a very reasonable price (4 years/$11.25M (2008-11), plus 2012-14 club options). Where do I sign up?