A New Caddy?

Caddies are more common in golf, but are rarely heard from in baseball. The most famous baseball caddie to most fans would be Eddie Perez who Maddux preferred to pitch to over Javy Lopez but that is a situation that rarely presents itself in baseball these days except in New York where A.J. Burnett and Jorge Posada had their issues. Yet, after watching James Shields throw a great game last night with Kelly Shoppach behind the plate, one has to wonder if those two will become more attached than Roy Halladay and Carlos Ruiz are.

Unless you were living under a rock last season, you know James Shields had a frustrating season. His baseball card stats show a 5.18 ERA, 34 home runs allowed, and opponents hitting .294 against him while slugging .490. The 8.3 K/9 and 3.7 K/BB are skills of an ace, but the other results clearly were not. All season, pundits looked for reasons why Shields was struggling. How was his BABIP .361 when the rest of the starting staff was around .290? Why was he giving up home runs at a Bert Blyleven rate last season? His box scores were all over the place.

  • Opening Day: 6 IP, 9 hits, 3 solo home runs, 6 strikeouts vs Baltimore
  • April 28th: 7 IP, 6 hits, 1 BB, 12 K's, 1 HR vs Oakland
  • May 4th: 8 IP, 8 hits, 0 BB, 10 K's, 0 HR vs Seattle
  • May 30th: 5.1 IP, 11 hits, 7 runs, 1 BB, 3 K's, 2 HRs vs Chicago
  • June 11th: 3.1 IP, 9 hits, 10 runs, 3 BB, 4 K's, 1 HR vs Florida
  • August 1st: 7.1 IP, 4 hits, 0 runs, 1 BB, 11 K's vs New York
  • August 7th: 4 IP, 9 hits, 8 runs, 4 BB, 2 K's, 6 HRs vs Toronto
  • October 1st: 5 IP, 12 hits, 7 runs, 2 BB, 1 K vs Kansas City

There was a lot of boom or bust with Shields last season and nothing seemed to add up. His velocity was still the same, his pitch mix was still the same, but more of his balls in play were getting through and more of his flyballs were getting out of the yards. Since nothing seemed to be wrong on the mound, the attention shifted behind the plate and the catching situation.

 Last season after the regrettable game in Toronto, I penned an article claiming that the baseball version of eHarmony would never allow Shields and Jaso to meet up. In that article, I showed how Shields' results were dramatically different when throwing to Jaso as compared to Shoppach and Navarro with the caveat of  a small sample size as well as not looking into the strength of schedule of the opponent. The sample size could not be controlled due to Jaso's limited major league time but the quality of opponent was not significant enough as Shields had great games against the Yankees while doing poorly against the Royals and Marlins. When that article was penned in August, it showed that Shields, Garza, and Price had higher ERA's when paired with Jaso while Niemann and Davis both had more success with Jaso behind the plate.

Pitcher

Jaso catching

Other Catching

Garza

5.69

2.95

Niemann

2.92

3.41

Price

3.11

2.67

Davis

3.49

4.79

Shields

6.75

3.32

Team

3.91

3.42

 

Maybe the younger pitchers were more comfortable throwing to the catcher they knew from the minor leagues as Price was only slightly affected with Joyce behind the plate but the veterans were dramatically different statistically. Jaso's defensive issues last season were obvious to those watching the game as he struggled at times blocking pitches and with the running game which matched what scouting reports said about him on his way up. Andy Sonnanstine mentioned at this past Fanfest that Jaso has come a long way from the day when he started catching in the minors and how he looked more like a hockey goalie back then rather than a catcher. Still, both Garza and Shields are guys that like to throw pitches with extreme action down in the zone, especially when they are ahead in counts but with the power of calling the game in the catcher's hand (as is the way with the Rays), that may have been a contributing factor to those results.

The sample size has gotten a little larger since the original article in early August, but here are Shields' results when throwing to the three catchers the club has employed since the start of last season:

CATCHER

FIP

IP

H/9

HR/9

K/BB

LOB%

BABIP

Jaso

4.60

93

12.4

2.0

3.2

69%

.382

Shoppach/Navarro

3.48

117.2

9.3

1.0

4.2

73%

.325

 

The sample size still needs room to grow but this trend still bears watching as the season moves forward. His next start will come at US Cellular park, a park that is awful for home run pitchers and against a lineup that beefed up its thump by adding Adam Dunn this off-season. If Buehrle or Danks is on the mound for the White Sox, the decision is a bit easier but if Jackson or Floyd are toeing the mound and Shoppach is in the lineup with Shields on the bump, baseball may be on its way to having a new caddie. 

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