As noted in the game recap from Thursday, James Shields turned in a performance of the highest quality for the Royals. Here is his final line from the box score:
|James Shields, W (1-2)||8||4||1||1||2||12||0||2.00||29||107||64||24||14||26||10||5||2||80|
In the recap, I noted his Game Score of 80. Today, I thought I'd go back and, through the magic of the Baseball Reference Play Index, do a little digging. It turns out not many Royals starters have thrown eight or more innings while allowing four or fewer hits while striking out at least 12. Here's the list:
|1||James Shields||2014-04-17||KCR||HOU||W 5-1||GS-8 ,W||8.0||4||1||1||2||12||0||107||64||80||29||0.280||2.838||.705|
|2||Kevin Appier||1995-09-15||KCR||CAL||W 5-0||SHO9 ,W||9.0||3||0||0||1||13||0||115||81||93||31||0.393||5.073||.627|
|3||David Cone||1994-07-23||KCR||DET||W 4-1||GS-8 ,W||8.0||2||1||1||3||12||0||132||82||83||29||0.547||3.686||1.324|
|4||Bret Saberhagen||1989-09-30||KCR||OAK||W 6-1||GS-8 ,W||8.0||4||1||1||2||13||0||116||74||81||30||0.281||2.740||1.079|
|5||Bret Saberhagen||1985-09-14||KCR||OAK||W 2-1||CG 9 ,W||9.0||3||1||1||2||12||0||87||32||0.651||3.228||1.494|
|6||Bob Johnson||1970-08-23||KCR||BOS||W 4-3||CG 9 ,W||9.0||2||3||2||3||12||1||82||32||0.216||1.137||1.319|
Saberhagen, Cone and Appier. Hey, weren't we doing that whole Mt. Rushmore thing last winter? Nevermind.
Anyway, some pretty elite company. And a performance we hadn't seen since 1995. Who cares if it was against the Astros, who are sinking toward their place at the bottom of the offensive pile, this was damn impressive.
According to data from Pitch F/X, Shields was mixing his pitches as usual. Here's his total breakdown from Brooks Baseball:
As usual, the change was an effective pitch - when the Astros swung at it. The cutter was difficult pitch for the opposition to barrel. That chart above to me just looks like a masterclass at frustrating hitters. Mixing speeds, fastballs and sinkers, throwing in some cutters and change-ups, and offering a curve on occasion, Shields kept the Astros off balance all night. Another way he kept them off balance was by changing his release point, especially in the later innings. Jeff Zimmerman posted an outstanding gif that shows Shields's release point from his first four innings compared to his final four innings:
I can't remember Shields doing this all that much. His last start against the Twins had a more consistent range of release points:
That graph is fairly representative of most of his starts. I don't know if he consciously decided to vary his release point last night in an attempt to keep hitters off balance. Or if it's something else. Hopefully Mr. Zimmerman will recognize the bat signal and chime in in the comments.
Either way, what we saw last night in Houston was something special. Hopefully, it's the start of a nice run of results for our free agent to be.