The brilliance of James Shields

What it looks like when one dominates. - Scott Halleran

So last night was pretty good.

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:

Pitching IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA BF Pit Str Ctct StS StL GB FB LD GSc
James Shields, W (1-2) 8 4 1 1 2 12 0 2.00 29 107 64 24 14 26 10 5 2 80
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/18/2014.

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:

Rk Player Date Tm Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit Str GSc BF WPA RE24 aLI
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/18/2014.

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:

Shields_brooks417_large

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:

Shields4_18_large

via www.baseballheatmaps.com

I can't remember Shields doing this all that much. His last start against the Twins had a more consistent range of release points:

Shields_release412_large

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.

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