James Shields has not been pitching very well his last nine games. Over a stretch of starts from May 18th against Baltimore through Tuesday's tilt against the Twins, Big Game Jizzle has not had a game score above 50, save his 64 he posted against the Yankees on June 8th. Over that time, his ERA has increased from 2.67 to 3.93 and he has produced a negative WPA 6 times and negative RE24 7 times. The question is being asked, is Big Game James broken?
In order to try to answer this question, I perused his game log from 2008 through 2014 in order to see if there were any similar stretches in his career where he experienced similar struggles. The simple answer is that, yes, Shields has experienced a string of struggling starts similar to this year's in both 2010 (a career low -1.5 bWAR and ERA+ of 75 that year) and 2012.
In 2010, James Shields was not good. In my opinion, what we are looking at as an absolute worst case scenario is a repeat of 2010 when James posted a 5.18 ERA and 4.24 FIP with a career worst 1.46 WHIP. The big concern here is that James' numbers in 2014 are matching up with his 2010 season way to well for comfort. Since 2007, James Shields has only allowed 10+ hits per game twice; in 2010 (10.9) and 2014 (10.0). Since 2007, BGJ's current WHIP of 1.33 is only topped by his 2010 1.46 WHIP and his 4.04 FIP only topped by his 2010 4.24 FIP. One comforting thing is that while there are eerie similarities between 2014 and 2010; his current ERA+ sits at a league average 104 while he posted a 75 ERA+ in 2010.
The only other year in which a nine game stretch looked similar for BG Jizzle was in 2012 between a May 29th start against the Pale Hose and a July 15th game against the Not so Pale Hose. Although he did see two game scores above 50 during this stretch (63 vs. Miami on June 10 and 59 vs. Miami on June 16), he also posted a 27 against the Yankees on June 5 and a 23 against Boston on July 15. Over this 9 game stretch, BGJ averaged a game score of 42 while posting a negative WPA 7 times and a negative RE24 7 times. However, after this abysmal stretch, James posted game scores of 67, 45, 92, 79, 58, 54, 63, 73, 62, 91, 48, 73, 55 and 94 (which included 2 shutouts and another complete game) to finish out the year.
So, in my opinion, we are looking at something between the 2010 and 2012 James Shields. I believe that James will finish out the year strong and will be much closer to the ERA+ he posted in 2012 of 109 than the awful 75 he put up in 2010. He has had similar stretches before in his career and I do not think that this is the end of the world. However, he is 32 and is on pace to top 200 innings for the 8th consecutive year. I think we will be fine this year, but I'm definitely not paying this guy big money.