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James Shields: Wasn't That Bad, Wasn't That Good

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Some good hitting and a little bit of Giants luck doomed James Shields last night.

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Your final line for James Shields last night: 3IP 7H 5ER 1BB 1K, 71 pitches, 40 strikes. This was the first time since June 11th 2010 that Shields failed to go longer than 3 innings. On that June 11th date he gave up 10 earned runs to the Marlins on 9 hits and 3 walks. That was not a great time for Shields to have his shortest outing in four years(Shields technically went only 1 inning back on June 19th 2010 but it was a relief appearance).

Despite the above game line, Shields wasn't as bad as the line looks. Let's examine some at bats.

Here's the first at bat of the game. A single by Gregor Blanco to centerfield:

Blanco is a left handed batter and he reached out and put the ball in center field.

After a Joe Panik fly out that moved Blanco to 2nd, up came the really good Buster Posey to single Blanco over to third.

Yeah. Posey is going to hit that. A 91 MPH two seamer on an 2-0 count when Posey is probably looking fastball? Don't throw that pitch there unless you want some hurt.

Next, Pablo Sandoval would double on a ball that he probably shouldn't have swung at.

Sandoval

That's a zone 14 pitch. 

Barely a foot off the ground, Sandoval made pretty good contact and given his strength and size was able to muscle that hit into the right field corner.

Next came the coup de grace of the inning.

On first glance, that looks like another too easy pitch to hit. A 3-2 fastball basically right over the heart of the plate and elevated. Digging a little deeper, Pence hasn't hit 3-2 fastballs in zone 2 well over his career.

While it's a small amount of data, Pence has seen nine full count fastballs in zone 2 over his career. The outcomes:

Twice he's put the ball in play on that pitch and both have been outs. Otherwise he's either struck out or fouled the ball off.

If we include two seam fastballs as well, the sample size only grows by two:

Still hit-less in that scenario. That's also not a zone that Pence does particularly well in with any count.

2014 any count batting average:

pence 3

Career RAA/100P any count:

pence 4

So in context to Pence, that's not a bad place to put a ball. This just happened to be the first time in Pence's career that he got a hit off a 3-2 fastball in zone 2 and it of course was a two run home run.

With his confidence down likely, Brandon Belt put a ball into centerfield for a single.

The next inning was easier for Shields. He would throw 13 pitches in the 2nd, compared to 32 in the first, and none of them for a hit.

Shields got the Giants to swing at outside pitches and turned them into outs like generally outside pitches end up being. This was almost the inverse of the first inning where outside pitches instead turned to hits.

The third inning might be the most relatively bizarre inning for Shields but in a lucky/good way.

The plot marked "2" was a lineout by Pablo Sandoval. That's basically in the same spot that Hunter Pence hit a home run on just 8 batters previously.

The "7" plot was Buster Posey's at bat. That pitch was at almost the exact same height as the pitch he laced a single off of earlier but on the other side of the zone.

The fourth inning would be Shields final of the night and he wouldn't even record an out.

We've discussed previously today that the 2nd pitch plotted on the chart is a mistake in the game data so let's ignore that.

Here's the Pence double:

Pence 5

Not square over the middle but belt high and in the zone on the inner half of the plate. That's definitely a location Pence likes.

pence 6

Next, Shields would walk Belt on 4 not even close balls after getting ahead 0-1.

Michael Morse would bring upon the death knell for Shields on his 2-1 single.

Another pitch where Shields didn't necessarily put the ball in a bad location, but Morse took a ball in on the hands and looped it into centerfield via strength and quick wrists.

Shields was ineffective to say the least, but he was also a victim of just good hitting by the Giants. Some of the hits he allowed were on pitches that usually don't go for hits and some of the outs he got were on pitches that don't usually go for outs. The Giants had a .462 BABIP against Shields. It didn't really matter where Shields was putting the ball last night as everything was getting hit hard. Kudos to the Giants for finding a way to set the tone for the series with a dominant Game 1 win.