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Circling the Bases: Evaluating the James Shields Trade

Ray Flowers

Ray Flowers

The co-host of The Drive on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius 210, XM 87: M-F at 5-8 PM EDT), Ray Flowers has spent years squirreled away studying the inner workings of the fantasy game to the detriment of his personal life. You can follow Ray on Twitter (@BaseballGuys), he never sleeps, and you can also find more of his musings at BaseballGuys.com.

There have been many deals this offseason in the world of baseball, but one of the most recent bangs that has been heard round the world is the deal between the Rays and the Royals. One team gets an elite prospect filled with promise, not to mention a couple of big arms. The other team gets two solid arms, one of which is a borderline ace. Let's break it down.

Rays Receive: Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, Patrick Leonard
Royals Receive: Wade Davis, James Shields

Wil Myers was chosen Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year, and deservedly so after a season in which he hit .314 with 37 homers, 109 RBI, 98 runs scored an a .987 OPS. Yeah, he can slug it. Beyond the numbers, scouts will tell you that the guy just mashes the baseball. In fact, I wrote this about Myers back on November 7th of 2011 after watching him play in the AFL Rising Stars Game. "Wil Myers, who we interviewed, has quite the stroke. He’s going to be a huge hitter in the majors." There's also a link to a brief interview with Myers (yes, shameless self promotion). But let's remember one thing – Myers doesn't have a single big league at-bat. Not one. It's not as simple as saying that 'Myers has been a minor league superstar so he will be an All-Star performer in the big leagues.' Here are some of the names that won the Baseball America award in the past 20 years: Rick Ankiel, Jon Rauch, Jeff Francis, Rocco Baldelli and Delmon Young. Solid big leaguers but not exactly stars. There have been names like Mauer, Bruce, Trout on the list too, but the point is that minor league success, even extreme amounts of it, doesn’t always mean that a player will be a star or hit the ground running as a strong piece right off the hop (a decent portion of “baseball people” think it might take Myers a few years to get up to speed in the big leagues – we aren't looking at a Trout like explosion in 2013).

Odorizzi went 15-5 with a 3.03 ERA in Double and Triple-A. He throws hard, features strong secondary pitches, and know how to pitch. He does give up a lot of fly balls which might lead to some homer issues, but there can be little doubt that his future is as bright as that of Wade Davis, though Davis has had success at the big league level whereas Odorizzi hasn't.

Mike Montgomery was at one time an elite prospect. Even last season he entered the year as a top-25 prospect according to Baseball America. Alas, he's never put it all together. He's only 23 years old, but he's been incapable of finding a real footing. In 17 starts at Triple-A last year he went 3-6 with a 5.69 ERA and 1.67 WHIP. He's long on talent but short on everything else right now.

Leonard, a fifth-round selection in 2011, put forward a solid first season as a 19 year old. In 62 games he went deep 14 times with 46 RBI at the Rookie League level, but obviously he is a long way from being a big league player.

James Shields isn't a superstar, he may not really be an “ace,” but he's darn good. Shields has won at least 11 games in six seasons. He is one of six pitchers in baseball who have been able to do that. Shields is a workhorse. He has thrown at least 200 innings each of the past six years. Only four other men have done that. Alas, while taking the ball every five days is an admirable trait that does help lead to victories, there is more to be a successful big league hurler than just taking the ball every five games (hello Livan Hernandez).

Shields has been a very good hurler for years with only one slip up. In 2010 he went 12-15 with a 5.18 ERA and 1.46 WHIP causing many to panic. I was not in that crowd as the underlying skills he displayed that season suggested that those ratios were not even close to reflecting the type of pitcher he was. Making me, for once, look intelligent, Shields went out and had the best season of his career in 2011 (16-12, 2.82 ERA, 1.04 WHIP). After the 2011 season I corrected course and said not to expect such a successful season in '12. The reason I took that position was solely because Shields was a bit too good in '11 – his bounce back a bit too successful. Still, if you average out his efforts in 2010 and 2011, here are the numbers:

.518 WIN%, 3.88 ERA, 8.19 K/9, 3.55 K/BB, 1.23 WHIP

How does that compare to his 2012 effort?

.600 WIN%, 3.53 ERA, 8.82 K/9, 3.84 K/BB, 1.17 WHIP

How does that compare to his career effort?

.544 WIN%, 7.73 K/9, 3.68 K/BB, 1.22 WHIP

What those numbers present is what I wrote above. The 2010 season was a “down” outlier for Mr. Shields. The 2011 season was up “up” outlier for Mr. Shields. The 2012 season is pretty much what you should expect from Shields in 2013. It's fair to guess that his K/9 rate will come down a but, that 8.82 mark last season was a half batter better than he had ever done, but the rest of his pitching line, save one other mark, was pretty standard stuff. The one exciting trend was a boost in his ground ball rate. Last season was the first of his career in which his GB-rate was over 46.5 percent, and it shot all the way up to 52.3 percent. Given that it's so far out of the “norm” for Shields, it might not be wise to expect a full repeat in '13, but he certainly generates more than enough grounders to be a consistent force. One final note on the grounders. As Jason Collette has repeatedly pointed out, the Rays infield defense has been pretty special for years, allowing a bunch of Rays' hurlers to post strong BABIP marks. I would posit that Shields might lose a wee bit of his performance in 2013 in Kansas City but even so there is no reason to expect anything remotely resembling his 2010 effort.

Wade Davis won 23 games in 2010-11 pitching moderately well for the Rays. Last season the Rays shifted him to the bullpen, and while he wasn't at all happy with the decision he didn't go out and pout. Instead, he turned that anger around on batters on his way to an excellent season out the bullpen. In 54 outings covering 70.1 innings Davis dominated hitters with a 2.43 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP. Basically a strikeout per inning arm in the minors, Davis wasn't even able to average six punchouts per nine in 2010-11. That was part of the concern with the Rays. Davis just wasn't able to transition that minor league success to the top level of baseball in the world. Working shorter outings, the old dominance returned as Davis punched out 11.13 batters per nine innings thanks in small part to a return of two lost mph (his average heater in '12 was 93.5 mph). That dominating total allowed him to hold hitters to a .189 batting average. Can Davis hold on to that as a starter? No chance. Can he hold on to 85 percent of that success or will he return to the 5th starter type he was in 2010-11? That's the question the Royals will have an answer to as they plan to give him 30+ starts in 2013.

I'm not going to comment on the trade in terms of how it will eventually turn out as there is no way to write the final chapter to this story without knowing how a myriad of pieces work out. I will say this. The Royals are going for it, and good for them. They may have sent away a middle of the order bat that might end up as a superstar in this league, or perhaps they traded a bunch of young players with talent who are short on big league success for two guys who could help to anchor their rotation for the next couple of years. Time will certainly tell.

BY THE NUMBERS

1: The number of homers that Michael Saunders needed this past season to reach the 20/20 level (he finished with 21 steals). Only 10 guys went 20/20 in 2012: Jason Heyward, Mike Trout, Ryan Braun, Jimmy Rollins, Andrew McCutchen, Hanley Ramirez, Carlos Gonzalez, B.J. Upton, Alex Rios and Ian Desmond.

2.2: The number of innings that Stephen Strasburg needed in 2012 to qualify for the ERA title as he finished with 159.1 innings. Because he failed to get to 162 innings – one per game – he not only won't appear an any ERA leader boards for 2012 he also won't appear for WHIP or any other ratio category that uses that 162 mark as the baseline for inclusion in year long lists.

10: The number of Gold Gloves won by Andruw Jones. Only two outfielders won more – Roberto Clemente won 12 times and Willie Mays was chosen 12 times as well. I bring this up because Jones will play in Japan likely signaling the end of his major league career. If that is the case he will end up with 434 homers, 1,289 RBI, 1,204 runs scored and 150 steals. Only 17 other men who have ever played have reached those four hitting marks, and when you add in the 10 Gold Gloves you might just be able to make a case for Jones making the HOF, though I would assume that his catastrophic failure to sustain his early career success at the dish the past few years will torpedo his candidacy.

.301-24-97-94-20: The average fantasy season of David Wright over the past eight seasons. That's right folks, Wright has damn near produced an average season of .300-25-100-100-20 the past eight season. Do you know how many guys hit all five of those marks in 2012? The answer is one – Ryan Braun (.319-41-112-108-30)

525,000: The difference between the salaries of Shane Victorino ($39 million) and Justin Upton ($38.475) the next three years. Why the D'Backs want to deal the 25 year old Upton given that is so far beyond me that it almost screams out that something nefarious is going on off the field with Upton. Either that or the D'backs brain-trust is moronic.


Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87, Monday through Thursday at 7 PM EDT and Friday's at 9 PM EDT. Ray's analysis can be found at BaseballGuys.com and his minute to minute musings can be located at the BaseballGuys' Twitter account.