Tag Archives: James Shields

How James Shields “change”d his season in 2017, and helped improve the team’s outlook for 2018

Screen Shot: You Tube

There was a time, before Yoan Moncada and Avisail Garcia’s ascension, when White Sox fans began to grow accustomed to seeing their front office herd in masses of veteran, broken-down, half-solutions to their rapidly decaying roster issues. Those days are now in the South Side’s rear view mirror, but some of these players still reside in the wake of those troubling times.

James Shields was one of the last to arrive in a group of misfits that the White Sox hoped to polish up, throw some pinstripes on, and wish for the best. And it worked out the way the parade of others had in the past — it simply didn’t.

Brought aboard in June of 2016, Shields was coming off a questionable run with the San Diego Padres after posting an ERA of 4.28. White Sox fans figured all he needed was to let Don Cooper get a hold of him and perhaps Shields would turn back into the player he was just a few years prior.

Shields, however, went on to post a 6.77 ERA in 114 innings for the remainder of the 2016 season and the start of 2017 didn’t look much better. Shields looked as though he was simply becoming another liability on an ailing team searching for answers. He recorded just 36 innings in the first half to the tune of a 4.95 ERA and had a strikeout rate just above 18 percent.

But let’s fast forward to August. Shields suddenly looked different than he had before. He threw 625 combined strikes in August and September and was garnering strikeout rates of nearly 25 percent — totals he hadn’t seen while in a White Sox uniform.

Shields also was going deeper in games, throwing over twice as many innings in two months as he had in the first half of the season (80 IP vs. 36 IP). His ERA was back below 4 in September for the first time since April, and he was allowing the lowest offensive totals he had all season.

And it all started in Boston. During an August 4th start at Fenway Park, mid-game, Shields dropped his arm slot on his delivery by nearly two feet, what some would consider drastic for a mid-game change. And he never looked back.

“I don’t know how many quality starts he’s had now since he’s made his adjustment,” Manager Rick Renteria said. He’s been keeping us in the ballgame, attacking the strike zone, he’s got that action that’s coming from a little lower arm slot now. He’s running balls to both sides of the plate, changing speeds and just doing a really nice job.”

Take a look at Shields’ vertical release point over the course of the season:

It’s not hard to notice Shields’ arm slot drop, and its correlation with his second half success.

“I’m revamping every year man,” Shields said about his mechanical change. “This being my 12th season, you’re always trying to refine your game every year, no matter what, whether it’s a pitch or mechanical adjustment. The league makes adjustments on you … at the end of the day, you always have to make adjustments.”

“It’s more than alteration, it’s a change,” bullpen coach Curt Hasler told reporters. “And this is him doing it. It impressed the heck out of me when he did it mid-game in Boston. This guy has got tremendous feel so he can do that. The result he has gotten is more balls down, more ground balls, less balls in the air, more outs on the infield, higher strike to ball ratio. All those things have been a result of this change he’s been able to do.”

For the White Sox, this adjustment couldn’t have come at a better time. There are holes in this team’s rotation looking ahead to 2018. Veteran arm Mike Pelfrey is now a free agent. Miguel Gonzalez was traded to Texas during the season. The White Sox are transitioning fresh young arms to the major league stage of their development — a transition that often includes a heavier workload. This team will need cost effective, veteran guys who can bare the brunt of those heavy workloads and eat up the innings that young pitchers, as well as pitchers such as Carlos Rodon coming off rehab, won’t comfortably be able to.

Enter Shields, who saw an uptick not only in his strikeout numbers, but in his longevity. After the Boston game, Shields began to average six to seven innings per outing again, going just two outings the rest of the season that were under six innings.

Shields has one year left on his contract, with an option for him to return in 2019 at the cost of $16 million. Depending on Shields progression, as well as the state of the 2019 White Sox, Shields’ return could be a welcomed opportunity in the future.

“I’ll make some assessments in the offseason,” Shields said. “See how that works out, see how my body is feeling. Over the last month and a half, it seems to be working out. we’ll see how it goes.”

The White Sox may have continued to typecast down-on-their-luck veterans to no avail in the past, but perhaps one of the remaining few players from those deals turned into a bit of undiscovered treasure for the South Sides, and one with impeccable timing.

It’s Been One Week

Although the White Sox haven’t played as many games as they’d planned through a week of the season, there’s plenty to dig in and digest. Obviously, we’ll have to wait a bit longer–at least one full trip through the rotation would be nice–to make any grand statements but here’s what popped most in the Sox first three games.

–Jose Quintana will probably be just fine. He gave up six runs on three home runs against the Tigers. First, he never gives up three home runs. Second, he hasn’t matched up well against the Tigers in the past. Third, with the rainout on Wednesday, the Sox have the chance to start Quintana three times and skip the as-yet technically unnamed fifth starter. They’ll do just that. Q will be fine.

–Matt Davidson hit a 428-foot home run in his first at-bat of the year. He rounded all the bases, did not get hurt, and finished the game. That did not happen after his only at-bat last season. It’s been a long, long road to the Major Leagues after being acquired from the Diamondbacks in 2013. Davidson did not have a good spring, by any measure. He had a fantastic first game and, if nothing else, can take that confidence and run with it.

–Tyler Saladino has seemed extra patient in the leadoff spot. His eye has been sharp, his takes have been keen and when he’s swung early (like belting the second pitch of the game Friday night against Phil Hughes deep to center) he hit the ball hard (but was robbed by Byron Buxton who made a preposterous catch).

–James Shields’ velocity is up. That may mean a lot, if it’s true. Fangraphs.com has an excellent article up about velocity across baseball and how it’s being measured this year as opposed to last. Whether he’s throwing harder or not, he got swings and misses on the fastball in his first start. That simply did not happen last season.

–Geovany Soto became the seventh player in MLB history to homer twice in a game for both the White Sox and the Cubs. The others are Ron Santo, Jay Johnstone, Vance Law, George Bell, Sammy Sosa and WLS’ own Darrin Jackson.

–Jake Petricka will start, pretty much, on the DL this year. A lat strain has sidelined the right hander after just one appearance. He was healthy this offseason after hip surgery put him on the shelf all last season. His absence hurt the Sox as they careened out of contention last year. Hopefully, he gets back quickly. His ability to throw ground balls is an asset to the bullpen.

There’s more but we’ll leave it there for now. Catch all the latest on the Sox live on White Sox Weekly or check the podcast.

With Rodon to DL, Sox need a spot start

White Sox starter Carlos Rodon will need a trip to the 15-day disabled list after slipping on the dugout steps and spraining his pitching wrist. While it’s not the best of circumstances for a team to lose a starter, especially to something so freakish as a slip and fall, the All Star break helps with the timing and could mean that the White Sox need only use a spot starter twice–perhaps even once–while Rodon rests up.

It’s not been smooth trip through for Rodon through the first half of his sophomore season. There have been bumps in the road and they have been sizable. I still like the ability and the potential quite a bit, however. Not all pitchers are Chris Sale. They don’t just arrive at the Big League level and dominate the way Sale, who’s now a five-time All Star, did when moved into the rotation. Rodon, particularly because his deficiency seems to be fastball command on a start-to-start basis, is more subject to volatility than others. He can be particularly nasty but, because of a susceptibility to deeper counts, is vulnerable to batters having seen him longer and taking advantage of the added information.

As the White Sox return to the second half against the Angels, figure Jose Quintana to get the first start of the unofficial second half. James Shields and Miguel Gonzalez, in either order, are likely to be the second and third starters out of the gate while Sale, pitching in the All Star game on three days rest, will make the fourth start of the second half Monday against the Mariners. Tuesday would see someone called up from the minor leagues to make a spot start but it’s anyone’s guess as to who that might be.

A longshot, and an interesting one at that, would be Carson Fulmer. Fulmer, the Sox first round pick in 2015 has been on somewhat of a roll of late. His last three starts have been promising. On June 26th he went seven scoreless innings, gave up two hits and two walks and struck out seven. July 1st saw him go seven scoreless again and strikeout five while walking three and giving up three hits. July 6th he went 5 innings and gave up two earned on five hits en route to striking out 10 and walking three.

The White Sox were aggressive with his assignment to AA in the first place and the conversations both public and private have been optimistic about Fulmer’s potential to help out at the major league level this season. A spot start, with the addendum of him moving into the major league bullpen afterward, might give the Sox a chance to evaluate his arsenal against major league hitters and shape his plan as a reliever going down the line in 2016. While the promotion to the Major Leagues would be an aggressive one, Fulmer seems to be a kid who’s able to process the accelerated path the Sox have chosen for him so far and understands what’s being asked of him.

Plus, it’d just be fun to see what he’s got.

First order of business this weekend, however, is to take the last two against the Atlanta Braves and head into the All Star Break four games over .500. The Sox have Jose Quintana and James Shields throwing in the final two games of the season and both pitched very well their last time out.

Enjoy these last two and the break! We’ll have more White Sox baseball Friday, July 15th when the White Sox take on the Angels on WLS AM 890 and the White Sox radio network.



White Sox Acquire James Shields

Nearly three weeks ago, when the White Sox returned home from a six-game, two-city road trip, GM Rick Hahn announced he was ready to deal. He wanted to add to a club that was 24-14 and on top of the AL Central. It had been a rough go of it out on the road. The Sox dropped both series to the Rangers and Yankees and the bullpen had started to leak.

Although the bullpen has stopped most of the bleeding, the wound cost the White Sox the lead in the Division. They now look up at the Royals and Indians. Reinforcements are on the way.

The White Sox have acquired James Shields from San Diego. Erick Johnson (6.94 ERA in two starts covering 11.2 innings in 2016) and Fernando Tatis Jr., a 17-year old shortstop prospect are said to be headed to San Diego.

Shields’ contract status is somewhat complicated. He’s owed $21 million this season and is due the same total in 2017 and 2018. There is a $16 million team option in 2019 with a buyout of $2 million. Further, Shields holds an opt out clause after this season.

Further, the financial burden on the Sox is going to be lessened significantly. They’ll pay $5 million toward this year’s salary and cover $10 million in each of the next two seasons, should he not exercise the opt out.

That’s the nitty gritty of the deal. The upshot, at least from my perspective, is that this is a responsible yet aggressive move by the White Sox. In adding Shields to the mix, they get a quality veteran who could, if he so choses, be a part of the next two years of White Sox contention. Chris Sale and Jose Quintana already form one of the top one-two combinations in baseball and adding Shields to the mix adds strength to strength. Shields regularly goes deep into games. Only once this season has he failed to complete six innings in a start. That benefits every aspect of a ball club.

Moreover, the White Sox got Shields without having to tap into any of their three top prospects (Tim Anderson, Carson Fulmer or Spencer Adams). That does one of two things. It leaves the powder dry for making another impact move later on in the season or keeps the immediate future of the club intact as Anderson could easily make his major league debut this season–and make a difference.

The only missing piece of the equation is who gets bumped out of the rotation. Mat Latos got off to a stellar start to the year but his 1.84 April ERA exploded in the second month of the season; his ERA in May is 6.41 Miguel Gonzalez has turned in six starts of fairly yeoman’s work and the crafty right hander has a track record of success at the big league level with the stuff he’s featuring.

Still, it’s an upgrade on a number of fronts and the Sox, despite an 11-17 May are still well within striking distance in a competitive AL Central. There could be more moves on the horizon but starting with James Shields is getting things off on the right foot.