Should Padres fans be worried about James Shields?

James Shields cropped

James Shields leads the Padres with four wins and 55 strikeouts.

Awesome.

James Shields’ E.R.A is 4.25.

Not awesome.

The Padres $75 million dollar arm has been a conundrum through seven starts. His numbers thus far, in some areas, are better than where he’s been through his first seven starts in previous years.

Others are not.

Let’s take a look at how he’s done through seven starts this year in comparison to how he’s performed in his first seven starts from previous seasons (stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com).

His 4.25 E.R.A is the highest its been since his rookie year in 2006 (4.39). In fact, he’s only had an E.R.A. above four one other time in his career (2009), and has averaged 3.26 prior to coming to San Diego. He’s allowed a career-high 11 home runs while opponents are slugging—wait for it—a career-high .527 against him. His previous highs in both categories were eight (2009) and .455 (2010), respectively.

Conversely, his 55 strikeouts in 2015 are 13 more than his career average and his 14 percent swing-and-miss rate is another career-best, his highest since his rookie campaign (12 percent) in 2006.

And then there are the numbers that are on par with his career averages.

With the Padres, Shields has allowed 41 hits, 12 walks, and opponents are hitting .248 off him. For his career, he’s averaged 43 hits, 12.4 walks, and a .243 opponents batting average.

So, this season, we have bad numbers (E.R.A, HRs, slugging percentage), strong numbers (Ks, swing-and-miss rate), and on par numbers (hits, walks, opponents batting average), which begs the question, what can we expect of the Padres 33-year old ace moving forward?

That’s a hard question to answer. Admittedly, it is still early in the season and numbers in baseball always do what they do best; average out over the long haul.

Here are a few things to consider:

One, Shields is starting in the National League for the first time in his career and is facing hitters in ballparks he’s not overly familiar with (on both accounts).

Two, he’s working with a catcher—Derek Norris—who is going through the same adjustment.

That said, it’s likely that, in his small sample size with the Padres, both the good and the bad numbers are attributable to his adjustment to the National League.

On the one hand, you have hitters that haven’t faced him (or have very few times) and have swung and missed, a lot. And on the other, you have a pitcher who hasn’t faced hitters (or has very few times) and has made costly mistakes over the plate.

Going forward, the strikeouts and swing-and-miss rate is a better sign of what’s to come than the home runs allowed and opponents’ slugging percentage.

Yes, the numbers will likely average out but don’t forget Shields’ opponents’ batting average is still a respectable .248 and he’s only allowed 12 walks. Meaning, he’s not getting shellacked in terms of number of hits allowed nor is he giving an inordinate amount of free passes to first base (he’s averaged nearly two hit-batsmen in his career and has hit three in 2015). It’s just that when he’s been hit, he’s missed over the plate—likely strategically, not mechanically—and has paid for it with the long-ball.

It’s early. It’s a small sample, but don’t fret Padres fans.

Shields will be fine.

 

–Andrew Burer (TWITTER: @andrewburer)

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