James Shields Wins First Game with White Sox

Jun 23, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY SportsAll the White Sox expect from James Shields at this point of his career is to be a middle of the rotation innings eater.
Jun 23, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY SportsAll the White Sox expect from James Shields at this point of his career is to be a middle of the rotation innings eater. /

After losing two of his first three starts with the White Sox with a 21.81 ERA,  James Shields has drastically turned his pitching around over his last two starts. Wednesday night that paid off with his first win as a member of the White Sox.

After getting torched figuratively and then literally over his first three starts with the White Sox, James Shields has shown he can be a contributor in his last two starts. Against Boston and Minnesota, Shields has pitched 11.3 innings, giving up four earned runs on 13 hits, five walks, and eight strikeouts. He still needs to cut down his walks and hits allowed. His 1.58 WHIP is abysmal.

Shields has shown signs in the last few years of not being an effective pitcher as he was in his prime. Although he was 13-7 last year with a 3.91 ERA, if you look deeper into his stats he struggled some to get to that point.

His 1.33 WHIP was his highest since 2010, his 216 strikeouts were the third highest of his career and 9.6 K/9 the highest. The strikeouts are misleading. His walks went up drastically, which negated the rise in strikeouts. His 2.67 K/W ratio was the lowest of his career. Most of the remaining traditional and SABR metric  numbers were a career worst.

White Sox General Manager Rick Hahn discussed Shields’ issues with the Chicago Tribune before the series at Boston last week:

"“There were specific risks in acquiring James, but even the most dire forecast wouldn’t have predicted the performance we’ve seen the last few weeks,” Hahn said. “That said, we believe the issues are fixable. We believe they’re more mechanics-based than they are the unprecedented evaporation of talent in a premier starter.”"

Shields was acquired to be an innings eater. That’s the one thing that has been constant over the course of his career. Shields has pitched at least 200 innings in each of the previous nine years. Pitching into the seventh inning last night was huge for Shields confidence and the White Sox bullpen.

The bullpen might become another story. Matt Purke and Dan Jennings combined to give up five runs in 0.2 of an inning. Purke was sent down to Charlotte after the game. Two walks turned into two of those five runs. Nate Jones came in to get the final out for his second save of the season.

What’s next for Shields?

The question going forward for Shields will be is which pitcher is he closer to? The White Sox don’t need him to be a top of the rotation starter. Speaking to Comcast Sportsnet Chicago at the time of the trade, Hahn said:

"“What we’re hoping for from James is, he’s proven he can be an elite starter in the American League historically, but that’s not what we’re asking of him going forward. The higher quality his performance is going forward, the better. But at the same time, with the way our rotation sets up the next few years, we just needed him to be a nice stabilizing presence in the middle of it.”"

Shields is likely to have one or two more starts before the All-Star break. His performance at Boston was impressive if not great. The Red Sox are the Majors best hitting team. The White Sox have a day off next Thursday. There is a possibility they will skip either Shields or Miguel Gonzalez next weekend versus Atlanta.

If Shields does make two starts before the break, it will be against two of the worst-hitting teams in the majors, the Braves, and Yankees. The Twins hitting is close to the bottom with them. Shields last two outings are encouraging. Having some quality starts, even against bad hitting teams should help his confidence.

Next: Should White Sox Be Expecting Great Things From Morneau?

The schedule gets more difficult after the all-star break. The White Sox will close July with series at Anaheim and Seattle, then come home to face Detroit and the Cubs before closing out the month with one game at Wrigley Field and finally their second trip this season to Target field to play the Twins.

If Shields has found his rhythm again, that should help the White Sox stay in the playoff race.