Every team needs an ace with talent, drive and a proven ability to sustain their success. James Shields has been exactly that for both the Kansas City Royals and Tampa Bay Rays through his eight and a half seasons in MLB. Frighteningly, though, KC’s ace struggled in the first half of 2014 and is now on pace to record hist worst ERA since 2010.
Shields’ current ERA of 3.79 is the worst among all starters currently in the Royals’ rotation. A 1.60 ERA posted in April makes his latest struggles less noticeable on the stat sheet, but 4.69 and 4.88 ERAs in the following months show that something is definitely wrong. He allowed at least four runs in five of his last seven starts and struck out more than four batters just twice in his last eight. The once-dominant starter is now allowing a .294 average to left-handed hitters this season.
What could be making KC’s most important (and expensive) pitcher so suddenly hittable? Shields’ BABIP numbers seem to indicate some bad luck with doinkers and seeing-eye singles, but bad luck balls can’t explain away everything. The rest of the answer may come from an unexpected but respected source.
Jeff Montgomery, former Royals closer and current Royals postgame analyst, says that Shields’ normally devastating change-up is lacking its usual bite in recent starts. Monty explained that KC’s ace is dropping his arm slot, making the pitch just spin instead of getting yanked down with a more over-the-shoulder delivery to create its late break. Maybe — and hopefully — Monty is right and this is a simple problem with mechanics. KC insists so far that it has nothing to do with injuries or fatigue, and with such a proven workhorse, fans should and will take them on their word — for now.