All year, everyone has been waiting for James Shields to pitch like he did in his dominant 2011. This past Tuesday night, he finally came through, shutting down the Oakland Athletics with a complete game shutout, allowing just 3 hits and striking out 11 while walking none. It was his first complete game in 2012 after 11 in 2011. What was the difference for Shields after his struggles previously this season? It was pretty simple: his fastball.
His entire career, James Shields has never had a great fastball. His make-or-break pitch has always been his excellent changeup. But the thing about Shields’ changeup is that it always is more dynamic when he can set it up with his fastball. Shields throwing his fastball more would make his changeup more effective. Because Shields’ fastball is not a great pitch, he’s not a pitcher that can throw his fastball two-thirds of the time or even half the time. But it’s important for him to at least throw it just as often as his changeup, hopefully a little bit more. In 2011, he managed to do that. According to Brooks Baseball, he threw his fastball and sinker (as classified by Pitch F/X) a combined 36% of the time compared to the 27% clip that he threw his changeup. But in 2012, Shields has gotten off that, throwing his fastball and sinker for only 26% of his pitches compared to 32% for his changeup. However, this past Tuesday night, he finally rectified the problem. Shields threw just 98 pitches in his gem on Tuesday. 52 of them, 53%, were either his four-seam or two-seam fastballs. And what did that do for Shields? He threw his changeup 30 times and generated an incredible 14 swings-and-misses with the pitch, leading to his 11-strikeout night. Hopefully tonight and moving forward, Shields can continue to establish his fastball, making his changeup even more devastating and the results as good as ever.