James Shields and Run Support

By Robbie Knopf

Something strange is going with James Shields‘ record. In 2011, Shields was 16-12, a 5.71 winning percentage. Now, after Monday’s win, he’s 13-8, a .619 winning percentage. Would anyone say that Shields has been better in 2012 than in 2011? Of course not. What’s going on here? Run support, clearly. But it’s not as clear-cut as you would think. Here’s a chart of Shields’ record, winning percentage, ERA, and run support per game over the course of his career.

Shields has his second-best winning percentage ever in 2012 despite his 5th-best ERA and 4th-most run support. What’s going on here?

Well, we know that Shields has been extremely streaky in 2012. He started 5-0 and 6-1 before ending up at 6-4, and he was 8-7 before winning 5 of his last 6 decisions to get to 13-8. But there is something else going on here. The interesting thing for Shields is how it isn’t always best for him to get more run support.

In 2012, the league average is a 4.31 ERA when given 0-2 runs of support, a 4.01 ERA when given 3-5, and a 4.42 ERA when given 6+. For Shields in his career, he’s been quite different from that, managing a 3.55 ERA with 0-2 runs of support, a 4.03 ERA with 3-5, and a 4.22 mark when given 6+. Shields is solidly above-average on both extremes but a tick below average in the middle. In 2011, Shields continually pitched well even when the Rays couldn’t get him much, posting a 2.39 ERA including 5 of his 11 complete games. In 2012, though, Shields has been completely off from his career trends. He has managed a 4.90 ERA when scored 0-2 runs, a 2.94 ERA when scored 3-5, and a 4.94 ERA when scored 6 or more runs. Maybe scoring a few fewer runs for Shields has helped his focus or something along those lines. Or maybe it’s just luck.

What does any of this mean? Probably nothing. But if you’re looking for a way to explain Shields’ great record in 2012 despite just a decent ERA and mediocre run support, there you have it.