POLL: Should the Astros sign James Shields?
A big game pitcher. The reigning American League Gold Glove winner at pitcher. A waiver claim turned to legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate. The last two rotation spots could belong to last year’s Opening Day pitcher and a flamethrower who made his debut at the age of just 22. If the Astros were to sign James Shields this offseason, a very nice rotation could be a major strength during the 2015 season.
We have heard the line and its variants all offseason – the priority is the bullpen. While signing Shields would appear to upgrade the starting rotation, and no doubt it will, James would enable the bullpen to be used less. And I am nearly certain that a fresh arm is a dependable arm.
Tim Dierkes (MLBTR) on Shields and his longevity:
"“Shields’ ability to go deep into games is a bullpen-saver, a trait that the pitcher finds very important. This year in the regular season, he averaged 6.68 innings per start, which ranked 13th in baseball. He was even better in the three years prior, averaging 7.06 innings per start. Shields tied for the MLB lead with 27 quality starts in 2013, and tied for 10th with 24 this year.”"
So maybe this is not the cheapest way of upgrading the bullpen. And there will certainly be those who would criticize the organization for failing to keep their promise. But I believe that the addition of Shields would increase the number of innings that the Astros starters throw. In 2014, to my surprise, the starting rotation combined for 970 innings. This is just short (5.987) of averaging 6 innings per start. One seemingly minuscule piece of data is that Lucas Harrell accounted for 12 1/3 of those innings.
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I am a firm believer in the Astros ability to contend next year. It will be difficult to tame the rising Mariners as well as bringing the Angels down to earth. The Athletics disappeared in the final ten weeks of the season while the Rangers were limped from late-April to a very disappointing 67-win campaign.
I even enjoyed parts of the Astros bullpen from time to time. Maybe there are a few readers who would agree. Even a writer at the Crawfish Boxes believe that the bullpen has a nice chance of doing well in the next season. In this article, SIERA is very much involved as a predictor of possible greatness.
So the idea is that adding an elite closer via free agency would help the bullpen. But for a team struggling to near the $100 million mark in payroll, giving a guy $13 million to pitch 60-70 innings may not be the best idea. And with the 40-man roster nearly full with 39 men, perhaps one splash in the market would put the Astros back on the October radar.
Shields, per the MLBTR profile, could ink a 5-year $95MM deal this offseason. So who would you rather sign? A guy to earn ~$185,000 per inning pitched, or a guy who would earn ~$95,000 per inning? Not only would the rate be cheaper, albeit a pricier contract, but the intangible benefits of sustaining a bullpen could enable the Astros pitching staff to be dominant.