Houston Astros: Is Trading for James Shields worth exploring?


Does it make sense for the Houston Astros to explore the possibility of acquiring James Shields?

But first, to preface this post, I want to state that this is pure speculation on my part. I do not foresee the Houston Astros making a play for current Padres starting pitcher James Shields. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t examine and determine if adding the veteran right-hander would make sense for the Astros.

Adding a pitcher like Shields would fortify, in theory, the Astros rotation with one of the more consistent starting pitchers in recent memory. Just think, a rotation of Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, Lance McCullers, and Shields would be one of the better rotations in baseball.

He also had arguably two of his more finer seasons in 2013-14, when he posted some of his most noteworthy numbers. In fact, his single digit HR/FB rates of 8.6% and 9.7% were two of the single best of his career. He also posted his two lowest ERA totals in both seasons (3.15 & 3.21). Ironically, the hope would be that he could replicate that success coming back to the American League.

There is also the postseason experience that Shields possesses that may be of interest to the Astros, even though he doesn’t have the greatest track record in October. But the fact that he has been there may be beneficial to any playoff contender, such as Houston. Who knows, maybe he could turn around his postseason woes (3-6 W-L, 5.46 ERA/4.42 FIP) with the Astros.

However, Shields, soon to be 34-years old, just finished his first season with the Padres of the National League after spending time with the Tampa Bay Rays and Kansas City Royals of the American League. In fact, many baseball minds speculated that Shields would not only thrive in the National League, but also in Petco Park, which is where the Padres play their home games. After all, he would be facing the pitcher instead of a designated hitter in the lineup, and Petco Park is known to be pitcher friendly. Well, that prediction didn’t actually come to pass.

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In 2015, Shields had arguably his worst statistical season since 2010, finishing with an ERA of 3.91 and FIP of 4.45. And while his strikeout jumped by nearly 6%, his walk rate also climbed roughly 5%. However, that isn’t the most troubling aspect of Shields’ 2015 season.

Let’s consider home runs allowed first: Shields from 2011-14 maintained roughly a 0.91 HR/9 ratio. In 2015, his HR/9 jumped to 1.47 HR/9. Once again, that was his highest HR/9 since 2010. In total, he gave 33 HR in 202.1 innings pitched. That equated to a staggering 17.6% HR/FB in 2015 compared to 9.7% in 2014. Needless to say that this development from Shields is surprising. And that’s troubling for the Astros if they do happen to inquire about the current Padre since Minute Maid Park is not the pitchers haven like Petco is known for.

The increase of home runs isn’t the most disturbing occurrence from Shields’ game in 2015. Heck, maybe the higher than usual home run output is just a one hit wonder. It does appear, however, that one aspect of Shields’ pitching ability that should draw everyone’s attention is the drop in fastball velocity. That’s right, fastball velocity. In 2014, Shields threw his four-seam and two-seam fastballs at 92.5 MPH and 92.1 MPH respectively. But in 2015, those fastball speeds dropped to 91.1 MPH and 90.7 MPH.

Shields isn’t the first pitcher, and surely won’t be the last, to suffer from a case of lost velocity in his career. But it’s the difference in various statistics that occurred during the same season as the drop in velocity that makes you wonder if that isn’t one of the primary culprits in his 2015 struggles.

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But this also begs the question of could he have battled a nagging injury that would explain for this drop in velocity? Or is it just a byproduct of being one year older? Either way, being a nearly 34-year old pitcher with over 2,000 innings of major league wear and tear on his arm, this could be the start of a decline for Shields.

That has to be a viable concern considering that veteran pitcher is due $21 million per season from 2016-18. Any team investing that much money into a veteran starting pitcher will surely look into his 2015 issues from the results and health standpoint. For an up-and-coming organization like the Astros to be on the hook for that kind of financial commitment would be a huge leap of faith. Also not to mention the prospect compensation to make a trade happen, any future injury could potentially transform Shields’ and his salary into major liability on both the team’s performance and player budget.

While acquiring Shields would surely bring a notable name to H-Town, it probably isn’t in the Astros best interest. And yes, the Padres starter could turn it around and be a valuable contributor over the remaining portion of his contract.

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But after his disappointing 2015 season, it may be a wise idea to pass. The Astros are still in no position to take a gamble of this proportion.