This is James Shields. He plays for the Tampa Bay Rays. He’s really good at his job (pitching and more specifically, destroying the Toronto Blue Jays.) Shields is putting together a pretty great season, throwing tonnes of innings with great peripheral stats, closing in on 200 strikeouts for the first time in his career. His 3.11 xFIP is in the top ten in baseball. He brought the home runs that dogged him in 2010 under control and his overall results immediately improved.
James Shields also leads baseball with 10 complete games – three more than Roy Halladay and more than 26 professional baseball teams. Not players, teams. He has more complete games than every single team except his own, Halladay’s Philles, the Angels and the Mariners.
In the past two seasons combined, James Shields totaled zero complete games. In his career prior to 2011, James Shields has 5 complete games.
A truly impressive display of endurance and marked improvement in performance by an elite athlete. One thing that surprises me: the next article I read linking James Shields and performance enhancing drugs will be the first.
There is a reason for the lack of James Shields steroids controversy – there is a close to zero percent chance he is on steroids. I do not, for one minute, believe he uses any drugs to improve his performance. Even if he did, I don’t know that I would care.
Yet a player who makes incredible strides, who surpasses his previous levels of achievement and outpaces the entire league, completely avoids the type of scrutiny reserved for home run hitters. How can that be?
Oh, right. Steroids and PEDs help you hit home runs and home runs alone.
They have no impact on health, speed, endurance, concentration, execution of specific tasks like throwing breaking balls — nothing like that. Home runs. Maybe they add a few miles to the fastball if we’re feeling especially cynical.
These magic bullets do this without changing the physique of the cheater in question in addition to being completely undetectable to blood or urine tests. Nobody knows their names or where to get them, yet a few elite sluggers managed to take them and reap the benefits of Booster Juice endorsements and badly-scripted Fancave bits.
We could use context to rationalize Shields’ development as a workhorse, study how he changed his pitch sequencing, using his curveball much, much more to great effect. We could reflect on his increased swinging strikes as well as his decrease in home runs, increase in strand rate, lower BABIP and notching more ground balls as reasons he can successfully navigate 27 outs at at time.
But that’s no fun and it take a little bit of looking. Instead, I’m going to stand here and accuse James Shields of using steroids to become a better pitcher and complete more games. It just feels right. I mean, seriously, who’ve got to ask the question, don’t you? Ten complete games in one season? Something seems fishy.