Houston Astros v Kansas City Royals

Okay, that just isn’t fair. There is only ONE Cliff Lee, and for that the world is much better (and yet worse.) But just like Cliff Lee last season, James Shields is in the middle of a terrific season that just might go for naught.

James Shields ranks among the league leaders in many pitching categories in 2013, ranking first in in the AL for innings pitched and sitting among the top 20 in baseball for ERA, FIP, and xFIP among others. He has two complete games and has given the Royals exactly what they wanted when they swapped him for their top prospect, Wil Myers.

Unfortunately for the Royals and Shields, the Kansas City offense won’t play along. Which puts James Shields on a crash course with history!

Very recent history, it turns out. It was 53 weeks ago that I wrote this very post on Cliff Lee, who stood winless on the season despite pitching very, very well. Cliff Lee did not finish the season with more Wins Above Replacement but he was very, very close. Lee finished the season with six wins and 4.5 WAR, becoming just the third pitcher to accomplish this very specific, very odd feat.

Might James Shields join this group of infamy?

Cliff Lee picked up his first win of the season in his 14th start of 2012, fittingly on the Fourth of July for a Great American Hero. James Shields has made 14 starts this season and has a grand total of two pitcher wins this season. He has two complete games – and lost both!

Year Age Tm W L ERA GS CG SHO IP H R HR BB SO BF ERA+ WHIP BB/9 SO/9
2013 31 KCR 2 6 2.79 14 2 0 100.0 85 32 8 26 90 397 145 1.110 2.3 8.1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/14/2013.

Can he get there? Can James Shields and the awful/not awful Royals keep his win total under control during his dire march to misery? Most assuredly no.

Here’s the thing with pitcher wins: they’re divorced from talent in a very real way. Wins happen to pitchers. Good pitchers win more game because they’re good but, sometimes, it doesn’t work out like that. Shields ranks in the bottom ten among pitchers run support this season, which certainly doesn’t help. Shields also ranks in the top ten for no decisions, as anyone with two wins and 14 starts can expect.

The various projection systems don’t favor James Shields to keep his tough luck streak going for the rest of the season. ZiPS projects seven wins between now and the end of the year, Steamer projects nine wins and PECOTA also “foresees” seven wins for Shields over the rest of the season.

Which is to say, it is really tough to keep such a wacky start going over the rest of the year. Even the Royals, with Eric Hosmer and friends dragging their carcasses along, can fall backwards into a few more runs per game in support of Shields. Let’s just repurpose what I wrote last year about Lee and plug Shields’ name in and then call it a day:

Cliff LeeJames Shields will win games. Cliff LeeJames Shields will surely pitch worse but pick up a few wins here and there as that is the cruel way of the world. The oddities pile up but eventually order is restored in the universe. Unless, of course, you aren’t a real winner.