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James Shields has been one of the AL's top pitchers the last two seasons.The Kansas City Royals continued their “win-now” approach to the 2012-13 offseason making a blockbuster trade with the Tampa Bay Rays in which they received two MLB veteran pitchers -- James Shields and Wade Davis -- for a haul of prospects that included one of the top minor leaguers in baseball, outfielder Wil Myers.
Let’s take a stat-based look at the trade in terms of what the Royals received in return.
Shields leaves the Rays as their all-time leader in just about every pitching stat, most notably wins, strikeouts, starts and innings pitched.
Over the past two seasons, Shields ranks first in the majors with 14 complete games and tied for first with six shutouts. He also ranks second in innings pitched (477) and third in strikeouts (448).
Notable Rays Franchise Records
Shields may not have the best memories of Kauffman Stadium due to his 6.35 ERA and .353 opponents’ batting average in four starts there against the Royals. That’s his worst ERA and opponents’ batting average in any AL ballpark.
He’ll be going to a ballpark that is not as pitcher-friendly as Tropicana Field, which ranked second-friendliest to pitchers in the majors in terms of runs scored over the past three seasons by Bill James Ballpark Factors.
Kauffman ranked seventh-friendliest among the 14 AL parks (not counting Minute Maid Park, which becomes an AL park in 2013). The one benefit for Shields: Kauffman has bigger power alleys. Its fence is 29 feet deeper than Tropicana Field in right center, 15 feet deeper in left-center.
How does Shields win?
His past success has come with a very effective changeup, which he throws 29 percent of the time, the most often of any starting pitcher in the majors last season.
Shields throws four pitches regularly, pairing the changeup with a fastball, curve and slider. It is the changeup that fools hitters, netting a 48 percent "chase rate" (how often a hitter swung at a pitch out of the strike zone). That was just shy of Tom Milone and Felix Hernandez’s AL-leading 50 percent rate.
Converted from starter to reliever last season, Davis thrived in his new role, striking out better than 11 hitters per 9 innings, the ninth-best rate in the AL.
Davis cranked up his fastball for shorter outings. It averaged 93.4 mph, up 1.6 from its average when he started from 2009 to 2011.
Davis’ strikeout-per-9 rate nearly doubled what it was in that three-season span (5.9 per 9) and his ERA nearly dropped by half (from 4.22 to 2.43).
Finishing what they started
Shields and Davis share a common thread.
They both finished 2012 on very high notes.
Royals Starting Pitcher Ranks
Shields had a 1.99 ERA in his last 12 starts. He struck out 15 and pitched a two-hitter in a complete game 1-0 loss to the Baltimore Orioles in his final start with the Rays.
His Bill James Game Score (a stat that rates pitcher's starts, usually on a scale of 0 to 100) of 94 was the highest in a nine-inning loss by any pitcher since 1920.
Davis closed 2012 strong as well, holding opponents scoreless in 13 of his last 15 appearances. He struck out 29 and allowed only six hits in his last 17 2/3 innings pitched.
The Royals could use the help. The chart above shows their starting pitching struggles in 2012.
Stat of the Trade
The stat that sums up why the Royals made this trade is a pretty simple one.
The last time the Royals made the playoffs was in 1985 when they won the World Series. Since then, every team in the majors, except the Royals, has made the postseason at least once.