The Royals had many contributors on their epic run for the World Series in 2014. It takes skill from the entire team to accomplish winning the American League Pennant.
However, let’s face the facts, James Shields was a huge part of their season-long run. Even with this new Wild Card rendering the regular season very nearly pointless. the regular season does count and the Royals wouldn’t have gotten through it without the help of James Shields.
While, some might say that he didn’t quite live up to his nickname “Big Game James” in his performances during the 2014 postseason but James Shields is still a very good pitcher and a proven workhorse without whom the Royals may not have been able to slip into a Wild Card spot.
Shields has given his teams 200 plus innings in each of his full big league seasons. In his two seasons as a member of the Royals he pitched in 455 innings and started a league leading 34 games each year. He did all of this posting a 3.18 ERA and 1.209 WHIP.
2013 and 2014 were two of the best seasons of his career with the exception of his All-Star campaign with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008.
One thing you can’t say about Shields is that he’s declining and teams know this which is why there is soon to be a bidding war over Shields, not as extreme as the one over Jon Lester, but a bidding war nonetheless and it will be one that the Royals will not be able to afford to enter.
So, to replace Shields the Royals recently signed a pair of right-handed starters. First they signed Kris Medlen, a free agent from the Atlanta Braves who is coming off Tommy John surgery and won’t be ready until mid-season, to a two-year $7.5 million deal with a mutal third year option worth $10 million with a $1 million buyout.
Medlen is a gamble after Tommy John surgery, but in his last full season in 2013 in which he made 31 starts for the Braves he went 15-12 with a 3.11 ERA and a 1.223 WHIP. If he comes back strong and healthy he could be a good second half pick-me-up for the Royals.
On Monday the team finalized a similar deal with free agent and former Pittsburgh Pirate Edinson Volquez. It is also for two-years and is worth $20 million with a third year mutual option worth another $10 million or a $3 million buyout.
Volquez is coming off a career year, an almost break-out season for the 31-year-old. However, his past seasons have been inconsistent. He had three mediocre tries in the big leagues with Texas and was then traded to the Cincinnati Reds in the Josh Hamilton trade.
His first year in Cincinnati he was an All-Star, winning 17 games and posting an ERA of 3.21. Having finally exceeded his rookie status, he finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting. Over his next three years with the Reds, however, he went 13-12 with a 5.01 ERA. He was also suspended for the use of performance enhancing drugs in 2010.
After being traded in December 2011 to the San Diego Padres, he went 11-11 in 2012. He was released by mid-2013 with an ERA over 6.00 and picked up by the Los Angeles Dodgers where he didn’t fare much better.
Granted free agency after the 2013 season he signed a one-year deal with the Pirates and excelled, hence, the Royals obvious faith in a player who is really a would-be third or fourth starter.
Volquez won 13 games for Pittsburgh in 31 starts, kept his ERA at 3.04 and his WHIP was under 1.3 for the first time in his career at 1.230.
It’s interesting though that they expect him to be their ace, even if just for a year or two until Yordano Ventura is ready to take over. Ventura showed maturity in the playoffs along with ace-like stuff so barring injury it seems as though he is primed to be the Royals’ future ace.
Volquez filling in for a year or two still feels sketchy. He seems to have a great year once in a while with alright to just bad seasons in his career. While Shields has had a couple years with a high ERA he’s been much more consistent than Volquez.
Volquez has never had a season in which he pitched 200 or more innings (the closest being 196.0 in 2008 with the Reds and 192.2 with the Pirates), whereas Shields has pitched up to 249.1 in a single season in his career. In terms of reliability, Shield might be the best starter in the league.
Prior to checking fan graphs there was hope that Volquez may have used his pitches more effectively during the two seasons he has really excelled, perhaps by using certain pitches a higher percentage of the time.
For example, prior to his season-ending hip injury and subsequent retirement from the game, Josh Beckett of the Los Angeles Dodgers virtually reinvented himself as a pitcher by using his curveball a higher percentage of the time. He threw the first no-hitter of his career at the age of 34.
Unfortunately there was no correlation between the percentages of the times Volquez used certain pitches. He’s always thrown his fastball at a consistent 50-plus percent of the time. In 2008 his go to strikeout pitch appears to have been his change up is but in 2013 he had more success with a fastball/curveball combination.
Also, if you consider his home ballparks over the past 10 seasons. The he pitched poorly in the Rangers’ hitter-friendly Globe Life Park in Arlington and pitched just as poorly in the Padres’ pitcher-friendly Petco Park.
With few similarities between Volquez’s two very successful years it makes it very hard to predict what 2015 may bring
It seems like, even with the addition of Medlen who is a risk, that the Royals are also gambling with Volquez. Can they expect Volquez to repeat his 2014 season? 2014 was the first and only time since his 2008 season that he’s even had an ERA under four.
They’ve added some much needed power to their lineup having signed Alex Rios and Kendrys Morales but will that be enough to make up for Shields’ 3,7 average WAR over the past two seasons? Maybe, but Morales is getting older and did not have a great season in 2014.
If Volquez can prove to be an ace, especially with a little help from Medlen by July, then the Royals may have just gotten an ace at a three or four starter price.
Or the combination of Volquez and later Medlen may not pan out. Unfortunately for the Royals it seems like Volquez has more of a chance at failing than succeeding in Kansas City.