Veteran right-hander James Shields, whom the White Sox recently acquired from the Padres, entered his Saturday start against the Indians having allowed 14 runs in seven innings with Chicago. So things haven't gone swimmingly for him with his new club. Then Shields authored this line against Cleveland:
1.2 IP, 7 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 3 BB, 2 SO, 1 HR
That's sub-optimal right there. Obviously, he buried the Sox early in what was an important game against the team they're chasing in the AL Central. So after three starts for the South Siders, Shields is running an ERA of 21.80 with almost twice as many unintentional walks (nine) as strikeouts (five). Needless to say, those numbers are awful in the extreme.
As well, Shields in his final start with the Padres gave up 10 runs in 2 2/3 innings. In total that's 32 runs allowed over his last 11 1/3 innings pitched. Prior to this stretch, Shields had never before allowed seven or more runs in consecutive starts. Now he's done that in four straight starts.
There's also this:
James Shields has now allowed 18 first-inning runs this season, the same number as the entire Cubs pitching staff.— Jon Roegele (@MLBPlayerAnalys) June 18, 2016
All right then.
Look, Shields is 34, he's leaking velocity (he was in the high 80s with his fastball quite a bit on Saturday), and he hasn't had good results since leaving Kansas City after the 2014 season. It's not surprising that he's no longer the strong No. 2 man of yore, but this? This kind of awfulness, even over a brief span, is most unexpected.
The long-term concern for the White Sox is that they're on the hook for $27 million if Shields doesn't exercise his opt-out this winter. Obviously, continued struggles make it much less likely that he'll avail himself of said opt-out.
The near-term worry is that Shields is hurting their chances of contending in 2016. The White Sox's issues go beyond Shields, but you can't run out a starter -- no matter how much he's owed -- for very long if he's going to keep putting you down big in the early innings. Thus far, that's exactly what Shields has done for the White Sox.