This week’s spotlight is on the new San Diego Padres’ ace James Shields. He was one of the last free agents to sign this offseason ultimately agreeing to a deal with the Padres about two weeks before pitchers and catchers reported. Shields is one of the many new faces in San Diego for the 2015 season. The new-look Padres figure to be trending upward after a few down years in what is now a very competitive National League West. One thing San Diego does hope to avoid is becoming this year’s version of the Miami Marlins or Toronto Blue Jays as a team that takes in many big names, only to be unable to meet the lofty expectations.
With Shields, the Padres will have that number one starter come Opening Day that they can lean on to be able to take the ball every fifth day. His fiery approach will only help benefit the continued progression of the other starters within San Diego’s rotation. Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy, Brandon Morrow, and Tyson Ross are all still developing in their own right, but with a “Big Game” ace leading the way, they will now be able to just fall in line and follow suit.
Having Shields now at the top of the rotation also serves notice to the rest of the division as well. To be in a division, and having to face the likes of Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner multiple times can be pretty daunting for a club. But now with an ace of their own to offset that, the Padres just may be equipped enough to become a playoff contender. Down the line, a move like this could also force the hand of either Los Angeles or San Francisco to go out and add another pitcher. In a pinch or in a panic, possibly guys like Cole Hamels or Cliff Lee could enter the picture and play a factor in this three-team race.
Early on, there may be a bit of mystery for teams facing Shields. As a career American League pitcher up to this point, Shields does not have a ton of starts against the NL West, which could be to his advantage. However, in his small sample size, the results are mixed. In his lone regular season start against the Dodgers, Shields gave up seven hits and four runs in a seven inning no decision. Against the Giants, he owns a regular season win tossing a four-hit complete game shutout. But last October, San Francisco did get the best of Shields in the big games defeating him twice on their way to a World Series championship. In those two starts, Shields yielded a total of nine innings giving up 15 hits and seven earned runs.
This season, Shields will certainly be an intriguing player to track. On the statistical side, Shields has only one year of more than 15 wins, and one year posting an ERA under 3.00. Both of those came in 2011 which was also his career high in innings pitched. Those numbers do not represent an ace track record. However, jumping to the National League could improve those figures. But there is also no discrediting his intangibles. Shields is an intense competitor and makes his teammates around him elevate their games to a better level. His work ethic and approach is of ace caliber. Time will only tell if all of the innings will eventually catch up to his right arm. But in the present, Shields is in the spotlight as he aims to lead a third team to a World Series appearance.