Try this sometime. Ask your friends a simple question. “Where would you rank James Shields, of the Royals, in terms of starting pitchers in the fantasy game?” If you ask the question you will get a myriad of answers. Some might say he could be a top-25 arm. Others would say the think of him and think that, in a best case scenario, he's a third starter in fantasy. Others might even call him an SP4. How would I answer that question? I'll give me answer at the end of this piece.
Let's begin at the beginning. How often does Shields toe the rubber? After all, you have to be out there competing to help a fantasy team. Some facts on durability as it pertains to Shields.
* Every season since 2007 Shields has thrown at least 200 innings (remember Stephen Strasburg has never thrown 185). Only three other men can match that level of durability: Mark Buehrle, CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander.
* Every season since 2008 Shields has made at least 33 starts. Only one other in baseball can match that mark: Justin Verlander.
There is obviously a tad more to pitching than merely taking the ball, it's not like anyone is excited to have Buehrle on their squad, but the fact is that Shields is as durable as any pitcher in baseball. I like that.
What about the fantasy numbers?
(1) Shields has a career 3.79 ERA which is solid, but not great, for a guy who has spent his whole career in the AL. However, he's really locked things in the past three years with an ERA of 3.15. That mark places Shields 9th in baseball among guys who have thrown a total of 480 innings. Some big name guys that are behind him: Matt Cain (3.18), Felix Hernandez (3.20) and Zack Greinke (3.32).
(2) Shields has a career WHIP of 1.22, a very strong mark for an AL hurler. His marks the past three season have been 1.04, 1.17 and 1.24. Add those marks up and the result is a 3-year average of 1.16, the 11th best mark in baseball among qualifiers for the ERA title.
(3) Shields has 187 or more strikeouts in each of the last four seasons, and each of the past three years he's punched out at least 196. Only six men in baseball have at least 187 punchouts the past four years (Clayton Kershaw, Cole Hamels, Verlander, Hernandez, Tim Lincecum & Shields). Only five men have at least 196 K's the past three seasons (Hernandez, Verlander, Cliff Lee, Kershaw & Shields). Shields' total of 645 Ks is one behind Max Scherzer leaving Shields in the 6th spot.
(4) Shields has never won more than 16 games in a season but his total of 44 victories the past three seasons is the 10th best mark in baseball.
Doesn't all of that, points 1-4, mean Shields has been a borderline ace over the past three seasons? How could it not? To reiterate, the past three years...
Shields has the 9th best ERA in baseball.
Shields has the 11th best WHIP.
Shields has the 6th most strikeouts.
Shields has the 10th most victories.
If you are in a 12 team league that is a traditional 5x5 league, and you have a starting pitcher who is in the top-11 in the four categories that matter for starting pitchers, how would that guy not be considered an ace? It's because he's on the Royals and the name on the back of his jersey says “Shields.”