Revenge of the xFIP: James Shields racks up 13 strikeouts in three-hit shutout


He didn’t join Francisco Liriano and Justin Verlander in throwing a no-hitter, but James Shields may have turned in the most impressive start of the season yesterday by striking out 13 and walking just one in a three-hit shutout of the Marlins.

Based on “Game Score” it was the best start of the season, rating as a 93. Cliff Lee’s three-hit shutout of the Nationals in mid-April had ranked as the top start at 92, with outings from Dan Haren, Tim Hudson, Ian Kennedy, and Jaime Garcia plus Verlander’s no-hitter close behind.

Shields struggled last season as his ERA ballooned to 5.18 and he led the league in hits, runs, and homers allowed. However, his secondary numbers were still very strong with a 187/51 K/BB ratio in 203 innings and advanced pitching metrics like xFIP showed that an unsustainably high batting average on balls in play was largely to blame for the struggles. In fact, last season his xFIP was 3.55, which ranked seventh in the league.

He’s been even better this year, as yesterday’s gem brought his xFIP down to 2.68, and Shields’ batting average on balls in play has dropped from .341 to .249. In terms of turning balls in play into outs behind Shields the Rays’ defense has gone from one of the worst in baseball to one of the best in baseball, which along with excellent pitching equals a 2.00 ERA and MLB-leading three complete games.

Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga to throw out first pitches in the first two games of the World Series

CLEVELAND - OCTOBER 05:  Kenny Lofton #7 of the Cleveland Indians runs to first base against the New York Yankees during Game Two of the American League Divisional Series at Jacobs Field on October 5, 2007 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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Major League Baseball just announced the details for the ceremonial and off-field stuff in connection with Games 1 and 2 of the World Series. The one most people were wondering about was the ceremonial first pitch. Sorry, Charlie Sheen fans. Sorry fans of “Major League” in general. Two real baseball stars are handing first pitch duties: Kenny Lofton before Game 1, Carlos Baerga for Game 2.

Lofton needs no introduction. He should be a Hall of Famer but is criminally overlooked, perhaps because he bounced around to a lot of different clubs. He made his name in Cleveland, however, doing three separate tours with the Indians, leading the AL in stolen bases for five straight years early in his career and putting up a line of .300/.375/.426 in ten seasons on the shores of Lake Erie.

Baerga played for the Tribe between 1990 and 1996 and was, for a time, quite the superstar, even if people don’t talk about him much anymore. His career fell off pretty quickly in that way that often happens for second basemen and/or stars who end up on the Mets, but there was a time when he was perhaps the biggest star on some excellent Indians teams. People had “will Carlos Baerga be a Hall of Famer?” conversations and stuff. The mid-90s were a special time.

Beyond the first pitches, the National Anthem will be sung by Rachel Platten before Game 1 and by the group Locash before Game 2. As I am an old man out of touch with most things, I have no idea who they are, but I am sure their fans are passionate and their renditions of the Anthem will be fine and non-controversial. Fox, MLB and the folks at major record labels are pretty good about that sort of thing and everyone will be especially vigilant in light of what happened with that Canadian tenors group at the All-Star Game. If nothing else, I bet you pick up the check for the Anthem performance after the song, and not before these days.

I guess the White Sox don’t count

CHICAGO - APRIL 04: General Manager Ken Williams of the Chicago White Sox shows off his World Series Championship ring during ceremonies prior to the start of a game against the Cleveland Indians on April 4, 2006 at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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I realize everyone is super excited about the Cubs being in the World Series for the first time since 1945, with the chance to win it for the first time since 1908. But you’d think folks would remember that it’s just the Cubs — and not Chicago as a whole — who have been away from the Fall Classic for so long.

I know their recent struggles makes it seem like a long, long time ago, but the White Sox won the World Series in 2005. They were in the World Series in 1959 too. You wouldn’t know that, though, if you looked at some prominent media outlets:





I understand the impulse to tell the “a whole city is coming together!” story every time stuff like this happens, but there are a lot of White Sox fans in Chicago. A good number of them don’t give a crap about the Cubs. Many even resent them for being the glory franchise in the city in the eyes of many. They certainly don’t feel like there’s a championship drought afoot, and I imagine they’re somewhat cranky about having their team’s glory plastered over like this.