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.