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Here’s how James Shields compares to potential free-agent starters

02/16/2014 9:48 AM

02/16/2014 9:48 AM

Here’s a funny coincidence: According to Baseball-Reference.com

, James Shields’ No. 1 most comparable pitcher is Zack Greinke. Last winter Greinke cashed in on a six-year, $147 million deal with the Dodgers. Shields has denied a report he has told the Royals he seeks something similar.

If that message hasn’t been communicated, at some point, it should be. For Shields will be one of the best pitchers available next winter, even after he turns 33 in December.

The chief competition for Shields on the free-agent market figures to be reigning American League Cy Young award winner Max Scherzer, Reds workhorse Homer Bailey and Boston’s Jon Lester. Here is how Shields stacks up against that group:

Wins above replacement (FanGraphs)

• 

Bailey

: 7.5

• 

Lester

: 10.9

• 

Scherzer

: 13.6

• 

Shields

: 12.9

The leader: Scherzer. He is a beast, even if he’s thrown more than 100 fewer innings than Shields during this time period.

ERA/FIP/xFIP

• 

Bailey

: 3.79/3.74/3.67

• 

Lester

: 4.03/3.84/3.78

• 

Scherzer

: 3.66/3.36/3.36

• 

Shields

: 3.15/3.45/3.40

The leader: The more advanced metrics favor Scherzer ever so slightly. Shields does have the best ERA, which measures what actually happened on the mound, and not what should have happened.

Strikeout rate

• 

Bailey

: 7.75

• 

Lester

: 7.74

• 

Scherzer

: 9.72

• 

Shields

: 8.21

The leader: Scherzer.

Walk rate

• 

Bailey

: 2.28

• 

Lester

: 3.10

• 

Scherzer

: 2.59

• 

Shields

: 2.44

The leader: Bailey.

Strikeout-to-walk ratio

• 

Bailey

: 3.40

• 

Lester

: 2.50

• 

Scherzer

: 3.75

• 

Shields

: 3.37

The leader: Scherzer.

SIERA (skill-interactive ERA)

• 

Bailey

: 3.66

• 

Lester

: 3.84

• 

Scherzer

: 3.19

• 

Shields

: 3.45

The leader: Scherzer.


As you can see, Scherzer holds the edge in several key areas, strikeouts especially. But another critical distinction is durability. Scherzer has thrown 200 innings in a major-league season just once. That was last year. Shields has thrown at least 200 innings every season since 2007.

Shields has also never been on the disabled list. Scherzer needed a spell for shoulder fatigue in 2009, and dealt with a recurring onset of symptoms in 2012. The Tigers limited his workload down the stretch that season to protect him.

Scherzer is still likely to earn a larger deal next winter. But if his shoulder barks once more, don’t be surprised if Shields emerges from the 2014 offseason as the richest free agent.

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