I have an idea that is far-fetched, unconventional, and inconceivable. It would be a strategic move based on numbers, but goes against all sorts of baseball tradition and common sense. In fact, this idea is so crazy that Joe Maddon might actually consider making this happen if he reads this. Are you reading Joe? Here it comes.
In James Shields’ next scheduled appearance, start a reliever, and bring Shields in for the 2nd inning.
This could the wildest approach imaginable to an outing by not just any starting pitcher, but the Rays ace. This would be equivalent to the Colts trotting out Jim Sorgi for the first drive of the game, just to replace him with Peyton Manning for the rest of the game.
There is a method to this madness, however, that would actually peak Joe Maddon’s interest. Like I said earlier, this idea is based on numbers and trends on his last 3 starts.
4/23 @ Sea: Shields gave up a leadoff homerun to Ichiro. He then pitched 7.1 innings of scoreless ball, giving up only 3 more hits. Shields got the loss.
4/28 @ Min: Shields gave up a 2 run homerun in the 1st to Justin Morneau. It’s then the 6th inning before he gave up another run, hitting a batter to force a runner home. He lasted 6.2, giving up a total of 7 hits and 4 walks. Shields got a no decision.
5/3 vs. Bos: Shields struggled through the 1st, giving up a bases loaded single to JD Drew and pitching over 30 pitches in the 1st. He gets out of the inning allowing only 1 run. He was credited for 2 runs allowed when JP Howell gave up a 2 out, 2 run homerun to Kevin Youkilis, allowing an inherited runner to score in the 8th. Shields pitched 7.1 allowing 6 hits, 3 of which were in the 1st. Shields got the much deserved win.
Going by these totals, 4 out of the 5 runs scored (80%) while Shields was in the game came in the first inning. In the first 2 out of these 3 games, the Rays lost by 1 run. If the Rays were to have started a shutdown reliever and this reliever were to do his job of getting a scoreless first, then the Rays would be in a better position in late innings of these games, either tied or in the lead. I am not sure what it is about Shields that makes him shaky in the 1st inning, but based on the numbers he pitches much better as the game goes on. There seems to be a simple solution, which is to avoid the problem inning.
Shields also pitches late into ballgames. The way he eats innings, Shields could easily get into the 8th, where Maddon can matchup righty and lefty relievers. Additionally, Shields has pretty good splits, looking great against righties (.205 batting average) and pitching decently against lefties (.267 batting average). If his pitch count were low enough, Maddon could keep Shields in the ballgame through the 8th easily, setting the game up for closer (aka heart-attack in waiting) Troy Percival.
I know this will never happen, nor should it. Then again, with Joe Maddon at the helm, if he reads this blog, you never know. Joe Maddon loves the unconventional and this idea is exactly that. Based on the numbers, this could have been the difference in 2 games this season. Why not give it a shot Joe? Come on, bring out a relief pitcher in the 1st inning and bring in Shields to pitch the 2nd through the 8th. You know you want to. It’s baseball statistics, not rocket science.
-The Rocket Scientist