As boredom truly sets in, I've been watching a reasonable amount of Angels baseball over the last few weeks. My frustrations with the team remain the same, but a thorough dismantling of the Yankees always brightens my spirits.
But I'm more curious as to what, exactly, has been going on with Scot Shields.
Scot "Only one T, Please" Shields was the eighth-inning rock in the bullpen during Francisco Rodriguez's run as Angels closer. He was never truly dominant, but had dominant stretches and was generally reliable enough to be trusted in close game situations even in back to back, or several consecutive, games. His two-seam fastball was listed, at one point, as the #1 swing and miss pitch in Major League Baseball. He led the league in holds. He pitched at least 77 innings (and a max of 148) in every season from 2003-2007.
Then something happened. That something was a rash of injuries, including a major surgery and trip to the disabled list in 2009 that ended his season. Since returning, and even before his departure, Shields has been...bad. Bad is the best word to describe his performance. Bad BB/9, bad IP totals, bad WAR, bad ERA, bad tRA, bad everything.
Tonight, Shields threw an inning, allowing a walk, a hit, and earning a pair of strikeouts. He looked much like the pitcher he was from '03-'06, seasons during which he posted impressive WAR's of 2.6, 2.4, 2.7, and 2.0 Looking at his successful seasons, we see a couple major differences in some peripheral stats that indicate Scot's true problems. With a career average BB/9 of 3.50, he has rates of 7.64 and 6.37 in the last two seasons. This season, his BABIP has climbed from a career average of .286 to .319, despite lowering his HR/9 to .61 from a career average of .67.
So, with those numbers in mind, what's Scottie's problem? Well, he's walking too many people and he's getting unlucky, with hits falling in at a higher than expected rate. This means, of course, that his walked batters are turning into runs courtesy of an unlucky hit rate. Where hits used to merely put a man on base, they're now driving in walked batters.
To be fair, Shields is turning 35 in two days, and some natural reduction in performance is expected with age. But with a change in mechanics, or preparation, or voodoo, or whatever it is that allows pitchers to regain control, there's nothing separating Shields from a fourth 2.0+ WAR season.