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I didn't like the James Shields/Wil Myers trade for the #Royals, but that doesn't mean I don't like Shields.
Shields is going to be The Man in the Royals rotation this year, was the target of the Royals (foolhardy, in my opinion) big trade off the off-season, so he is a good choice to kick off a series of posts on the Royals 2013 rotation.
I actually defended Shields against his critics back when he put up a 5.18 ERA in 2010, suffering from the combined effects of a career-worst .341 BABIP and Gopher-itis. Many people simply thought he was bad, but while DIPS stats aren't the whole story, they did prove to give a better story for Shields, as he has excelled the last two years (2.82 and 3.52 ERA), mostly due to his BABIP returning to his career norms. He probably got lucky in 2011 -- he isn't a .258 BABIP pitcher, but his .292 in 2012 seems about right, and he was not lucky on home runs, either.
Whether Shields is some sort of "ace" or not is irrelevant, or at least not helpful. What he is is a very durable pitcher (six seasons in a row of 200+ innings) with a very good strikeout rate and good control. His velocity has actually gone up, which is good, although as Jeff Zimmerman shows, does not put him in the clear as far as injuyr risk goes (http://bit.ly/15KuPvA). Shields' past history is a good sign, although it is pretty likely he will see fewer innings next year, as my research on "workhorses" found (http://bit.ly/15KuUPV).
Shields goes after hitters with a various fastballs in low 90s, a curve, a cutter/slider, and perhaps most importantly, a devastating changeup, which he threw about a quarter of the time in 2012. He uses his change not only to neutralize lefties (he has basically on platoon split for his career), but also when he gets ahead of righties.
Shields pitched much better at home for the Rays, but that sort of thing gets overstated. Most players (hitters and pitchers) play better at home, and there is always a lot of noise in those splits. Tropicana is very pitcher-friendly, but that is why we have park adjustments. Shields' raw numbers will probably look worse in 2012, but that doesn't mean he won't be good.
Look, the trade was bad. While $10 million a year for a pitcher like Shields is cheap, two years of him for a prospect like Myers is nuts for a team like the Royals. But that's not Shields' fault. Shields is no Zack Greinke, but he's better than Gil Meche, too. That makes him, Greinke aside, the best starter KC has had in a while.