Data: 5-5, 4.55 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 4.32 K/BB
Malfunction: Shields was having a fine season. Then he made his last three starts, giving up 30 hits and 20 earned runs in just 15 2/3 innings. Worst of all was his start against the Marlins last Friday, when he got knocked out in the fourth and was charged with a full 10 runs for only the second time in his career. It was his fourth straight loss, though the first decision in that streak was a hard-luck 2-0 defeat to the Red Sox.
Diagnosis: Joe Sheehan of Sports Illustrated thinks that Shields has mostly been getting unlucky, citing his excessively high BABIP and homer per flyball rate, writing that he "hasn't pitched as badly as his ERA indicates, and with a 4.32 K/BB, should see his 4.55 figure slide back down soon." His strand rate — the percentage of runners on base who are left stranded — is down this year, too. It's also not his velocity, as his average fastball velocity is actually up this year, at 91.3 mph, a full tick above his career rate of 90.4. The bottom line is that he's giving up more hits than usual, more of those hits are turning into homers and he's not stranding as many runners as usual. So it's no surprise the scoreboard's suffering.
Reboot Directions: Sheehan's not worried because Shields has maintained his great command and his extreme BABIP and homer per fly-ball rates are likely to regress to his career norms. For now, Rays fans can take solace in his confidence. If he adds to his unfortunate streak, keeps on giving up buckets of hits, and loses his next several decisions, then it will be time to ask whether there's something wrong under the hood. His next start comes Thursday against Atlanta.
Rick Porcello(notes), Detroit Tigers 4-6, 6.09 ERA, 1.69 WHIP, 1.38 K/BB
A year ago, when Porcello was 1-3 with a 6.23 ERA in his first four starts, I wrote one of the stupidest things I've ever posted:
"His location isn't where it should be, his pitches aren't where they should be ... there's no reason this guy should be in the big leagues yet."
Porcello went on to prove me wrong, but here we are again. The Tigers' decision to promote Porcello as a 20-year-old with less than a season of Single-A minor league experience was pooh-poohed at the time, and the young pitcher is still a work in progress. Will he find success again, as he did last year? Probably. But the big leagues are a hard place to learn.
"He's the best pitcher the Sox have."
He's been giving up a lot more homers than usual, and while his walk rate is still relatively low, his strikeout rate has slipped. He's probably gotten unlucky on homers, and his strand rate is much lower than usual, but his BABIP is a hardly aberrant .304, and he's leading the major leagues in earned runs allowed. With general manager Kenny Williams openly feuding with manager Ozzie Guillen, the third-place Sox need him to turn it around quickly, or the team might simply implode.
Zack Greinke(notes), Kansas City Royals 2-8, 3.94 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 4.33 K/BB
The reigning AL Cy Young laureate isn't having a bad season by most standards, but his ERA is double what it was last year. He thinks it's a mechanical issue, and after a small tweak, he pitched a complete game in his last start, with 12 strikeouts and no walks. His velocity's at least a tick lower than last year, but it could be that his recent lack of success was merely a blip. This situation is, as Rany Jazayerli writes, "worth monitoring."