When appropriate, Big League Stew reviews key decisions to see if the right one was made.
The Issue: With his team ahead 1-0 heading to the ninth inning Monday afternoon, Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost pulled right-hander James Shields at the 102-pitch mark while he was working on a two-hitter. The Chicago White Sox tied the score against Royals closer Greg Holland, went ahead in the 11th and won 2-1 to break Kansas City's four-game winning streak.
The Question: Did the manager do the right thing by pulling his ace, whose high-pitch count this season is 115, and has thrown 101 or more pitches 145 times in his career?
The Case For:
On two previous occasions in 2013, Yost lifted Shields after 102 pitches. A third time, he was pulled at 100, so it's not the first time he's been removed at a similar point. Once he surpasses 101 pitches, Shields allows a .418 slugging percentage against, which indicates a possible vulnerability to a home-run ball. Holland came in having saved seven games in eight opportunities while holding the opponent to a .598 OPS, better than Shields late in games. He was set to face the 2-3-4 hitters in the White Sox lineup.
The Case Against: Shields appeared to be cruising through eight, having ended the inning on a high note by picking Dewayne Wise off first base. In 14 innings against the White Sox this season, he had allowed one earned run and with a 15-2 strikeout-walk ratio. Overall, Shields has a history of going deep into games — he led the league in complete games, with 11, in 2011. Shields threw more than 102 pitches in 26 of 33 starts during 2012 with the Rays.
Then there's this curious photo of Shields being worked on by the trainer which, at the moment, offers no obvious explanation:
Nobody on the Royals indicated Shields was injured, and maybe there's nothing going on here untoward.
Yost: "Everybody's got their job to do, and Shields had done his. He got us through eight shutout innings. The runs make all the difference — a two-run or a three-run lead, yeah, probably. Because his pitch count was at , and in a one-run game you send him out and he's either going to win it or lose it. So you let the closer go out and try to do his job."
Shields: "I think if we scored another run right there, he was gonna leave me out there. But we’re going to Holland all day. He’s been great all season long. And that’s the right move right there.”
Stew Verdict: When Royals general manager Dayton Moore traded prospect Wil Myers for Shields and Wade Davis, he was making a move for the present, to help the Royals win games now. Shields brings a front-of-the-rotation innings eater, a pitcher who is even better late in games than he is at the beginning. Even though the team is 3-3 in his starts, the move has helped spark the Royals to a 17-11 record.
It wouldn't have been wrong for Yost to let Shields start the ninth, but it's hard to call going to your closer a mistake. Nine times out of 10, probably, Holland will get the job done.