MLB Picks: Predicting James Shields' Quality Starts

Jay Pryce

Sunday, May 24, 2015 1:26 AM GMT

James Shields is off to a scorching 5-0 start in his San Diego Padres career, despite some atypical statistics. We briefly analyze this phenomenon and offer an angle that may predict when the former All-Star is due for a quality start, providing bettors with a potential edge when placing MLB Picks.

Entering Sunday's division showdown against the Los Angeles Dodgers, James Shields is off to an amazing start in his San Diego Padres career. The former Tampa Bay Rays and Kansas City Royals ace is sporting a 5-0 record to begin the season, and carrying a respectable 3.74 ERA to boot. I was shocked, however, to learn the 2011 All-Star has served up 14 home runs in his nine appearances this year. That is 2.28 dingers per nine innings (HR/9), well above his 1.09 career average entering the season. At this rate, Shields is on pace to dish out 55 home runs on the year! Moreover, half his home runs allowed have come in the pitcher's paradise known as Petco Park. How is he 5-0 with a sub-4.00 ERA while averaging such a high long-ball rate? Well, for one, the Padres, armed with a cadre of new sluggers, are averaging 5.3 runs per Shields' starts. More importantly, though, are the 75 strikeouts “Big Game James” has thrown. His change-up is baffling National League batters for a 12.20 strikeouts per nine innings pitched rate (K/9), besting his 7.79 career average by a huge margin. On pace to whiff 296 foes, Shields has rung up more than 220 batters only twice in his career. One should expect regression to occur at some point in the season, and these numbers will normalize more in line with Shields' average figures, but the hot start and K-to-HR ratio inspired me dig deeper into the pitcher's past. I have uncovered an angle that may help predict when the big right-hander is on tap for a quality start, offering potential moneyline value on the MLB odds to sports bettors at sportsbooks like Bovada.

Shields appears to fall into the “you're-only-as-good-as-your-last-meeting” category as a starting pitcher. This can be a huge gift to bettors who often seek consistency when handicapping in the erratic and volatile world of sports. The trend is as follows: in his career, when Shields tallies five or more strike outs thrown than the total number of walks and home runs allowed in his last matchup start against his current opponents, than his team is 62-30 (67%) at average closing odds of -124. When his K's to HR/Walks total is four or less in this scenario then his team is 98-87 (53%) with an average line of -124. Those investing on the former have returned 23% profit versus a 4% loss on the latter. Shields' strikeouts thrown to home runs allowed plus walks issued ratio is 2.40 in his career. Essentially, we are relying on the ace to carry his most recent past success against a team over to his next start when more than doubling this feat in his former matchup start. Below is a chart detailing Shields' performance in this situation versus an “average” K:HR+Walk ratio in his last meeting:

 

K:HR+W Totals Last Start

Innings Pitched

ERA

K's/9

BB/9

HR/9

Five or more

6.58

3.41

8.55

1.06

1.13

Four or less

6.51

4.01

7.61

2.22

1.14

 

The data speaks for itself. As you can see, Shields averages a quality start in this situation, pitching six innings or more and giving up less than three earned runs in 77% of these contests. Despite his abnormal K/9 and HR/9 totals in 2015, Shields is maintaining a 2.5 ratio as outlined above that might help explain his success this season. Although serving up more round trippers, his higher strikeout rate is equally getting him out of trouble. If you believe the Padres lineup can knock in an average number of runs, and the bullpen can make decent work of what little time they will earn in this scenario, by all means profit off of Shields' consistency when K's are up and walks and home runs allowed are down. If Shields’ bullpen, for example, gives up one or less runs in the two games leading up to his start, then the record is 30-11 (73%) with opponents averaging 3.0 runs a game as opposed to 3.6 in our original query.

Look for Shields to muscle his way through a cold hitting Dodgers line up in the matinee matchup on Sunday. He last faced Don Mattingly's men on Opening Day, striking out eight, walking two, and giving up one home run. Working six innings even, he left the game up 3-2 against reigning Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, only to watch the Padres bullpen give up four runs en route to a 6-3 loss. Confidence in the wager will be greater as you place your MLB picks if the Padres bullpen can power through Saturday’s game relatively unscathed, as they gave away one in two innings of work on Friday.

As always, use this information to support your leans, and best of luck!