The Process Versus James Shields & The Danks Theory | The Process Report

The Process Versus James Shields & The Danks Theory

The core principle of the Danks Theory is to present the opposing pitcher with a lineup that encourages him to use his best weapon fewer times. Looking at James Shields—a right-handed pitcher—and his best weapon—a changeup—you may think he would be a prime candidate for such a strategy. But he wasn’t—at least not until now.

It is true: James Shields change up is devastating versus left-handed batters. Since 2010, lefties have hit just .193/.213/.324 against the more than 1,600 off-speed pitches he threw. Designed to look like a fastball, the pitch comes in 6-10 mph slower than the heater, fading low and away. Vin Scully once said a changeup “looks like a fastball, and it just dies of exhaustion.” That is as accurate of a description as you will ever get.

Traditionally, the change up is used to combat the platoon split and not really as a weapon against the same side. Shields bucks tradition, having thrown the pitch with nearly equal usage regardless of side. As it turns out Shields’ off-speed pitch has been more effective versus right-handers. In just over 1,300 changeups thrown to the same side, he has coaxed a .186/.215/.265 slash line against the pitch. The change up is so good that Shields does not mess with the location of the pitch depending on the batter. Regardless of what side they are standing on, he is throwing it arm-side and down.

This year, however, things are a bit different. The usage and effectiveness of the changeup versus left-handed batters is still in tact. Meanwhile, usage and effectiveness versus righties has changed. Shields is throwing the changeup about 10 percent less to right-handers; instead tossing more cutters in its place. When he does throw it, it is slightly elevated, leading to negative results.

Looking at the five-game sample, Shields is exhibiting some extreme splits in 2013. Thanks to his secondary stuff, he is holding lefties to a .167/.211/.182 line. Of the 12 hits allowed to lefties, only one – a double – has gone for extra-bases. Right-handers, on the other hand, are hitting .305/.348/.458. The curveball and increased cutters are working; however the fastball and raised change up are being torched.

Shields is a smart pitcher who has survived by adapting and re-inventing himself over and over again. A five-game sample pales in comparison to his lengthy track record of success. That said, given the early season results, you would not necessarily fault a manager for testing the Danks Theory. For a Rays team looking for any advantage, you wonder how much weight – if any – Joe Maddon will give to the recent results.



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