Big Game James? Actually, he has been exactly that.
When James Shields pitched poorly in the 2014 postseason, some people ridiculed his nickname: Big Game James. To me, they’re missing a larger point. He has not pitched well in the postseason, compiling a 5.46 ERA in 11 appearances spread over four seasons. He certainly didn’t pitch well last October, pitching to a 6.12 ERA in five appearances. On the other hand, there ought to be some context here.
He helped the Rays get to the postseason three times and the Royals once. Along the way, he pitched big game after big game. He has made 134 starts the last four seasons and had a 3.17 ERA. Do you think there was a big game or two along the way?
For instance, he allowed three earned runs in 6 1/3 innings to beat the White Sox to win the first postseason game the Rays ever played. A few weeks after that, he pitched 5 2/3 shutout innings to win Game 2 of the 2008 World Series. That one might have qualified as a big game.
Again, though, his postseason track record isn’t all that great, and he has to live with those performances the same way plenty of others do, too. But the larger body of work is impressive. He’s good for 220 innings and 200 strikeouts. He’s incredibly competitive and prides himself on consistently giving his team a chance to win.
This is a big day for the Padres. Shields deepens the rotation, adds leadership and will turn this new collection of players into a cohesive unit.
Was it wise to give a 33-year-old pitcher approaching his 2,000th inning a four-year contract? That’s an interesting question. The Padres might just see it as an investment.
What if they make the postseason the next two seasons? What if they end up playing deep into October in one of those seasons and that they ignite interest in the team around Southern California? What’s that energy worth to a team? Shields might help create a new generation of baseball fans in San Diego.
This is about more than just one move. This is about reshaping a franchise, both on the field and in the hearts and minds of fans. This might be the off-season that sparked an exciting era of Padres of baseball. There are no guarantees. Baseball’s landscape is closer and more competitive than it has ever been. The Giants and Dodgers are really good. Even the competition for one of the two NL Wild Card berths is going to be fierce.
But the Padres are in the conversation, and Big Game James is another brick in that wall.