Over the weekend, the White Sox named pitcher James Shields as their Opening Day starter for the team’s first game against the Kansas City Royals on March 29th. The move is an unpopular one among the White Sox fan base due to Shield’s poor performances during his White Sox tenure, especially after his recent Cactus League start giving up seven earned runs.
Although his recent statistics don’t warrant being named the team’s Opening Day starter, Shield’s taking the ball for the team to start the season represents so much more.
Shields leading the White Sox pitching staff in 2018 clearly shows that the team is still in a rebuilding process and does not want to apply unneeded pressure to young pitcher Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez. Both Giolito and Lopez will experience their first full at the Major League level and not need the added pressure of being seen as a team’s number one pitcher just yet. The goal for both pitchers this season is adjusting to a full season of pitching and getting accustomed to adjusting to major league hitters.
The other key aspect of Shields being the team’s Opening Day starter is that he is the veteran of the staff that every rebuilding team needs. Many forget that Shields was one of baseball’s most reliable starting pitchers when he was younger, and it’s his experience that is important to a young staff. Breaking down film, leading by example, offering tips with mechanics, and helping with mental aspects of the game are all vital intangibles Shield’s can provide.
Having a veteran like him is also important as it saves innings for other younger starter and still provides general manager Rick Hahn with a valuable trade piece. With calls for pitching prospects Michael Kopech and Alec Hansen to be brought up, it’s Shields that prevents the team from having to either call those prospects up or go out and pay for more veteran pitching to fill those innings.
There is also a positive risk that Shields could put together a string of quality starts during the season and provide the White Sox a trade chip for teams in need for starting pitching. The team might not get another team’s top prospect but could get possibly a team’s fourth or fifth-ranked prospect in return which can still prove valuable considering the White Sox lack of tradable assets.
Fans have reasons to disapprove of Shields being the leader of the team’s pitching staff with some of it being unwarranted. Fans resent him because the team gave up prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. who is now the San Diego Padres top prospect. Regardless of how he performs this season, the White Sox will move on from Shields at the end of the season, but his presence may be invaluable for the team’s young pitching for years to come.