5 Under the Radar MLB Free Agent Starters That Will Improve Your Team

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /
2 of 6
MLB free agent
CHICAGO, IL – JUNE 02: Chicago White Sox starting pitcher James Shields (33) delivers the ball against the Milwaukee Brewers on June 2, 2018 at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

5. James Shields

Throughout his career James Shields has been, if nothing else, an innings eater. Last year in his age 36 season Shields threw 204.2 innings, going deep into some very rough games for the 62-100 Chicago White Sox, and he’s thrown 200+ innings pretty consistently throughout his career.

With that said, Shields 2018 stats are not great by any means; he finished the year with a 4.53 ERA and 1.309 WHIP, which are below league average but just high enough to keep him above replacement level.

By themselves, these numbers don’t make much of a case for Shields but looked at in relation to his last few seasons there’s a little bit of upside. This was his lowest ERA since his initial fall from high performance in 2016, and his FIP and walks per 9 innings also improved.

This is likely a result in Shields changing up his pitching style to better suit his aging skillset. The biggest move Shields has made over the past few years is the addition of a slow curveball which clocks in around 69 MPH, compared to the 78 MPH velocity on his normal curve. This pitch also produces a 23% whiff percentage, the highest of any of Shields pitches.

If Shields continues to work this pitch into his repertoire in 2019 he could see even more improvement in his performance. Shields’ four-seam only averages a velocity of around 90 MPH, so slowing down his offspeed stuff to increase speed differential is his best bet to stay afloat. All signs indicate he’ll be able to do this, making him an intriguing option for a fourth or fifth spot in a starting rotation.

His performance last year also won’t warrant a big paycheck, so the fact that he’d only be a drip in a team’s payroll bucket makes him worth the risk.