When this White Sox season started, fans pretty much knew what they were in for. Year one of a rebuild for any team is expected to be anywhere from mediocre to downright horrible. With the White Sox sending ace Chris Sale to Boston and highly underrated outfielder Adam Eaton to Washington, the White Sox lost essentially all of their spark. People would go to games to see Sale pitch, regardless of how bad they were. Adam Eaton was a spunky fan favorite. No one wants to spend their money to go watch Avisail Garcia make countless errors in right field an strike out every other at-bat. Or watch James Shields give up four home runs in a game as he struggles to get through 5+ innings. While it is fun to see Jose Abreu slug the occasional dinger, or watch the progression of Tim Anderson, White Sox fans simply were not supposed to have much to cheer for this year.
Except they do.
Avisail Garcia plays every day, so fans by now are for sure aware of his robust MLB leading .465 batting average. One other player that fans should start to take notice to, however, is pitcher James Shields.
Yes, that James Shields. The James Shields that had a 6.77 ERA with the White Sox last year. The James Shields that saw opponents bat .296 against him as he consistently got rocked each start. And yes, the James Shields that gave up 31 home runs in 114.1 innings.
Not exactly ideal numbers.
Before this season started, Shields talked about how he was looking to bounce back. Last year he claimed he was trying too hard after he was traded to the White Sox, but he knew at the end of the day it was just a bad year.
“A lot of emotions were going through my mind at the time. And it was an off year, it was a bad year for me.”
-James Shields On being traded to the white sox
And bounce back he has. So far this season, Shields has started three games for the White Sox. He has a 1.62 ERA and opponents are batting a mild .150 against him so far. For people ready to argue that this is just a fluke (and it very well may be), look at his past seasons. In 2010, Shields has the worst season of his career at the time. He posted career worsts in ERA (5.18), R (128), ER (117), and HR (34). So what did he do in 2011?
After a forgetful 2010, James Shields came out firing and did not stop. He ended the year with career bests in ERA (2.82), CG (11!), SHO (4), and SO (225). In short, Shields knows what it takes to come back from a bad season.
“I know what I’m capable of doing, and I know what kind of competitor I am. This is a new year and I had a really good offseason, so I’m hoping for big things.”
-James Shields On the 2017 season.
White Sox fans may still only remember the 2016 James Shields. That James Shields is not THIS James Shields. This James Shields is talking the talk and walking the walk. So much in fact, that Rick Hahn may have another attractive trade piece sprouting before his very eyes. We have seen Shields rebound from atrocity once. So far, it looks like he is doing his best to to it again.
So White Sox fans, if you are searching for a pitcher who is currently dominating his competition after everyone had written him off, look to James Shields. They used to call him “Big Game James.” While the games he is pitching in now might not necessarily be classified as “big”, his work ethic and the example he sets for younger players certainly is.
For now at least, that is enough.