It must be nice to have a cool nickname. I always envied Andre Rison for walking into a locker room one day and telling everyone that he was now "Spider-Man." I want to be a Spider-Man. I want to be a Gold Eyes, Otter or The Wedge. All I've ever wanted was a cool nickname.
This desire doesn't extend so far, however, to envy someone called Big Game James. Poor James Shields. That is one lousy nickname. It's great when the big games are going your way. It's the absolute worst when baseball happens. It's like a hitter with the nickname Great Swingin' Lincoln or a pinch-runner with the name of Always Safe Ralph (pronounced like Ralph Fiennes). There are myriad opportunities to fail in baseball. When the player fails, and the nickname is stupid, there are myriad opportunities for snarky jokes and putdowns. Look at this list. It's a small sampling of the people making fun of Big Game James.
Ol' Big Game James.
Ol' Big Lame James. Ol' Three Frames James. Ol' Small Game James. Ol' Big Tame James. Ol' Pig Shame James. Ol' Tag Fame James. Ol' Jimmy Lame James Lame. Ol' Jamp Jomp Lame Lame Dummy Lame. I'd like to think that the unironic tweets here made their creators so danged proud.
It's at this point that I wish that 29 GMs did nothing but use Twitter and Facebook to form their opinions. I wish that Theo Epstein sat back and chuckled while reading social media:
Theo: Yeah, more like Big Lame James. Siri, please set a reminder for me tomorrow to delete the contract draft.
Siri: Here's your reminder for 9 a.m.
Phone: *delete conch and giraffe*
At which point the Giants could swoop in and sign Big Game James to pitch big games for them next year for a fraction of what he's worth. That would be sweet, all right. It's a complete fantasy, of course. Shields will still get paid a lot of money to pitch for someone next year. For a while, he'll be worth it, just like Jon Lester and Max Scherzer. Then he won't be. This is the progression, the cycle of life. It's what happens with the most talented pitchers, and the lack of big games in the 2014 postseason will not hurt him a bit.
And he's still wildly talented.
To support my assertion that Shields will be paid about what he was worth before the playoffs, allow me to introduce the Ricky Nolasco Theorem. Last year, Nolasco was basically Greg Maddux as soon as he put on a Dodgers uniform. Perhaps the run prevention was unsustainable, but it happened, and it helped the Dodgers cruise into the postseason.
Once in the postseason, though, the Dodgers treated Nolasco like he was Tim Wakefield throwing with his left arm because of a toaster accident. As soon as he got into trouble in the NLCS, he was yanked. When it came time for him to pitch again, he was skipped over. It took about three bad starts for the Dodgers to lose all trust in him. And if the Dodgers couldn't trust him, how would other teams justify paying him an exorbitant salary? Here's what I wrote about him last year:
So it goes for Ricky Nolasco, who will go somewhere on a show-me deal, most likely, and continue his pattern of annoying teams and sabermetricians alike. He was *this* close to making Scrooge McDuck money. He was having the right run at the right time for the right team. He came up about three or four games short.
It was as if the Twins had a vested interest in making me look stupid. They signed Nolasco for Scrooge McDuck money or something close to it. The postseason meant nothing to his market value. Nothing. The same thing will happen to Shields. There will be no bargains.
Which brings us to the second assertion, that Shields is the same pitcher he's been for the last few years, and that a string of bad postseason starts shouldn't affect that. This is something that's harder to support. After the first batter reached in Game 1, Shields looked like he locked his keys in the car. After Hunter Pence homered, Shields looked like he realized his dog was in there and the windows were rolled up. It was messy. It was very, very messy. There's no way to parse the start and claim it was luck or one of those things. If Shields throws that many fastballs down the middle of the plate for the rest of his career, he'll be out of baseball before his next contract is up.
I'll still hide behind the shield of sample size, still fight for the idea that talented pitchers can mess the bed in any given start, no matter how important, without it having to mean something. What does the bad start mean? Does it mean Shields just can't pitch in the big games? There might be an answer for that, an intelligent, quantifiable answer determined after brain scans and months of head-shrinking. It is not an answer we'll ever have access to. We'll have to assume that in the absence of evidence, it's not smart to assume the evidence is there, hidden.
No, it's probably smarter to look at a list of the worst World Series game scores in history and tick off the great names. Grover Cleveland Alexander. Smokey Joe Wood. Hal Newhouser. Walter Johnson. Don Drysdale. Cliff Lee. Whitey Ford. Bob Lemon. Kevin Brown. John Smoltz. Curt Schilling. Bob Feller. Andy Pettitte. Andy Pettitte. Andy Pettitte. I'm not sure if the Yankees can win with Pettitte pitching in the postseason, to be honest.
Shields had a bad start and a worse nickname for that start. He'll still get paid. He'll still be counted on for big games. He's still a better bet than most pitchers in baseball to pitch well in those big games. One start -- or a series of three bad starts -- shouldn't be enough to change that.