They’re Young and Talented

James Shields anchored the Rays’ pitching staff by leading the MLB in 2011 in complete games. |

Intimidating and charming. Fun-loving killers. The Rays 2012 rotation is nasty and people are starting to take notice. “If you thought they were good last year, then watch out,” writes ESPN writer Jayson Stark. “Now that you’re looking at it without bias,” said former Red Sox manager, Terry Francona, as quoted by the Tampa Bay Times, “my goodness, they’ve done some tremendous things.”

Things are looking up around the Rays clubhouse these days. Gone are the nights of Victor Zambrano and Steve Trachsel. Bye-bye Dewon Brazelton, hello David Price. It was nice knowing you Casey Fossum, but it’s Matt Moore time.

At this point, there’s really no question; this is the best starting pitching Tampa Bay has ever seen. Here’s a quick refresher course on the five Rays starters as the season is beginning to build some momentum.

James Shields: Mr. High-roller. On a team perennially strapped for cash, Shields is the highest paid player on the roster. Raking in $8 million (almost double the salary of Evan Longoria,) the Rays expect Shield to make a difference from Opening day through October. The talent isn’t really Shields’ main draw: it’s the consistency. This is a pitcher who hasn’t thrown less than 200 innings in a season since 2006. That means going five innings even on a bad day, it means staying off the disabled list, it means carrying the team from game one through game 162.

Shields’ key pitch is his change-up. As a pitcher who sits in the low-90s with his fastball, Shields relies on deceptiveness from the rest of his repertoire to put hitters away. That’s where his “half-circle” change-up comes in. Having developed the grip of the pitch in 2004, Shields has tweaked it to become one of one of the most unique and untouchable pitches in baseball. In 2011, according to ESPN Stats & Info, Shields threw off-speed pitches to hitters in two-strike counts 77 percent of the time: 35 percent of swings on those pitches were swings and misses. Opposing hitters know what’s coming on 0-2 or 1-2. That doesn’t mean they can hit it.

David Price: Two season ago, David Price finished second-place in the A.L. Cy Young race. One season later, as his team’s record improved, he finished the year 12-13 with an ERA almost an entire run higher. What went wrong?

First off, it’s important to establish that although his large stats took a nose-dive, quite a few of his peripheral stats actually improved. He pitched 16 more innings in 2011 compare to the season before while striking out 30 more batters and walking 16 less. His WHIP (walks + hits per innings pitched) slightly improved as well.

How does all this add up to a losing record? Simple: The long bomb and some bad luck. Price gave up seven more homers than he did the previous year which will tack on runs to your average quite quickly. He also allowed an opponent’s batting average almost 10 points higher than he did the year before (but which was consistent with the rest of his career norms.)

Put simply, David Price is an elite pitcher with an electric fastball. 2010 might’ve been a career year for him: he may repeat it, he may not. But either way, with some run support, he is at the very least a 15-win pitcher.

The rest of this article can be found here as originally published in The Minaret Magazine.