Many pundits will label this as a must-win affair for the Rays. That is not entirely correct since this is only a must-win in order to avoid must-win games in this series until the weekend. For this must-win-to-avoid-a-must-win, the Rays turn to their most experienced starter, the elderly James Shields.
Shields is not without his own childish controversies. Just ask the local radio caller who suggested the Rays’ braintrust turned to him in game two only because of his Jewish beliefs. You see, the Rays management includes some names that end in “man” and “stein” and therefore they are just part of one large Zionist conspiracy to overtake the world. Shields, being from California with curly hair, is just another example of the Jewish-based agenda. The host dispatched Mr. Rick Sanchez’s concerns by pointing out that Gabe Kapler – a member of the Rays who is actually, um, Jewish – is nowhere to be found on the roster despite his beliefs.
Matt Garza is so much better than Shields that it’s evident why some would resort to truth telling like our friend on the radio. Garza had the better FI … well, not quite, but his xFIP was … not better either. He did have the better ERA though, and hey he throws harder. Shields didn’t even have a better ERA during the 2008 playoffs than … well, gosh, yes he did.
Shields’ problems this season are rooted in home runs and batting average on balls in play inflation. There’s no need to hand wave those away as just flukes because Shields has always had a slightly above league average rate in both, but not to this extent. Color me skeptical on Shields’ supposed flaring hittability given his career best strikeout rates. There are some thoughts that his fastball command has slipped, perhaps due to overthrowing, but at the end of the day that stuff is pretty hard to prove.
In reality, Shields over Garza means next to nothing unless the Rays have to go to David Price in game four. It’s the next series where the two slot tends to ensure two starts. Besides, Shields appears to match up with the Rangers well, as Jason Hanselman shows here, using the Rangers’ contact and slugging percentages based on pitch types. That will only come into play if Shields uses his changeup, something he did little of last time out in a truly weird outing against Kansas City.