September 26, 2012; Boston, MA, USA; Tampa Bay Rays pitcher David Price (14) prior to a game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-US PRESSWIRE

Rays 2012 Positional Review: Starting Pitching

Over the past few years, the Tampa Bay Rays pitching staff has been a major strength. 2012 was not an exception, as the pitching staff kept the Rays alive in the playoff hunt much longer than anticipated, given the plethora of injuries and ineffectiveness of the offense for most of the season. The rotation was also reasonably healthy throughout the year, as only eight different pitchers made a start for the Rays in 2012.

The Good:

David Price took the next step in his development, truly showing that he can be considered an ace. Price led the American League in ERA, and tied for first in wins and winning percentage with Jered Weaver. Price was also fourth in strikeouts, sixth in strikeout to walk ratio, and second in WAR for pitchers. After a rough first half of the season, James Shields really stepped up after the trade deadline, posting a 9-3 record with a 1.99 ERA from July 31st onward. Shields allowed 73 baserunners over his final 90.1 innings of work, striking out 89 batters over that span.

Alex Cobb showed flashes of potential, putting together some nice performances. Over his six starts from July 27th through August August 23rd, he went 4-1 with a 3.18 ERA, with included a start where he only lasted 2.2 innings, and allowed eight earned runs. Jeremy Hellickson put together a nice sophomore season, posting a 3.10 ERA while improving his K/BB and K/9 rates. While Matt Moore didn’t quite dominate the Rays thought he would his rookie season, he struck out just under a better per inning while posting a solid 3.81 ERA and 3.93 FIP. And Chris Archer struggled in his last two starts of the year to finsih with a 4.60 ERA, but he gave the Rays a few electrifying performances, striking out 11.0 batters per 9 innings, and has proven himself to be another talented young starter who is ready to contribute in the big leagues for the Rays.

Overall, the Rays had the best ERA in baseball amongst starting rotations at 3.34, struck out the second most batters with 900, which was most in the American League, and had the lowest batting average against of .237. As a whole, the Rays shut out their opponents 15 times on the season, third most in baseball, and again, tops in the American League.

The Bad:

When he pitched, Jeff Niemann performed well, putting together a misleading 2-3 record with a 3.08 ERA in his eight starts. Unfortunately, Niemann could not stay healthy this year, originally fracturing his leg on May 14th when he was struck with a line drive, then leaving his first game back from the disabled list with strained rotator cuff, which ended his season.

In terms of disappointing performances, Matt Moore’s four starts from September 5th through September 22nd may rank near the top. Over those four starts, he pitched only 16 innings, allowing 16 runs, 13 earned. Even though he managed 19 strikeouts, Moore also gave up 18 hits and ten walks, en route to a 0-3 record and an ERA of 7.31. Hellickson also had several shorter starts, not completing six innings in eleven of his 31 starts.

The biggest problems Rays starers had was actually fielding the ball. Rays pitchers made 18 errors, tied for 23rd in baseball, and 12th in the American League. Shields was a major part of the problem, committing five errors himself. Look for some intensive PFP- pitchers’ fielding practice- this coming spring to try to rectify that problem.

Looking Ahead to 2013:

As it stands, the only piece of the rotation that could conceivably depart as a free agent would be James Shields, but the Rays hold a team option for the next two years. While it is a bit expensive for their payroll at $9Million and $11Million respectively, that is still a bargain for a pitcher with the reputation Shields has. However, the Rays do have players closing in on free agency and arbitration. David Price, for instance, is arbitration eligible this season, and is likely in line for a significant increase in salary.

Given the depth that the Rays have in both the minors and on the major league roster for starting pitching (Wade Davis was a starter for his first two seasons for the Rays, then was used strictly as a relief pitcher in 2012), Shields may end up becoming their primary trade chip. His two year option is affordable to a contending team, and may be able to help the Rays land a controllable impact bat for their lineup.

Should Shields be moved, then Price needs to prove that he truly is the staff ace he appeared to be in both 2010 and in 2012. He’s coming off an incredible season and actually was a victim of some bad luck in 2011, so he really has been on a roll for three years and the Rays hope that even with the added pressure of Shields departing, Price could remain a true ace and one of the best pitchers in baseball. The Rays also need their other pitchers to take the next step in their development. Hellickson needs to work on putting away hitters (although the plus curveball he flashed in 2012 may be the answer to that), Moore and Archer need to work on control, and Cobb needs to figure out another strikeout pitch other than his great split-change. A healthy Niemann would also provide a boost to the Rays rotation.

The Rays rotation has been a strength since they began their run as contenders. For 2013, the rotation could remain status quo, which would perfectly acceptable given their 2012 performance and the improvements they have the ability to make.

Tags: David Price James Shields Tampa Bay Rays

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