The Name Precursors of the Tampa Bay Rays Part 1: James Shields

By Robbie Knopf

As you may have noticed, the first time a player’s name appears in any article here at Rays Colored Glasses, it links to his page at Baseball-Reference is a great site that we use all the time for various statistics, and you definitely should check it out. One less relevant part of it, though, is each player’s URL. Every player is marked based on the first five letters of his last name followed by the first two of his first name. For instance, Ben Zobrist is “zobribe.” Then the player’s encoded name is followed by a number: 01, 02, 03, and so forth, based on whether other players have the same combination. For instance, Zobrist is “zobribe01” because he is the first player with those letters in major league history. But not every recent Rays player has the fortune of a unique name in baseball’s annals. Today, we will begin looking at recent players who were “02” or above and the players who came before them. Hopefully, it will be a fun look at baseball through the decades and provide us with some insight on everyone involved. We’ll begin today by talking about shielja02, James Shields, and shieldja01, Jason Shiell.

The Ray: James Shields is one of the best players the Rays have ever seen, ranking first in franchise history in just about every counting stat (including wins, strikeouts, and innings pitched).

The forebear: Jason Shiell logged 40.1 innings pitched between the San Diego Padres, Boston Red Sox, and Atlanta Braves between 2002 and 2006, managing just a 6.92 ERA. His biggest claim to fame happened before his big league time: he was traded along with Bret Boone and Ryan Klesko from the Braves to the Padres for Reggie Sanders, Quilvio Veras and Wally Joyner after the 1999 season.

The similarities: Like Shields, Shiell was a late-round draft pick who overcame a lot to make the major leagues, although he was drafted in the 48th round compared to the 16th for Shields. Both were also a high school pick–it’s rare to see prep players sign when they are drafted that late. Shiell also established himself as a 19 year old in Short Season ball, managing a 1.97 ERA in 12 starts compared to Shields’ 2.55 ERA in 15. Shiell and Shields both missed full seasons with injury after nice years at Low-A. Finally, Shiell was also part of a blockbuster deal, although he was a throw-in, not a centerpiece.

Things to Learn: The Rays are incredibly lucky that Shields turned out as well as he did. Shiell was a high school draft pick in a similar situation, and if we were not comparing him to Shields, we would say that it’s amazing that he even made the major leagues. That is especially the case after the injuries they suffered–Shiell was a reliever two years later while Shields became stronger as a starter. What are the odds of that? Finally, Rays fans should be thankful every day that the Rays have always been a team that trades established pitchers rather than their pitching prospects. Imagine if the Rays had traded Shields away when he was inconsistent in 2003, 2004, or even 2006! Jason Shiell remains Ray fans just how lucky they were to see James Shields succeed the way he did. Shielja02 easily could have turned out like shielja01.