I meant to post this a few days ago but didn’t quite get around to it. Thank heaven for 10 p.m. EDT starts that leave a little time to think and write.
Last week, ESPN.com’s Dog Days series got around to profiling the Rays chances at the postseason.
In that piece, Rob Neyer from The Sweet Spot Blog Network argued that James Shields is the player that most needs to step up for the Rays to be solid postseason contenders.
While I think that point is a no-brainer for the Rays to reach the postseason, it got me thinking about a tricky situation for the skipper once the team starts postseason play:
How does James Shields, the purported Ace of the staff, fit into a postseason rotation?
Based solely on my gut feeling about each pitcher, I could make a convincing case that the postseason rotation particularly in a five-game series, should go Price, Garza, Niemann, and then Price again.
That case gets stronger when you look at the numbers. Here is where Shields ranks amongst potential postseason starters (I didn’t include Wade Davis, Andy Sonanstine, or Jeremy Hellickson because I cannot fathom a scenario that would convince Joe to run out any of those three guys for the top of the 1st):
WHIP 1.393: Last (Niemann 1.167, Garza 1.190, Price 1.259)
Hits per 9 IP 10.3: Last (Price 7.5, Niemann 7.7, Garza 8.0)
ER 85: Last (Price 48, Niemann 49, Garza 65)
Opp. OBP .326: Last (Niemann .296, Garza .301, Price .310)
Opp. Slg. .486: Last (Price .345, Niemann .389, Garza .409)
Opp. OPS ..812: Last (Price .654, Niemann .685, Garza .710)
In fact, Shields only leads the starting rotation in two statistical categories: strikeouts and strikeouts per 9 innings. (It should be noted, however, that strikeouts are a precursor to postseason success).
So, the decision seems pretty easy based on the math. But there is another factor here. Jamie has been called the ace of the staff so often, and for so long, that it became fact by default. In fact, his status as the staff ace has even reached the point that Garza was apparently reluctant to be featured in the game program alone because he thought Shields, as the ace of the staff, deserved to be featured.
This is certainly a touchy situation for a manager. In a short Division Series, every start is important. But, I have no way to guess how the rest of the rotation, or the team for that matter, might react if Shields gets shipped to the bullpen, or worse, left off a postseason roster for a bat.
What would you do if you were wearing Maddon’s glasses?