James Shields or Matt Garza: The Ace Debate

ST PETERSBURG, FL - APRIL 23: Pitcher Matt Garza #22 of the Tampa Bay Rays pitches against the Toronto Blue Jays during the game at Tropicana Field on April 23, 2010 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

Time warp! The season just ended and the Rays are in the playoffs. Joe Maddon has yet to set the playoff rotation, leaving us plenty of time to debate amongst ourselves as to what he should do. The big question comes down to this: who do you want starting Game One, Matt Garza or James Shields? Whoever starts Game One will be set up to pitch in Game Five, if needed, and so we want to make sure our ace is set up for those games. We've had over four months go by, so who's the Rays' ace starter now?

Here are the candidates:

ERA

FIP

xFIP

K/9

BB/9

SwgSt%

Shields

3.15

3.96

3.15

9.68

2.25

9.40%

Garza

2.09

3.29

3.93

8.16

2.93

8.30%

Since we're working from small samples, the debate comes down to who you think can sustain their current level of success the best. Shields has been a strikeout machine so far this season, posting a K/9 rate that's much higher than his career average of 7.27 K/9, but he actually has a lower swinging strike percentage so far (10% career average). His walks have been a tick higher (career 1.95 BB/9) and he's gotten unlucky with his homerun rate, giving him a higher FIP and a lower xFIP than Garza.

Garza, meanwhile, is posting numbers very similar to his career averages. His strikeout numbers are up just slightly (career 7.36 K/9), his walk numbers are down slightly (3.30 BB/9), and his swinging strike percentage is unchanged from last year. The majority of his success this season is coming from stranding runners and getting lucky with home runs.

In the end, this is a relatively meaningless debate since both pitchers are so good. Either of them could fill in as the Rays' ace pitcher and perform well, so we're in quite the enviable position. I'm interested, though, to see what everyone else thinks. Is Garza taking a step forward this season? Is Shields going to continue posting higher strikeout numbers? Who will be considered the Rays' ace starter by the end of the season?

Let the debate begin.

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