David Price, the Cy Young, and the best pitchers in Rays history

Jared Wickerham

David Price is one of the leading candidates to win the Cy Young award this year, but how does his season stack up against the best pitching seasons in Rays history?

David Price might win the American League Cy Young award Wednesday night. In fact, I think he will (though I also think Justin Verlander should). If he does, he'll be the first Tampa Bay Ray to win one of the two major player awards -- Most Valuable Player or Cy Young. The Rays already have their share of Rookies of the Year (Evan Longoria in 2008, Jeremy Hellickson last year), Managers of the Year (Joe Maddon those same two years), Comeback Players of the year (Carlos Peña in 2007, Fernando Rodney this year), Rolaids Relief Men (Rafael Soriano in 2010), Silver Sluggers (Peña in 2007, Longoria in 2009, Carl Crawford in 2010) and Gold Glovers (Peña in 2008, Longoria in 2009 and 2010, Crawford in 2010, and Hellickson this year). The two top awards, however, have eluded them thus far despite the fact that they have been a contending team for half a decade now.

That could all change Wednesday night, and while I might not think Price is the best candidate for the AL Cy Young this year, he has indeed turned in the best pitching season in Rays history, at least according to Baseball-Reference's Wins Above Replacement (bWAR). That said, looking over the list of the best Rays pitching seasons according to bWAR, I find myself disagreeing considerably with the order of the list. Here is how I would rank the top pitching seasons in Rays history:

1) David Price, 2012

20-5, 205 K, 2.56 ERA, 149 ERA+, 211 IP, 1.10 WHIP, 8.7 K/9, 3.47 K/BB, 2 CG, 1 SHO

2) James Shields, 2011

16-12, 225 K, 2.82 ERA, 134 ERA+, 249 1/3 IP, 1.04 WHIP, 8.1 K/9, 3.46 K/BB, 11 CG, 4 SHO

To me, the two most important statistics in evaluating the impact of past pitching performance (and I'm not talking about predicting future performance here, where defense-independent statistics rule the day) are innings pitched and ERA+. A pitcher's primary jobs are to record outs and keep runs off the board. Innings are outs, and ERA+ is run prevention adjusted for environment. That made ranking these two seasons extremely difficult as Shield's 249 1/3 innings were both the most in Rays history and 38 1/3 more than Price threw this season, while Price's team-record ERA+ was 15 points higher. The peripherals are all close enough to ignore, the records are irrelevant, as always, and as much as I love Shields' complete games and shutouts, both team records, they are reflected in his innings total.

I broke the tie by calculating what Price's ERA would be if you added 38 1/3 innings of league-average run prevention to his line. The answer, 2.79, is still better than Shields' 2.82, so I gave Price the edge, though it's still close enough that you could really consider these two seasons 1 and 1A. Shields finished third in the Cy Young voting in 2011, which is exactly where he should have finished given the seasons Justin Verlander and Jered Weaver turned in that year.

3) David Price, 2010

19-6, 188 K, 2.72 ERA, 144 ERA+, 208 2/3 IP, 1.19 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, 2.38 K/BB, 2 CG, 1 SHO

Price finished second to deserving winner Felix Hernandez in the Cy Young voting in 2010, the highest finish ever by a Ray in the Cy Young or MVP voting. Their highest MVP finish was Evan Longoria's sixth place in this same season.

4) James Shields, 2008

14-8, 160 K, 3.56 ERA, 124 ERA+, 215 IP, 1.15 WHIP, 6.7 K/9, 4.00 K/BB, 3 CG, 2 SHO

5) Scott Kazmir, 2007

13-9, 239 K, 3.48 ERA, 130 ERA+, 206 2/3 IP, 1.38 WHIP, 10.4 K/9, 2.69 K/BB

6) Rolando Arrojo, 1998

14-12, 152 K, 3.56 ERA, 133 ERA+, 202 IP, 1.29 WHIP, 6.8 K/9, 2.34 K/BB, 2 SHO

I give Shields' 2008 the edge in this trio largely because of his superior WHIP and strikeout-to-walk ratio, both of which result in part from his mere 1.7 walks per nine innings. Meanwhile, Kazmir's strikeouts carry the day over Arrojo.

For those who don't go that far back, Arrojo was a Cuban defector who signed with the Devil Rays a few months before what was officially his 29th birthday in 1997, though many doubted his reported age. He pitched well in 16 starts at High-A St. Petersburg that year, and was rated the 37th-best prospect in baseball by Baseball America entering the Rays' inaugural season of 1998. With a deep arsenal and a range of release points, Arrojo was the winning pitcher in the first win in Rays history, their second game, an 11-8 win over the Tigers. He was also their first All-Star and finished second to the A's Ben Grieve in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1998, an award some though he should have won. He battled a bad shoulder in his sophomore season and was traded to the Rockies for Vinnie Castilla that December. The Rockies flipped him to the Red Sox at the 2000 trading deadline, and he had a nice season as a swing man for Boston in 2001, but he struggled again in 2002 and after four appearances with the Columbus Clippers, then the Yankees' Triple-A affiliate in 2003 at the official age of 34, he and his bum shoulder were out of baseball.

7) James Shields, 2007

12-8, 184 K, 3.85 ERA, 117 ERA+, 215 IP, 1.11 WHIP, 7.7 K/9, 5.11 K/BB, 1 CG

As you'll see below, bWAR loves this season, likely because of that franchise-record strikeout-to-walk ratio, an indicator of excellent defense-independent stats.

8) Fernando Rodney, 2012

2-2, 76 K, 0.60 ERA, 634 ERA+, 74 2/3 IP, 0.78 WHIP, 9.2 K/9, 5.07 K/BB, 48 SV

I had to include Rodney on this list. His 0.60 ERA and 634 ERA+ are the best in major league history by a pitcher with at least 50 innings pitched, but as in credible as that might be, he still only threw 74 2/3 innings. Add enough league-average innings to get him up to 200 and you get a 2.78 ERA, which is comparable to the ERAs of the top three seasons above, but it also credits him for 125 1/3 innings he didn't pitch. He fits well here, and bWAR agrees with me even if it disagrees about which seven seasons should rank above him or in what order.

I'm going to stop the list here, because things get decidedly ordinary thereafter. As for that bWAR list, it looks like this:

Rk

Pitcher

Year

bWAR

1

David Price

2012

6.4

2

Scott Kazmir

2007

5.5

3

James Shields

2007

5.2

4

James Shields

2011

4.7

5

David Price

2010

4.4

6

Scott Kazmir

2006

4.4

7

Rolando Arrojo

1998

3.9

8

Fernando Rodney

2012

3.7

9t

James Shields

2008

3.6

9t

Scott Kazmir

2008

3.6

Kazmir didn't qualify for the ERA title in 2006 or 2008, but he struck out roughly 10 men per nine innings and had ERA+s of 141 and 127, respectively. For what it's worth, Rays hitters have enjoyed seven seasons worth more than 6.4 bWAR with not Evan Longoria or Carl Crawford, but Ben Zobrist holding the top two spots on that list with his 8.5 bWAR in 2011 and 8.3 mark in 2009, the former the highest mark in the American League that season by a hitter or pitcher, though a perhaps excessively favorable defensive rating plays a large part in that evaluation.

So what have we learned? Well, not only did David Price just deliver the best pitching season in Rays history, but the Rays have enjoyed the greatest pitching season in franchise history in four of the last five seasons, at least according to my evaluation. How would you rank the eight seasons listed above?

Cliff Corcoran is one of SBN's Designated Columnists. His work also appears at SI.com. Follow him at @cliffcorcoran.

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