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ALDS Game 2 Preview: James Shields vs. The Great Regression and Other Topics of Interest

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James Shields and C.J. Wilson
Here at DRaysBay, we believe each game is only a glimpse of reality -- a tiny sliver of the talent of everyone involved. When something absurd happens -- say Bengie Molina, I don't know, hits a home run -- we know his homer does not symbolize a permanent and accurate presentation of his daily hitting ability. More than likely, Molina will continue to excel at hitting poorly the following game.

This is regression. This is a concept we must believe, or our veins will split and our heads will pop like an over-filled red balloon every time Kelly Shoppach swings at ball 4 or Jason Bartlett tosses the 3rd out to a ginger kid in the 5th row.

The regression concept gives me hope for James Shields -- and moreover, the Rays as a whole in game 2.

Yesterday we witnessed David Price drink from cold faucet of HR/FB regression. His shiny ERA (2.72) and even above average FIP (3.42) belied his more average xFIP (~4.00) and lucky LOB%. Price's numbers were simply waiting for regression and it appears James Shields' numbers ride the same train -- but with a better destination.

We have already discussed endlessly the recent performances of Mr. Shields. It appears DRaysBay now has two camps: (a) those who believe Shields has lost something, and (b) those who believe Shields could and should regress at any moment.

My hope is that the same HR/FB Fairy that visited Price will give both Shields and C.J. Wilson a gentle tap on the head. Shield's xFIP (3.72) says he's still our ace. His results (or ERA) say he's not (5.18). On the other hand, the lefty Wilson has respectable results (3.35 ERA) with worse than league average xFIP (4.20 -- 420?! Whoa, brah-man!).

The Lineup
After watching our lineup get shredded yesterday by one of the best -- nay, the best -- lefty in the game, many of us have begun to speculate Game 2 of the ALDS will feature a much different lineup -- perchance Ben Zobrist at first base and Carlos Pena playing Left Out.

Personally, I think that may not be all too beneficial. Pena has been average against lefties over his career (~100 wRC+) and that's held pretty close to true this year (he still has 8 HRs vs. lefties in ~200 PAs). If Zobrist pushed him into the dugout, then we would be wasting a slice of BenZo's superior fielding. Moreover, we would need to put a lefty -- Matt Joyce -- or an untested rookie who had a decent-at-best season in AAA (118 wRC+) -- Desmond Jennings -- in right.

Of course, we could also trot Rocco Baldelli out there, but it might be wiser to start him at first -- a position he's never played at the MLB level.

Rocco Baldelli vs. Willy Aybar
The Rays surprised a lot of people yesterday when they revealed Rocco Baldelli would on the playoff roster and Willy Aybar would not. For full disclosure's sake: I am not and have never been a particular fan of Aybar's. I'm not against him, but I am not wowed -- really in any way -- by him.

Anyway, while talking with R.J. Anderson yesterday, I began to conduct a variety of dangerous thought experiments concerning Aybar and Baldelli. Here's the rationale I assume the Rays front office used in taking Baldelli over Aybar (and Brad Hawpe):

Willy Aybar is really average. No, like really, really average. His career wRC+ is 101. His career platoon splits show a little bit more value:

vs R as L: 97 wRC+
vs L as R: 113 wRC+

In 2010, both those numbers are worse (below 100). The Rays need help against lefties, so Aybar's excessive averageness against righties and malpractice-bad defense really makes him less valuable, but aught not be a deal breaker. This year, though, his plate discipline seems out of whack -- and it's costing him (to the tune of 91 wRC+ vs. lefties).

On the other hand, Brad Hawpe is lefty -- which does not fit the roster's needs. And his plate discipline numbers since joining the Rays look really bad. It seems as though getting an apartment in the greater Tampa area made him swing at more outside pitches. His contact rate went from ~60% to ~50%. Hawpe, in short, was not doing well.

But what about Rocco? His well-known health problems make him sort of a pariah (and a hassle with late-inning substitutions), but there was once a day when he was also a lefty-masher. His career splits:

vs R as R: 96 wRC+
vs L as R: 118 wRC+

Also, in his few PAs this year, he's hit lefties well (125 wRC+).

My guess is the Rays Front Office was willing to gamble that Baldelli, despite having limited exposure over the last few years, can still provide not-unbearable defense and more offense verse lefties than the scuffling Aybar -- but it is definitely a gamble.