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Shields, Rays Lose to Indians 9-3

I know I should be disappointed right now - the Rays just lost a game they had a pitching advantage, and lost ground to the Red Sox - but for some reason I can't muster the emotion. This day has left me emotionally drained from the constant trade drama; I've spent the entire day on a roller coaster ride, going from feeling disappointed-but-hopeful to depressed to ecstatic and now...I'm spent. It was a heck of a ride today and although Cliff Lee didn't end up on the Rays, I'm okay with it. We still have all our prospects and there are many other players out there the Rays can target; it's a long month. I'm exceptionally happy that Lee isn't a Yankee, though, even if that's only because I enjoy the thought of them not getting their every desire every now and then.

Anyway, on to the game. This game was a lot closer than the final score makes it look - up until the eighth inning, the score was 4-2 and the Rays had a realistic chance of making a comeback. James Shields had one of those weird good process, bad results starts that leaves me feeling confused. Should I be disappointed in his start, considering he let up four earned runs (including two homeruns) in only six and a third innings? Or should I be pleased, since Shields had good command of the zone and made the Indians look foolish at times, striking out nine batters, walking only one, and generating a 15.1% (!!) swinging strike percentage? Shields's change-up and cutter (or what Brooks Baseball classifies as his cutter) were very effective last night, generating over 30% swinging strikes each. Shields had his A stuff, but somehow that didn't translate into a lower amount of runs scored. What gives?

To answer that question briefly: righties, homeruns, and fatigue. All six of the hits off of Shields last night were hit by right-handed batters, demonstrating how the Danks Theory can be used against the Rays to our disadvantage. For those that don't remember, the Danks Theory is the name we've given to one of Maddon's ideas. In short, change-ups are one of the few pitches to have an extreme platoon split, with them being more effective against batters of the same hand as the pitcher. Therefore, if a pitcher has an excellent change-up, stock the line-up with same handed batters to take away their most effective pitch. Considering how bad Shields's fastball has been this year, if he doesn't have that change-up, he could be in trouble.

Also, for all the flak that Wade Davis got during the first two innings last night - gah, he lets up waaay too many homeruns! - James Shields has actually let up more home runs this season: 19 to 18. Shields has thrown more innings than Davis, but their homerun per flyball rates are both very similar: 13.5% (pre-last night Shields) to 13.7% (Davis). While we don't have much historical data to look at for Davis, Shields has never had a homerun rate that high since his first year in the league. And considering that Shields is striking out more batters than ever before while still letting up a minuscule amount of walks, I can't help but believe his homerun rate will drop as the season progresses. He's a better pitcher than his ERA indicates, by far.

And finally, Shields seems to hit a wall once he hits 100 pitches. My hypothesis is that since his fastball is mediocre at best anyway, once it looses some zip late in the game, Shields is toast and can't use his change-up as effectively. I don't have any evidence to back myself up - that's merely a hunch, so feel free to try and prove me wrong.  After finishing the sixth inning with 100 pitches, Maddon put Shields back out there to start the seventh last night and what happened? Lead-off home run by Shelly Duncan. Anecdotal evidence at its best.

Other Notes:

  • Carlos Pena, showing some life! Los went 2-4 with an RBI single in the third and a solo homerun in the ninth. And even better, both of those hits went to centerfield - not rightfield! Keep getting those balls in the air, Pena, and good things will keep happening.
  • I don't want to talk about the bullpen implosion. They've been so good for the vast majority of this season, so I'm willing to forgive them this game.
  • 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position. Sigh.