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Best of the best, historical Rays seasons by position: Starting pitcher

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If we focused on only one position, what was the best year in Rays history?

Tampa Bay Rays v Chicago White Sox

With another month until pitchers and catchers even start reporting, it’s time for another Rays history series. This series will focus on the best-ever production from a Rays player in a single season at each position around the diamond.

We’re going to lead off with one of the best competitions: starting pitcher. The Rays have had as much depth among their starters as any other position in their history, and their reputation has, at times, been staked to their ability to draft and develop some of the best young pitching talents in the league. Here’s are our candidates for best season from a starting pitcher in a Rays uniform:

Best seasons from Rays starting pitchers

Name Year W L GS IP SO ERA ERA+ FIP xFIP fWAR rWAR
Name Year W L GS IP SO ERA ERA+ FIP xFIP fWAR rWAR
Scott Kazmir 2007 13 9 34 206.2 239 3.48 130 3.45 3.67 4.8 5.8
David Price 2010 19 6 31 208.2 188 2.72 144 3.42 3.83 4.2 4.8
James Shields 2011 16 12 33 249.1 225 2.82 134 3.42 3.25 4.5 5.2
David Price 2012 20 5 31 211.0 205 2.56 150 3.05 3.12 5.0 6.9
Chris Archer 2015 12 13 34 212.0 252 3.23 121 2.90 3.01 5.2 4.3

There are definitely some strong candidates. One thing stood out when parsing Rays pitching season for this exercise: I definitely leaned towards ERA over FIP. While FIP may be a stronger indicator of future success (and therefore more valuable in the present and future), ERA remains the best way to judge what a pitcher actually did. Just because they may have gotten a bit lucky in a certain season (and even that is potentially discrediting the pitcher a bit), what we are trying to determine here is past success, not future success.

As such, it is not surprising that four of the five candidates posted a higher rWAR (reliant on ERA) than fWAR (reliant on FIP). It is also not surprising that our first candidate to be eliminated is going to be 2015 Chris Archer. Yes, he may have posted the best FIP and xFIP of any of the five candidates, but his ERA finished fourth, and his ERA+ finished fifth. Plus, I know we have gotten to the point where wins and losses are practically disregarded by knowledgeable fans, but finishing the season with more losses than wins isn’t exactly what you’re looking for when determining the best-ever season from one of your starting pitchers.

Next to be eliminated is 2010 David Price. This one is pretty straightforward as well. Price’s 2010 season was indeed one of the five best-ever seasons from a Rays starting pitcher, but look at 2012. Price was better in 2012 in literally every single category charted above. Bye, 2010 Price.

If we use the same logic on 2011 James Shields, it becomes clear that he just can’t hang with 2012 David Price. Price has the edge in every metric except games started, innings pitched, and strikeouts, but he can cancel out Shields’ edge in total strikeouts with a better strikeout rate. Shields basically has the counting stats, and that’s it. And when it came to value, 2012 Price has the edge in both fWAR and rWAR, the “counting” statistic I put the most weight into. Adios, Shields!

Now we’re down to 2007 Scott Kazmir vs. 2012 David Price.

And it’s quite a showdown. Price has the edge when it comes to run prevention (ERA almost a run lower), but when it comes to value, the difference becomes a lot closer (1.1 rWAR and 0.2 fWAR). It’s close enough that WAR is not nearly fine-tuned enough to act as a final decider. Despite pitching in less of a strikeout-friendly era, Kazmir’s big edge is in his impressive whiff rate. Kazmir led the league with 239 Ks, and his 10.4 strikeouts per nine were a definite tier above Price’s 8.7 K/9.

However, in the end, Price’s 2012 season is the definite winner. Price took home the Cy Young in 2012, while Kazmir didn’t even draw a vote in 2007 (though he should have). The Price decision also passes the “If you ask a random Rays fan the best season from one of their starting pitchers, they won’t give you a funny look when you give this answer” test, which is of the utmost importance [Editor’s note: can’t wait for BRef and FanGraphs to add this stat].

So, what say ye, Rays fanbase, do you agree that 2012 David Price was the best season from a starting pitcher in Rays history?

Stay tuned for the rest of the series over the next few weeks.

Poll

Which season was the best from a Rays starting pitcher in club history?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    2007 Scott Kazmir
    (13 votes)
  • 1%
    2010 David Price
    (2 votes)
  • 12%
    2011 James Shields
    (17 votes)
  • 70%
    2012 David Price
    (93 votes)
  • 4%
    2015 Chris Archer
    (6 votes)
131 votes total Vote Now