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Rays-Mariners rubber game

Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times, as always, mariners/2009/04/23/this_is_what_an_ace_is_for.html">has a great-feel-for-the-game article up this morning.  He points out that with the Mariners and Rays struggling, and on teetering on the brinks of positive and negative momentum, it would be a great time for an ace-like performance out of your Opening Day starter. Felix Hernandez wants to be viewed as a dominating ace.  Baker is right on track in putting the responsibility on him to take over a game in this particular situation.  The same applies to James Shields, one of my favorite pitchers. . === The Shield, Dept. === James "Captain Insano" Shields is even more scary throwing the ball than throwing his fists.  Only 27, he's run a scary-good 7.2 strikeouts vs. 1.9 walks during his career. You can do that in the National League, provided Manny Ramirez isn't playing in it, but it takes Pedro Martinez or Christy Mathewson to run 1+ BB's with high K's in the American. It hasn't been a soft statline:  given his chance to pitch in October last season, he riffled through 3 postseason series with a 2.88 ERA. .................. Fangraphs has his estimated value at $18M for 2007 and another $18M for 2008 ... while earning only $400,000 and $1,000,000 those two seasons.  And Don King has him down for $50M net in a cage match with Chan Ho Park.  Park will wear cleats and Shields will be allowed a sock full of nickels. .................. In 2009, however, Shields is off to a very slow start: His strikeouts are way down to 4.7.   His walks are up to 2.7 -- which means his control ratio has plummeted from 4.0 (!) to only 1.5, not even draftable in a deep roto league.   On top of that, he's had extreme gopheritis -- 1.8 homers a game, whereas 1.4 is the cutoff point at which you can't pitch in the big leagues. Shields is one of the most extreme breaking-ball pitchers in the big leagues; he's virtually the only guy around who throws fewer than 50% straight fastballs. Notice that hitters have absolutely stopped fishing for Shields pitches outside the strike zone ( > James Shields > plate discipline > O-Swing%).   For whatever reason, he has pitched with ZERO deception in his first three starts. Shields is the type of pitcher who pumps strikes in there and dares you to hit it:  homers are okay with him, walks aren't.  That's not a good combination if the hitters are suddenly seeing your pitches as well as they are now. Shields will, if he's not injured, get it straightened out.  It's just that the grand theme of the third Rays-Mariners game revolves around Shields' telegraphed offspeed pitches filling the strike zone.  The M's will want to try to hit a homer or three. . === M's Defense === The Mariners' vaunted defense, in game two, had a terrible game -- by the standards of the 1981 Mariners.  Their DER is now #15 in the major leagues. Despite the fact that the 2009 Mariners have turned batted balls into outs at a precisely mediocre rate, UZR says that they're physically saving a run a game.  (It's impossible for any defense to save a run per game, as compared to the excellent fielding that is provided by a normal major league defense.) There are many reconciliations to this DER/UZR contradiction, of which the one I believe is that UZR is just wrong over a small number of games. It's like saying a guy hit .268 over 550 at-bats, but considering the great pitches they threw him, he actually deserved a .440 AVG.   What I will take is the actual .268 AVG.  :- ) ................... The M's defense will be well above average in 2009, though in terms of outs converted, it hasn't made a huge impact so far.  It will be interesting to see if, in a low-scoring "Aces High" game, the M's defense will turn in the game-winning plays. . === Matchups === The Rays hitters have been slaughtered in the shower by King Felix:  in particular B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford have combined for a .000-plus average in 27 combined AB's. Ichiro hasn't had good luck vs. Shields, going only 3-for-14 vs his right-handed change speed game, though Wlad Balentien had one good game against him in 2008.   The M's free-swingers Beltre, Betancourt, and Lopez have all been stymied against Shields' craftsmanship; between them, they're 7-for-38. . === Odds === ESPN's Accuscore has Tampa Bay for a 55% chance to win, though Vegas has the M's at 11:10.   The over-under has a mere 7 runs scoring.  I guess they've seen the M's OPS+. Cheers, Dr D