2009 Line: 11-12, 4.14 ERA, 167 K, 52 Walks
Pitches: Changeup, fastball, curveball
For the third straight season, James Shields will be the opening day starter for the Rays. His situation is a slightly unique one.
Is Shields the most talented pitcher in the Rays starting rotation? Absolutely not. In fact, of the Rays' five starting pitchers, Shields probably has the least fascinating stuff. However, he makes up for this by being extremely reliable and consistent.
Shields plows through innings like John Kruk plows through a hot dog stand. He is the catalyst of a very young Rays rotation, and the success of the pitching staff as a whole depends on his ability to pitch a lot of shutdown innings.
Yes, the Rays have a gifted rotation full of future stars, but that doesn't change the fact that they are still very young. Once you get past Shields and Matt Garza, you have three guys who combine for roughly two years of major league experience.
There will be exciting days when these young guns shine and suffocate the opposition, but there will also be days when their inexperience leads to bullpen games. Shields will be relied upon to give the relievers a break and put things back in focus when those kind of weeks come about.
Expect this to be his role with the Rays for years to come as he still has five years left on his seven year contract.