Don't worry about James Shields' ERA

Should James Shields' 5.01 ERA be a concern for Joe Maddon? According to Evan Brunell, not at all:

    While Shields' ERA is unsightly, he's still one of the better pitchers on the team. His xFIP rests at 3.68, right in line with his previous numbers -- meaning that Shields is no different than any other year, just hellaciously unlucky.

How unlucky?

He's stranded just 69.5 percent of runners on base with a 2010 average of 72.1 percent, a figure that is higher than recent years thanks to being the Year of the Pitcher. Stranding runners is less of a skill and more of a byproduct of events, so Shields can't be blamed for more runners crossing the plate than normal -- especially since a big part of inherited runners scoring is dependent on the bullpen.

In addition, his .349 BABIP is a career high with the league average at .302. Couple that with a 14.2 percent home-run-per-fly-ball rate (average around 11 percent), and you have a cocktail of wrong that Shields has drank all season.

To his manager's credit, Maddon realizes that Shields is actually a good pitcher.Soon, we'll see how good Maddon realizes Shields is. That 3.68 xFIP ranks sixth in the American League ... and ahead of rotation-mates Wade Davis (4.85), Matt Garza (4.51), and ... yes, even 19-game winning All-Star David Price (4.00).

Is Shields really better than Price? Over the past two seasons, Shields' ERA is 4.56, worse than league-average. Over the last two seasons, Price's ERA is 3.38, significantly better than league-average.

Is ERA really so misleading?

I don't know. I know it can be. But that's a massive difference in ERA over the course of a huge number of innings.

Price has given up 15 home runs this season. Shields has given up 34 home runs this season. But Price's home-run rate was significantly higher last season, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio is significantly lower than Shields' this season.

I cannot argue that ERA lies, exactly. I cannot argue, with any great, conviction that Shields is obviously the Rays' best starting pitcher. But his 5.01 ERA does not much concern me, and it shouldn't much concern Maddon. If the Rays are going to reach the World Series again, they need to ensure that Shields pitches just about as many innings as anyone else on the staff.