James Shields is 13-15 with a 5.18 ERA this season. He is also the Rays #2 starter in the ALDS. This seems weird to a lot of people (and possibly to Shields himself).
That being said, as Ed Price points out, what I think Joe Maddon was trying to get at here, Shields is also 7th in the AL in the ERA-like statistic xFIP despite his ugly actual ERA. This implies that Shields has been somewhat unlucky in terms of fly balls turning into home runs, and balls in play turning into hits, among other things. He’s shown the ability to control the strike zone, but things outside of his control just maybe haven’t broken right. The Rays think he’s been pitching better than the results have shown.
I’m curious how this is going to work out. Shields has always had good peripherals, but his ERA has been higher than his FIP and xFIP for his entire career. Things like fly ball to home run rate and BABIP are subjected to a lot of randomness, but that randomness is sometimes overstated. They’re not TOTALLY random. It’s not a complete fluke that his ERA has been higher than his other numbers would suggest.
At the very least, I find it interesting that a major league team is not only willing to look past the surface numbers, but openly admits to doing so. So if you’re into that whole revenge of the nerds thing, I suppose you might want to root for the Rays and Big Game James tonight.