James Shields' ERA in 2011
By any measure, Shields' 2010 season was a bust. His 15 losses, 5.18 ERA and 34 home runs allowed were career highs. But opponents' batting average on balls in play was an unsightly .341, also the highest of his career. In 2011, however, changes to Shields' delivery allowed him to throw with better control (he allowed eight fewer home runs) and go deeper into ballgames (he threw 11 complete games, more than what 26 teams threw). While luck was unkind to him in 2010, it was generous in 2011. Opponents' BABIP was a paltry .258, and he stranded more runners on base than he had before (79.6 percent compared with 68.4 percent the season before). His ERA could tick up this season, but don't expect a dramatic jump: Rays pitchers have led baseball in BABIP in three of the past four seasons, thanks to a defense that prevents runs better than anyone in baseball.
David Price's win-loss record in 2011
Doesn't look like the record of an elite pitcher, does it? Yet Price is just that. Though he allowed seven more home runs in 2011 than in 2010, there's little evidence to suggest Price wasn't as good as the pitcher who nearly won 20 games in 2010. Even the number of home runs he allowed comes with the caveat that he reached a career high in innings pitched, so hitters had more opportunities. He struck out more batters per nine innings (8.75 compared with 8.11) and walked fewer per nine innings (2.53 compared with 3.41). Statistician Bill James projects Price for 15 wins this season, but if the revamped Rays offense produces as much as is hoped, Price could get another shot at 20 and maybe, finally, some Cy Young hardware.
Jeremy Hellickson's ERA in 2011
Consider the ERAs of the pitchers who had a strikeout-to-walk ratio similar to Hellickson's 1.63: Oakland's Trevor Cahill (4.16), Colorado's Jhoulys Chacin (3.62), New York Yankees' Ivan Nova (3.70), teammate Wade Davis (4.45) and New York Mets' Mike Pelfrey (4.74). Then consider the BABIP of Hellickson's opponents: .223, the lowest mark in baseball. Next closest were Detroit's Justin Verlander, Toronto's Ricky Romero, Boston's Josh Beckett and the Los Angeles Angels' Jered Weaver, but those pitchers each struck out more than seven batters per nine innings while Hellickson struck out fewer than six. The Rays defense and positioning might help Hellickson (as the pitching staff's routinely low opponents' BABIP suggests) during his sophomore campaign, but the AL rookie of the year could see some growing pains unless the strikeout rate improves. James is optimistic and forecasts 13 wins, a 3.39 ERA and 168 strikeouts. —Thomas Bassinger