The Rays’ Five Greatest Pitchers

Number 1David Price (2008-14)

The tall (6’6”) and imposing southpaw from Tennessee was highly touted when he arrived on the major league scene late in the Rays’ magical 2008 American League championship campaign and showed that he indeed was an ace for opponents to contend with in the future. Sure enough, within two years, Price would be the starting pitcher for the AL All-Star team.

With a blazing fastball clocked high in the 90s, Price appeared in five games late in 2008 and authored a 1.93 earned run average; in five more relief appearances that postseason, he allowed just one earned run in 5.2 innings of work—winning Game Two of the ALCS against Boston and saving the clinching seventh game to send the Rays to the World Series.

After a lackluster sophomore effort (10-7, 4.42 ERA) in 2009, Price in 2010 rose to the level anticipated by many, taking 19 of 25 decisions with a fine 2.72 ERA and finishing second in the AL Cy Young vote behind Seattle’s Felix Hernandez. Two years later, he did one better with 20 wins (against five losses) to become the Rays’ first-ever 20-game winner—and was second to none in the Cy count, becoming the first Tampa Bay player to be so bestowed.

It is assumed that the Derek Jeter is not on Price’s Christmas card list; the New York Yankees’ star shortstop not only hit a home run for the first major league hit off of Price, but in 2011 stroked his 3,000th career hit—also a home run—off of Price.

Price’s dominant reign with the Rays came to an end in 2014 when he was dealt to Detroit at the trading deadline. The exit was hardly a shock; Price had little more than a year left on his contract and the budget-strapped Rays knew they had no chance of paying massive sums of money to keep him afterward.

Number 2James Shields (2006-12)

Despite some inconsistent success on the mound in terms of efficiency, one thing was certainly counted on from the big right-hander: He was always there to take the ball, having labored six straight years with 200-plus innings per season, leading to the nickname Big Game James. No other pitcher in Tampa Bay history has ever topped 200 innings three times while with the team.

A tough, loyal thrower, Shields began his run of productivity in 2007 with a 12-8 record that was all the more impressive considering the Rays were in the final throes of their lost, losing years. When the Rays snapped out of it in 2008 and stunned the AL with a pennant, Shields was there—winning 14, losing eight and fielding a 3.56 ERA in 215 innings. He also showed the more free-spending foes of the AL East that the Rays were not to be intimidated, instigating a brawl at Boston’s Fenway Park when he threw a retaliatory pitch at the Red Sox’ Coco Crisp, leading to a six-game suspension. Shields won the only game for the Rays in their five-game World Series defeat to Philadelphia, tossing 5.2 shutout innings in Game Two at St. Petersburg.

Over the next two years, Shields continued to rack up the innings but his performance slid, suggesting that his arm might be a victim of overuse. In 2010, no AL pitcher gave up more home runs (34) or runs (128) than Shields; he tied a dubious AL mark that season when he gave up six homers in one game at Toronto. But he came roaring back to life in 2011, ratcheting up the innings to a career-high 249.1 and leading the league with 11 complete games and four shutouts en route to a 16-12 mark and solid 2.82 ERA.

In a sign that business trumps everything else in baseball, the Rays sent the popular Shields—with two years still remaining on his contract—to Kansas City after 2013 in a move that sent highly-prized prospect (and 2013 AL Rookie of the Year) Wil Myers to Tampa Bay.

Number 3Scott Kazmir (2004-09)

The slight (170 lbs.) southpaw was the first legitimate superior pitching talent for Tampa Bay, but his constant fragility ruined any chance for long-term stardom with the Rays.

The Houston native was originally New York Mets property, but the team dealt him to the Devil Rays for veteran Victor Zambrano in 2004, enraging New York fans over what promise they had lost in Kazmir. Before the rise of Price, Shields and Jeremy Hellickson, Kazmir was the only reliable pitching talent in the Tampa Bay rotation, and he proved that by producing four straight winning records from 2005-08—the first three years of which were done with distinctly losing teams. In 2006 at the age of 22, he became the youngest pitcher to start an Opening Day game in 20 years, and within just a few years he was the franchise career holder in many pitching departments. Kazmir’s most dominant campaign took place in 2006, when he finished 13-9 with an AL-leading 239 strikeouts for a Tampa Bay team that wrapped at 66-96.

Kazmir had a mixed performance in the 2008 postseason for the Rays. He won his only playoff game in the ALDS against the Chicago White Sox, following that up with two no-decisions in the ALCS against Boston; in the World Series, Kazmir lost Game One and was roughed up in the fifth and final rain-delayed game that gave the Phillies the world title.

By 2009, major velocity loss in his fastball coupled with high pitch counts led to severe ineffectiveness, forcing the Rays to trade Kazmir to Los Angeles of Anaheim—where he only got worse before performing an impressive rebound in the mid-2010s.

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Number 4Chris Archer (2012-18, 2021)

Amid a recent wave of talented young starters in the Rays’ organization, Archer emerged as the most promising in spite of a losing record—much of that attributable to lousy run support—and gave the team badly needed personality with an exploding hairdo so big that he actually began wearing a larger hat to accommodate it.

Drafted by Cleveland and dealt shortly after to the Chicago Cubs’ organization, Archer found his way to Tampa Bay in a multi-player 2008 trade that sent Matt Garza to the Windy City. Archer didn’t make his big-league debut until 2012, but it wasn’t long after that the he began turning heads with an electric fastball efficiently mixed in with a slider—posting ERAs in the low 3.00s over each of his first full three seasons. In 2015, more attention came his way after recording 252 strikeouts (in just 212 innings) while becoming the first pitcher since 1900 to strike out at least 10 batters with no walks on three straight starts. This prompted the Rays to reward him with one of those team-friendly, “take the money and run” contracts in which he was paid $46 million over eight years. Those payments became the responsibility of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who traded for Archer late in the 2018 season as the right-hander descended into a more mediocre existence on the mound. So mediocre, the Pirates returned him to the Rays in 2021.

On years when the Rays don’t reach the playoffs (which happened often during his time in St. Petersburg), Archer served time as a guest analyst for ESPN during its postseason coverage.

Number 5Blake Snell (2016-20)

The Seattle-born southpaw largely met the lofty expectations branded upon him after posting a 1.41 ERA in the minors in 2015. But life as an ace for a Tampa Bay team that embraced analytics—almost to a fault—proved frustrating.

Despite wielding an excellent arsenal of pitches that includes a 95-MPH fastball, slider, curve and change-up, Snell struggled in his first couple of big-league seasons before exploding with a Cy Young Award-winning effort in 2018, with 21 wins (against five losses) and a stellar 1.89 ERA; both figures are tops in Rays franchise history. Yet he never won even 10 games in any of his four other seasons at Tampa Bay. Part of that is due to a stubborn fragility, but part of that could also be pinned on the Rays’ quick-hook strategy by team management, which seemed to view anyone pitching past the sixth inning as anathema.

Two such examples of this philosophy as it related to Snell starkly stood out. One came in 2018 when, coming off a three-week stint on the shelf with shoulder issues, he was pulled after throwing five perfect innings—on 47 pitches. More memorably, the second took place in Game Six of the 2020 World Series, when Snell was inexplicably removed with a 1-0 lead after making the Los Angeles Dodgers look utterly clueless for five-plus innings. Once he was gone, the Dodgers took advantage, scored two quick runs, and ultimately won the game and the series over the Rays while a visibly perturbed Snell could only look on in the dugout. It would be his last appearance in a Tampa Bay uniform; the Rays traded him to San Diego after the season.

An avid video gamer, Snell gave the Rays a championship of sorts during baseball’s pandemic shutdown in May 2020 by winning an MLB-sanctioned online tournament featuring the video game MLB The Show, beating the Chicago White Sox’ Lucas Giolito. And for all it’s worth, Snell has a thing for sneakers—once claiming he owned 350 pairs of them.

Tampa Bay Rays Team History A decade-by-decade history of the Rays, the ballparks they’ve played in, and the four people who are on the franchise’s Mount Rushmore.

The Rays’ Five Greatest Hitters A list of the five greatest hitters based on their productivity and efficiency.

The Rays’ Five Most Memorable Games A list of five memorable games and other notable personal achievements that have defined the Rays’ history.