To date, there have been 71 pitchers who have thrown at least 60 postseason innings in their careers. Entering Wednesday, David Price owned a 5.42 ERA, the second-highest of the bunch:
|1||Tim Wakefield||1992-2008 (9)||72.0||1.6||4.8||6.8||6.75||5.63|
|2||David Price||2008-2018 (9)||79.2||1.7||2.5||8.1||5.42||4.67|
|3||Al Leiter||1993-2005 (5)||81.2||1.0||4.0||7.5||4.63||4.29|
|4||Charles Nagy||1995-1999 (5)||84.2||1.5||3.2||5.8||4.46||5.11|
|5t||Vida Blue||1971-1975 (5)||64.2||0.8||3.2||6.5||4.31||4.02|
|5t||CC Sabathia||2001-2018 (9)||129.1||1.0||4.4||8.4||4.31||4.30|
|7||Kevin Brown||1997-2004 (3)||81.2||0.9||3.4||7.8||4.19||3.87|
|8||Clayton Kershaw||2008-2018 (8)||140.0||1.2||2.6||9.8||4.11||3.66|
|9||Matt Morris||2000-2005 (5)||73.1||1.1||4.2||5.4||4.05||4.99|
|10||Zack Greinke||2011-2017 (5)||67.0||1.2||2.0||7.9||4.03||3.86|
|11||Livan Hernandez||1997-2007 (4)||68.0||0.8||4.8||6.2||3.97||4.55|
|12||Andy Pettitte||1995-2012 (14)||276.2||1.0||2.5||6.0||3.81||4.16|
|13||Jack Morris||1984-1992 (4)||92.1||0.9||3.1||6.2||3.80||4.12|
|14||David Cone||1988-2000 (8)||111.1||1.0||4.7||7.6||3.80||4.48|
|15||Don Gullett||1970-1977 (6)||93.0||0.5||3.7||5.8||3.77||3.83|
There are some very good pitchers in the above group, including one who’s already in the Hall of Fame for his, uh, postseason reputation and a few more who have a very good shot. The best of them, Clayton Kershaw, has been dogged by inconsistent performances in the postseason, but he’s had big moments as well, including Wednesday’s NLCS Game Five performance against the Brewers.
Kershaw’s October ups and downs don’t compare to the ongoing struggles of Price. Not only had the 33-year-old southpaw never notched a win — obligatory raspberry blown at the stat — in any of his 11 postseason starts, he’d rarely even pitched well, managing just four quality starts, and failing to complete five innings in his previous three turns for Boston, including Game Two of the Division Series against the Yankees and Game Two of the ALCS against the Astros. Thanks in part to just 28 runs of offensive support in those 11 starts, his teams had gone 1-10.
Whatever the reasons for Price’s failures, mundane or mysterious — remember the pitch-tipping stuff from 2015, when he was with the Blue Jays? — it’s been rather gruesome to watch those games, and even moreso to watch fans and media pile on him, because the vast body of evidence from April through September indicates that David Price is a top-flight pitcher. Not Cy Young-caliber anymore, and maybe overpaid relative to his current production, but not a guy about whom a manager should think twice giving the ball.
“Hasn’t pitched well in the postseason” isn’t the same as “can’t pitch well in the postseason,” however, and if you have any investment in something beside the narrative tropes that power our nation’s most irate radio hosts and columnists, it had to come as some relief to see Price deliver six shutout innings against the Astros in Game Five of the ALCS on Thursday night, helping the Red Sox clinch their first AL pennant since 2013 and their fourth of the past 15 years.
Maybe Price succeeded because he was reading Sheryl Ring’s suggestion regarding his repertoire:
That said, maybe scrapping the cutter in favor of greater changeup usage could work. Price’s change garnered a 19% whiff rate this year against right-handed batters — more than twice what any of his other pitches recorded against the same hand — despite posting a slightly negative run value. Price has actually underutilized the change this postseason — which could be a product of specific matchups, sure — but it appears as though it might have some use as an alternative to the cutter.
From among his 93 pitches, Price threw 39 changeups to the Astros — his highest total since July 9, 2015, when he was still with the Tigers — and they swung and missed at 12. He mixed in just 13 cutters, fewer than any of his starts this year in which he didn’t get a quick hook for performance or health reasons. He allowed just three hits, didn’t walk a batter, and struck out nine, his postseason career high.
And he did it all on three days of rest, moving forward in the rotation because Game One starter Chris Sale is still recovering from a stomach bug — that after warming up in the ninth inning on Wednesday night, in case closer Craig Kimbrel couldn’t complete a two-inning save. His Game Score (Version 2) is tied for the fifth-highest of any Wild Card Era pitcher working on three days of rest, and the highest since Josh Beckett closed out the 2003 World Series:
|1||Mike Mussina||10/15/97||ALCS 6||BAL||CLE||8.0||1||0||2||10||0||92|
|2||Denny Neagle||10/11/97||NLCS 4||ATL||FLA||9.0||4||0||1||7||0||91|
|3||Josh Beckett||10/25/03||WS 6||FLA||NYY||9.0||5||0||2||9||0||89|
|4||John Smoltz||10/24/96||WS 5||ATL||NYY||8.0||4||1||3||10||0||81|
|5T||Andy Pettitte||10/19/03||WS 2||NYY||FLA||8.2||6||1||1||7||0||79|
|5T||David Price||10/18/18||ALCS 6||BOS||HOU||6.0||3||0||0||9||0||79|
|7||Andy Pettitte||10/24/96||WS 5||NYY||ATL||8.1||5||0||3||4||0||77|
|8||Hiroki Kuroda||10/14/12||ALCS 2||NYY||DET||7.2||5||3||0||11||0||75|
|9||Curt Schilling||10/31/01||WS 4||ARI||NYY||7.0||3||1||1||9||1||74|
|10||Clayton Kershaw||10/13/15||NLDS 4||LAD||NYM||7.0||3||1||1||8||1||73|
Price lowered his career postseason ERA to 5.04, which is to say that he’s still second on the leaderboard atop this post (which also includes two other pitchers who appear in the second table as well, Kershaw and Pettitte). The body of work, which includes some strong relief showings in 2008 with the Rays and 2016 with the Red Sox, still stands out for the wrong reasons. But he shed an albatross on Thursday night, and in doing so helped to knock off the defending world champions. It’s a performance worth savoring, yet another reminder that small-sample “hasn’t” doesn’t equate to “can’t.”
Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.