A check of the traditional metrics suggests that American League Cy Young Award runner-up David Price has regressed this season. After just six losses last season, he has already taken the loss in five of his 13 starts. His 3.35 ERA is still good, but up more than a half run over his 2010 mark of 2.72.
Price has been roughed up a few times this season. Most notably on 4/29 against the Los Angeles Angels when he gave up five runs on 12 hits in 4.1 innings. In May, he allowed five runs in back to back starts (5/16 v. Yankees, 5/21 v. Marlins). Those brief showings of mortality actually had some in the Tampa Bay area asking the question – what is wrong with David Price?
The answer is nothing. In fact, Price is a better pitcher than he was a season ago. While he was great last season, his peripheral stats were not in line with his win/loss record or ERA. His 3.42 FIP and 3.83 xFIP were both good, but not second-best pitcher in the league good. His “luck” categories, meanwhile, showed some favorable results, although nothing to suggest fluke or steep regression.
Despite the increase in ERA (thanks to a slight uptick in BABIP and a 70.1% strand rate), Price has improved upon his defensive independent metrics. His 2.71 FIP is the third best mark in the American League, while his 2.90 xFIP trails only teammate James Shields on the junior circuit. Prices’s strike rates and home run rates are similar to 2010, but his BB/9 has dropped by more than two walks per nine over the first 91 innings of the season.
Although Price now owns a fantastic 1.38 BB/9, he is arguably showing the same amount of control. In fact, his strike rate has dropped slightly from 65% in 2010 to 64% in 2011. His first-pitch strike rate is also down from last season. Instantly, I figured batters were simply putting more balls in play, but hitters are swinging less against him and making a similar contact rate. While the control is largely the same, Price’s command has improved.
Price’s swinging strike rate has also dipped, but his called strikes have improved according to statcorner.com. The difference could be star treatment, but looking pitch f/x data, it does not appear Price is getting an extraordinary amount of help from the boys in blue. Instead, his pitch selection and where he puts those pitches seems more likely than favorable calls.
Once upon a time, Price was a two-trick pony with a dominating fastball and a lights-out slider. In 2011, Price still has the excellent fastball that he relies on heavily, but is now a well-rounded pitcher who throws up to five different pitches on any given night. One of those pitches is a changeup that is increasing in usage.
The offspeed pitch is quickly becoming Price’s favorite secondary offering. It still trails his curveball in terms of usage, but he is throwing the pitch nearly 10% of the time which is significant for a pitcher who still throws a fastball more than two-thirds of the time. While throwing a changeup is nice, having an effective one is even better. In the small sample size that is 2011, Price’s changeup has been on par with that of fellow lefties CC Sabathia and Jon Lester.
Looking at heat maps, it’s not surprising to see Price is using his changeup more against right-handed batters. Heat maps also show he has both command and control of the pitch. His changeup to righties has a 68% strike rate (h/t texasleaguers.com) while being thrown on the outer half of the plate with regularity- significant because he sees a right-handed batter almost 80% of the time.
According to ZiPs updated projections, Price is on pace to go 18-11 with a 3.32 ERA. Those are excellent numbers, but probably would not earn a second place Cy Young finish or a start in the All Star game. On the other hand, his projected 3.02 FIP over the course of a 220 inning season would put him on the cusp of a 6 WAR season – nearly 2 WAR above his 2010 campaign. He may not earn the same accolades from last year, but 2011 is shaping up to be a year where Price may be the best pitcher in the league.