The Latest Edition of David Price

The Blue Jays acquired David Price expecting him to be an ace, and to this point he’s been exactly as advertised. While teams elsewhere are struggling to straighten out their deadline acquisitions, Price has allowed just 15 runs in 10 starts with Toronto. His surface numbers are terrific, and his more advanced numbers are terrific, and when everything agrees that a guy is terrific, he’s probably terrific. The Blue Jays are getting what they paid for.

Significantly, in just over a month and a half, Price has already pitched against the Yankees four times. Three of those games he won, and in the one he didn’t, he left with a 3-1 lead. Monday was Price’s latest win over New York, and he found himself in the most trouble in the third inning. With one out and the bases loaded, Price began his highest-leverage plate appearance of the evening, opposite Alex Rodriguez.

Nine pitches later, Rodriguez struck out. It wasn’t complete dominance, as evidenced by the necessity of nine pitches. It wasn’t complete dominance, as the eighth pitch came inches away from dropping fair as a bloop hit. It was an even fight that had to end with a winner and a loser, and Price came after Rodriguez hard. Everything was a four-seamer, a two-seamer, or a cutter. Russell Martin kept setting up inside. It was on the ninth pitch that Martin set up for a cutter away.

So went Rodriguez, and so went the Yankees. Price wasn’t yet out of the mess, but he would be shortly, and that was that. The Yankees trail by 3.5 games. They’d prefer not to, but they certainly deserve to.

The Rodriguez at-bat was representative of the pitcher that David Price is right now. Beyond just being a No. 1, I mean — it was representative of both the talent and the style. Like many excellent players, Price tries to stay one step ahead, making sure he can’t be easily adjusted to. The pitcher he’s been in Toronto isn’t quite like the pitcher he was in Detroit. The differences are superficially subtle, but huge if you know where to look.

Just looking at ERA, Price’s figure with the Blue Jays is down more than a half run. By FIP, it’s almost a full run. By a small amount, Price has faced more lefties with the Jays, but the bigger difference is this:

David Price vs. righties

2015, Tigers: 24% strikeouts
2015, Blue Jays: 34%

He’s added a strikeout for every 10 opportunities, without any meaningful change in terms of walks. Price has become more unhittable, and however fleeting this might turn out to be, it’s something we can certainly observe now. Price has been in control of opposite-handed bats, and this is correlated with other adjustments.

It’s time to borrow from Brooks Baseball. Here’s a plot of average pitch velocities, by month, for 2015. Recall that Price was very conveniently traded to the Blue Jays between July and August.


There’s nothing there worth seeing, with either of the fastballs. The same goes for the changeup and the breaking ball. But it’s easy to observe the change with the cutter. In July, while still with the Tigers, Price did something to make his cutter harder, and once that happened, it followed that this would happen:


That’s a plot of pitch usage, and though it’s complicated what with all those colors and lines, the important bits stand out. Cutter usage has gone way up. Four-seam usage is trending down. Price has more confidence in his cutter now, after whatever tweak he made. So he’s throwing that at the expense of other pitches. While with the Tigers this year, Price’s cutter ranked fourth out of his five pitches in terms of strikeouts generated. With the Blue Jays, it ranks first, although this isn’t just a change he’s making with two strikes. Since the cutter is really for Price to use against righties, here’s a breakdown of his 2015 usage:

David Price, Cutters vs. Righties, 2015
Situation Tigers Blue Jays
Overall 11% 29%
First Pitch 9% 36%
Behind 8% 34%
Ahead 13% 22%
Even 11% 31%
Two Strikes 15% 29%
SOURCE: Brooks Baseball

Four times more cutters starting at-bats. Four times more cutters behind in the count. Almost double ahead in the count; about triple when even. Pretty recently, Price said that his best pitch is his changeup. He said the cutter was his best pitch in 2012. The changeup, without question, remains an excellent pitch, but if recent patterns are any indication, Price sees the cutter as closing the gap, if it hasn’t already closed. Though Price doesn’t call his own games, he and Russell Martin are always on the same page. Price throws what he wants to throw, and he’s throwing an awful lot of cutters now that he’s established it in the low 90s.

As one last little tweak, Price is even starting to work more often inside:


That’s a plot of average overall horizontal location, with more inside pitches in September. That goes for both lefties and righties, and this is somewhat tied to the cutter increase, since Price likes to use that pitch to back hitters off. If you wanted to oversimplify, you could say Price improved his cutter in July, so he started using it more in August, and now he’s really let it take off in September. Reality is always more complicated, but I doubt Price himself would disagree with you too strongly.

With a sharper cutter he’s throwing more often, Price is dominating righties, and he’s never had trouble with lefties. Beyond that, since getting dealt to Toronto, Price is among the league leaders in limiting quality contact, possibly because hitters are having to guess between his three fastball varieties and his changeup, to say nothing of the occasional curve. Few pitchers in baseball are better equipped to mix things up, and to make matters more frustrating, few pitchers in baseball possess superior command. So Price can blend this all with throwing more than two-thirds of his pitches for strikes, which puts the batter almost permanently on the defensive. It all seamlessly works together.

Price has actually pitched against the Yankees five times this year. The first time, the Yankees saw mostly four-seamers and changeups. The next two times, two-seamers and changeups. The last two times, two-seamers and cutters. The Yankees have seen the same pitcher five times, but then, he hasn’t been the same pitcher. So the benefit of familiarity is limited. You can’t fully understand a pitcher who’s busy changing the way that he works.

Price has made another change. It’s not his first. In time he’ll probably change this, too. And probably before hitters get used to it.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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8 years ago

“Though Price doesn’t call his own games”. He was shaking off Russell quite a bit in yesterday’s game, multiple times for one pitch when he was in that jam, does that not qualify as calling his own game?

Jihad Raya
8 years ago
Reply to  Brett

As a catcher, sometimes I have the pitcher shake off signs to mess with hitters and the pitch has already been called. The first sign will be the pitch and though he shakes off and I go through more I’ve already called the pitch