The Duality of Alleged Ace David Price

The Boston Red Sox broke the bank for their ace of the present and future this past offseason, but things have not gone as expected. The 30-year-old’s underlying numbers show that there is hope, however, not everyone is convinced. Brandon Magee puts the duality of alleged ace David Price on full display, demonstrating that the lefty is costing Boston in the standings.

He was ace-like against the Angels, suffering a no-decision in a tough luck loss. The meltdown in Seattle was partially the failure of the manager and could be considered an aberration. But the display against the Dodgers may be the leading indicator of a trend. In his first 24 starts in a Red Sox uniform, David Price has too often resembled the titular character in the Red Sox production of Doctor David and Mister Price.

Less than a week ago, I wrote an article that took John Farrell to task for his inaction as David Price fell completely apart in the eighth inning in Seattle. Detractors of the piece had a few common objections: Price was “cruising” – efficiently setting down the Mariners inning-after-inning. He had a low pitch count – less than 100, in seven tight innings of work. There was no way for Farrell to anticipate things going south for his “ace” southpaw so quickly: four hits in nine pitches – what could he do? Doesn’t the blame lie with the player, not the manager? It is this last point that resonates after another clunker from the erstwhile “ace” and fans are wondering what to do other than bemoan the maddening performances of the 31 million dollar man.

On Sunday night in Los Angeles, Price was staked to an early 2-0 lead, and got out of the gate much the same way he had in Seattle and in Anaheim during the 11-game road trip; quickly and easily. Price set down the side in order in the first and third, allowing a meek single and a walk in the second.

But in the fourth inning, the ill-wind that accompanies a Price meltdown floated into Dodger Stadium. Justin Turner served the lefty’s second pitch of the inning into the embrace of the adoring throng in left-center field. Two pitches later Adrian Gonzalez scorched a double into centerfield. Price then put down Enrique Hernandez on a swinging third strike after the light-hitting outfielder worked a full count. He proceeded to induce a groundball to shortstop by Josh Reddick that could have resulted in the second out of the inning – if not for the iron glove of Brock Holt. Gonzalez reached third safely and Reddick made it to first on the error. Yasmani Grandal walked – after another full count – to load the bases.

Rob Segedin – in his first major league game – blasted a laser beam to the deepest part of Chavez Ravine, bringing two of the three runners home. After intentionally walking pinch hitter Scott Van Slyke to reload the bases, Price finally escaped the fourth by inducing a grounder back to the mound which started the 1-2-3 double play. But, the damage was done. The Red Sox were down 3-2. Price needed 30 pitches to escape a disastrous fourth filled with an assortment of badly located pitches and one error.

Price was no better in the 5th. Another full-count walk, this time to the first batter of the inning, Corey Seager. After a forceout at second, Turner advanced to third on a hard single by Adrian Gonzalez placing runners on first and third. Price forced Enrique Hernandez to tap a grounder to short, taking Xander Bogaerts toward third base and making the shortstop throw back across his body to second baseman Dustin Pedroia – but the ball was too tall to garner an out. Price then retired Josh Reddick on a fly out before Grandal once again worked a walk, loading the bases for Segedin  who drove in two more with a single to right – putting the Dodgers ahead by four runs. Price finally escaped the fifth thanks to the generosity of Grandal, who ran into an out trying to advance to third base.

That would be all for the poorly pitching portsider. Bryce Brentz pinch hit for Price in the top of the sixth, leaving the final stat line on the night at: six runs allowed ( three earned) on six hits and five walks. Price’s ERA has risen to 4.34, as he took his fifth consecutive loss. The lefty currently leads the AL in two categories – hits allowed and batters faced.  

Consider the evidence that Doctor David and Mister Price exists:

April 5: In his Boston debut, Doctor David went three hitless innings – walking two in the second – while striking out six Cleveland Indians. But, in the fourth, he allowed a leadoff single to Francisco Lindor. After whiffing Mike Napoli, Mister Price gave up consecutive singles to Carlos Santana and Yan Gomes to score one run and then Marlon Byrd scorched line drive to left for a sacrifice fly.  Juan Uribe notched another single before Price would finally escape the frame with his eighth strikeout. Mister Price appeared only in that one frame however, and Doctor David would allow just a single in his final two innings of work.

May 1: Doctor David was able to put the Bombers down in the first two frames despite a double by Jacoby Ellsbury in the first and a single by Chase Headley in the second. However, Mister Price showed up in the third. A single by Ronald Torreyes and a sacrifice bunt set the stage for Ellsbury’s second double, scoring a run. A Brett Gardner ground out gave the lefty his second out, but he then grooved one to the retiring-later-this-week Alex Rodriguez, who deposited the ball into the centerfield bleachers. Doctor David allowed another single in a scoreless fourth before Mister Price returned for a bloody, three-run fifth. While he was able to strikeout Austin Romine to begin the frame, Ellsbury was hit by a pitch and Mister Price walked Brett Gardner, again setting the stage for A-Rod, who stroked a double to center, scoring two. The also soon-to-be-retiring Mark Teixeira followed with a line drive single that scored the Ancient Mariner/Ranger/Yankee. And, then, just as quickly as Mister Price had arrived, he exited. Doctor David set down eight straight before being replaced by Koji Uehara for the eighth. Somehow, Mister Price’s horror show against A-Rod and the Yankees still netted the “ace” his fourth victory of the season.

June 29: In his return to Tampa Bay, Mister Price showed up in the third. Logan Forsythe singled. Brad Miller singled. Evan Longoria doubled scoring Forsythe. Desmond Jennings hit a grounder off of Price resulting in a 1-4-3 RBI out before Brandon Guyer scorched a deep double to plate Longoria. Then, Doctor David struck out Nick Franklin to end the third, and followed up by striking out the side in the fourth, logging another 2 1/3 scoreless before being relieved by Heath Hembree in the 4-0 defeat.

July 17: While Doctor David gave up a hit in each of the first three innings, they were scoreless frames against the Bronx Bombers. And then once again Mister Price reared his ugly head. Chase Headley flied out, but a Didi Gregorius single and a Starlin Castro double scored the first run for the Yankees. He struckout Rob Refsnyder, but then yielded three consecutive singles to Austin Romine, Brett Gardner, and Jacoby Ellsbury, resulting in two more runs. Doctor David would retire six of the next seven batters before consecutive singles by Gardner and Ellsbury ended his night in the bottom of the sixth.

David Price has been one of the most consistent pitchers in the American League, leading the circuit with a 2.45 ERA last season in Detroit and Toronto. The 30-year-old cashed in with a seven-year contract averaging $31 million per season with the Red Sox. But, something has been missing for the besieged ballista in his first year with the Bostonians. While Price has been among the league leaders with two dozen starts and 155 2/3 innings, he is also pacing the pack with 163 hits given up – an average of over a hit per inning. But hits are not Price’s only issue, granting over two walks per nine innings and hitting seven batters, the most he’s plunked since nine in 2011 – his last losing season. Wins and losses are mostly useless in evaluating a pitcher – mostly. It is the performance that matters most, followed by consistency. Mister Price has shown up far too often in 2016.

Optimistic fans point to the fact that his FIP of 3.42 is a full run lower than his current ERA of 4.34 – generally an indicator that Price is pitching better than his standard stats portray. But, we constant observers know better. David Price is not any better than his ERA indicates. The excellent doctor with the devilish delivery fights a demon every time he comes to the mound. Sometimes Doctor David puts in a full night’s work and controls it for an entire game. But, too often, there is at least one inning where Mister Price makes outs difficult to come by.

Mister Price usually shows up around the fourth inning, but too often arrives without a warning. Three hits, four hits, sometimes even five come in quick succession before the good doctor comes back to his senses. But the damage has been done. Perhaps David Price can regain the duende that made him a consistent Cy Young candidate next season. But, for the rest of this season, the manager of the Boston nine needs to be better at spotting the emergence of Mister Price and be ready to remove him as quickly as possible – especially late in games where leads are turned into frightful flameouts.


Brandon Magee is our minor league expert; he has written about minor league travel, ranking prospects, a first round draft pick, and the MLB First-Year Player Draft.

Follow Brandon on Twitter @cuzittt.

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