Evaluating David Price’s Pitches

David Price entered 2016 with an enormous contract and similarly enormous expectations. After his superb 2015 (2.45 ERA, 164 ERA+, 2.78 FIP, 1.076 WHIP), his results for the Red Sox in 2016 were a distinct disappointment, as he posted a 3.99 ERA (114 ERA+), 3.60 FIP, and 1.204 WHIP. Although his results were better than the league average, at $30,000,000 per season the Red Sox, and their fans, expected considerably more.

After waiting nearly two months while rehabbing his elbow injury, Price will finally get his chance to rebound in 2017. The Red Sox have announced that Price will start Monday, May 29 against the Chicago White Sox. Red Sox fans are hoping that his two rocky starts (5 ⅔ innings, 9 runs, 6 earned runs, 12 hits, 2 walks, and 8 Ks) in AAA were merely tune-ups as he struggled with his command. There’s some reason to be optimistic in that regard as it has been reported that in his most recent start, he threw mostly fastballs in the first inning. Additionally, the velocity was present as he was throwing 92-96 mph; which is similar to where he was last year. The Red Sox are hopeful that his issues with commanding his fastball will be rectified in short order and he will return to his former Cy Young winning ways – providing the Red Sox with the three-headed monster at the top of their rotation that Boston fans dreamed about in December.  

What he throws: Price has a fairly standard repertoire: a two-seam fastball (“FT”), four-seam fastball (“FT”), cutter (“FC”), changeup (“CH”), and curve (“CU”). The distinction between his four-seam and two-seam fastballs is difficult and mostly arbitrary; the four-seam has somewhat less break than his more common two-seam fastball. (I have manually recategorized his pitches from PITCHf/x data here.) Although Price tended to rely on an overwhelming fastball in his early years, he no longer throws as hard as when he was younger, when he reached 98 mph or more fairly regularly. Now his fastballs average around 93.2 mph, although he can still dial it up to nearly 97 mph when he needs to. In 2014 and 2015, he switched his curve from a conventional grip to a knuckle curve for better control:

Pitch usage and trends: About 40 to 50% of Price’s pitches are two-seam fastballs, with his changeup and cutter making up most of the remainder. He mixes in his curve occasionally, with the four-seam fastball appearing more sporadically. He hardly changes his repertoire, regardless of batter handedness or count. Left-handed batters see somewhat fewer cutters and more fastballs, and when behind in the count, he tends to throws slightly more changeups than when he is ahead, but otherwise he is remarkably consistent:

Price was also quite consistent in his pitch usage over the course of the season. In the middle of the season, he reduced the use of his cutter slightly, but never gave up on it completely. He maintained his velocity well over the full season:

Pitch value. Price ended 2016 with an ERA that was slightly better than average. Unsurprisingly, each of his most common pitches (two-seam fastball, changeup, and cutter) were also just about league-average. His four-seam fastball was his most effective pitch, but it was also a rarely-seen pitch that may have gained value from its rareness, in contrast to the more common two-seam. His curve was not particularly effective, especially against left-handed batters, but again, this was not a pitch he used extensively:

Pitch location: Price tended to place his four-seam fastball on the outside, upper third of the strike zone to both right- and left-handed batters. His curve also tended to be outside and targeted the bottom third of the zone. His change, typically inside to left-handed batters and outside to righties, drew fewer balls than the typical changeup (26.7 balls per 100 pitches, compared to the average of 37.7):

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Featured image courtesy of the Associated Press.