David Price’s Playoff Pitching

David Price is a soon to be free agent in a free agent class that is filled with talent. However, the ace hasn’t always had success in the playoffs. Ian York takes a look at David Price’s playoff pitching to see if is anything to his struggles.

David Price has been a pretty good pitcher for several years, and with an ERA+ of 161 during the 2015 regular season, he has been an excellent pitcher for most of this year. On the other hand, during this post-season, he has not had particularly good results, giving up 13 runs in 16 ⅔ innings.

Pitchers, even good ones, can have bad days, or wear down over the course of a season. Conversely, even good pitchers can be unlucky, and give up runs despite making good pitches. Are there any clues which of these might be most true for Price in the post-season?

Price throws three fastballs: In order of increasing movement, they are a four-seam (abbreviated “FF”), a two-seam sinker (“FT”), and a cut fastball (“FC”). He also throws a changeup (“CH”), and a curve that PITCHf/x calls a knuckle curve (“KC”).

 

As you can see, although the cutter is well separated from the other fastballs in terms of movement and velocity, the difference between the four- and two-seam fastballs is mostly arbitrary; PITCHf/x has decided that those with less than a specific amount of movement are four-seams, and those with more are two-seams. In reality, Price throws a continuum of fastballs with a similar velocity and varying amounts of horizontal and vertical movement.

Over the season, Price has gradually tended to throw more cutters, and after playing up his curve through June, he used it fairly lightly in the second half of the season. There is no obvious correlation between his pitch mix and his results, in terms of WHIP or earned-runs per inning pitched.  

In two of his three post-season games (the last three games, on the right), his pitch mix was similar to the regular season. In the October 12 game, he pitched in relief, and unsurprisingly his pitch usage for that game looks more like a reliever’s, relying more on the fastball/changeup combination than in his starts.

Even though his mix was similar in the post-season, his results were not. Are there any signs that his post-season pitches were worse than his regular-season versions? Here, we overlay his post-season pitches (in color) over the regular season clusters (in grey) to compare velocity and movement:

The post-season versions sit nicely on top of the regular season ones, in general. Some of his two-seams had less vertical movement in the post-season, but that is what you want from a sinker. His four-seam fastball may have slightly less horizontal movement in the post-season, but the difference is small.

In any case, it wasn’t his four-seam fastball that was the problem. Looking at the effectiveness of each pitch type, his two-seam fastball is the only pitch type that has had dramatically worse results in the post-season:

Meanwhile, his four-seam has been significantly more effective in the post-season, giving up fewer hits per 100 pitches than during the regular season.

It seems strange that these two very similar pitches — remember, these are distinguished based on an arbitrary cutoff — should have such different results, unless their different movements are leading to especially bad location of the two-seam during the playoffs. Here is how Price normally places his three different fastballs:

 

And here is where his post-season pitches have gone. We have colored each hit: Singles are blue, doubles green, home runs red:

While it’s true that his two-seams have been hit more and harder in the post-season, there is little sign that poor location has been the problem. His two-seams have generally stayed away from the center of the strike zone, and most of the pitches that have been hit seem to have had pretty good location. One was well outside the strike zone, and others were right on the edge of the zone. They aren’t perfect – the home run to the right-hander, and one of the doubles to the left-handers, are near the center of the zone. But it does seem several of those hits were on some decent pitches, location-wise.

Setting aside questions of deception (is he fooling batters with his fastballs, or can they read when one is coming?) and sequencing (is he combining his pitch types and location optimally?), it does seem possible that Price was unlucky in his post-season games. His velocity and movement seem unchanged, his location seems okay, and there isn’t any obvious reason for his two-seam fastball to have suddenly become much worse while his very similar four-seam has improved. Toronto fans had better hope that his luck changes quickly.

Ian York has written about Xander Bogaerts, Rich Hill, Joe Kelly’s approach in certain counts, the effect of better bullpens on offensive strategy, Rick Porcello’s resurgenceMatt Barnes’ first start, Mark BuehrleWade Davis, and Vic Carapazza’s strike zone.

Follow Ian on Twitter @iayork.

Check out Rick Rowand’s ALCS Game 6 preview.

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