David Price's Magical 2010, Part 2: The Mystical LOB%

In Part 1, we looked at David Price's extremely low homerun rate, and how it might possibly in part be a function of his electric fastball, in addition to luck. The one aspect we didn't inspect was Price's LOB%. It's generally accepted that a pitcher's LOB (left on base) percentage won't deviate too far from 70 to 75% in the long-run. League average is 72.1% right now, and Tim Lincecum's career mark is 75.1%, while Nick Blackburn's is 70.2%. Despite being as different pitchers as possible, neither has maintained a LOB rate too high or too low.

Right now, Price's LOB% of 78.0 is third in the AL. While we expect better pitchers to have higher LOB%s, Price is almost certainly not capable of keeping up such an insanely high LOB rate. That being said, his fastball is among the fastest in the AL. Logically, it would stand to reason that pitchers with good fastballs should be able to maintain higher LOB%s. Let a runner on? No problem, just dial it up to 98 and blow this hitter away when you need to. Consider, however, how the top 10 pitchers do at striking out hitters with runners on compared with how they do with the bases empty.


Bases Empty K% Men on Base K% Difference
Ubaldo Jimenez 23.5 23.8 0.3
Justin Verlander 24.7 21.3 -3.4
Josh Johnson 24.6 25.6 1
David Price 19.5 24.6 5.1
Edwin Jackson 21.6 17.7 -3.9
Felix Hernandez 24.9 21.1 -3.8
Clay Buchholz 18.5 14.6 -3.9
Francisco Liriano 25.9 23.6 -2.3
Mat Latos 26.7 24 -2.7
CC Sabathia 20.4 19.7 -0.7
Average 23.03 21.6 -1.43

Amazingly, we see that the opposite of what we would expect is taking place. While the results vary from individual to individual, 7 out of 10 pitchers do worse with runners on base than they do with the bases empty. While this might be in part sampling bias (when a pitcher's stuff isn't so good, he's more likely to let runners on, and also less likely to strike hitters out once that runner does get on), the fact is, Price is the clear outlier because he isdoing what intuition would suggest; his improvement of 5.1 in K% is the greatest of any of these fireballers above. Price specific analysis after the jump.

The simplest thing that Price does is something that is a gift of genetics more than anything else. By being a lefty, Price has a much better ability to hold runners close to 1st than normal people do. As a result, his 35% CS rate leads the Rays staff. While not a huge impact, this minor aspect certainly plays a part in Price's success.

Anecdotally, it certainly seems like Price dials it up when runners get on base. Statistical evidence seems to support this.


Bases Empty One Men on Base Multiple Men On
Average 4-Seamer Velocity 94.8 95.6 96

Price simply rears back and tosses once the guys get on. His velocity gradually increases the more men that get on base as well. AsMulva showed here, Price's fastballs get more whiffs the harder he throws them.

Another big part of the reason that Price's LOB% is so great is that his HR/9 drops from .75 to .59 with men on base. Is his increased fastball velocity responsible for his decreased home runs? Again statistical evidence seems to suggest so.

4-Seam Fastball Velocity HR/Swing
<93 9.1%
93-94 4.7%
94-95 2.0%
95-96 2.9%
96-97 1.0%
97+ 0.7%

Small sample size alert, but it certainly appears as though it's a lot harder for hitters to launch Price's heater when he actually heats it. When we look at his BABIP, however, we see a less heartwarming result. His BABIP is an unsustainably low .253 with runners on, a number that is almost certainly going to rise, and probably the largest factor in his high LOB rate. Pitchers simply don't maintain BABIPs like that, it just doesn't happen.

But while Price might not be able to hold onto a 78% LOB rate, he probably has a greater "clutch pitching" ability than most guys. Much of his success thus far with runners on appears to be from a sustainable source, in that with his fastball he is at least able to strike out hitters and give up fewer home runs when there's a runner on. For now, Price's mythical fastball might give him a mythical ability to diminish the inevitability of regression, and going forward, we might expect a LOB% closer to 74-75% than league average.

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