The majority of the adulation the Rays rotation has received this season has gone in the direction of James Shields. That's all well deserved. He's having a masterful season. With all of the attention focused on Shields, however, I feel like what David Price is doing is being slightly overlooked.
On the surface, it doesn't look like Price is pitching as well as he did a year ago. His win total is down, and ERA is up. If he were going to arbitration after the season those numbers wouldn't be good for him. But, we all know that those aren't the only stats to look at when evaluating a pitcher. Let's take a closer look.
Price's run support has dropped from 6.0 runs a game to 4.1 this season, so that helps explain the decline in wins. His increase in ERA is slightly odd, as his FIP and xFIP are each below what they were last season when he nearly won the Cy Young Award. But a large part of that ERA change can be attributed to a wild fluctuation in his average against with runners in scoring position. That number has risen from .187 last year to .305 this season. Price has also given up home runs more often than last season, making me wonder if he has a slight version of James Shields' 2010 problem: leaving too many pitches out over the plate.
We know for a fact that Price is throwing more strikes than he did last season, and that's a main reason why I think he's actually pitched better overall this year. His K/9 and K% have each increased, while his BB/9 has dropped dramatically, going from 3.41 to 1.83. It's the lack of walks that has really been the most impressive thing about his season. Currently Price is fifth in baseball with a 4.72 K/BB ratio (up from 2.38) behind Roy Halladay, Dan Haren, Cliff Lee and Justin Verlander.
Since 1974, there have been 1,374 pitchers who have thrown 180+ in back to back seasons, which Price is on pace to do. Of those pitchers, only 31 have lowered their BB/9 by one and a half points between those two years. Also, only 31 of the 1,374 have increased their K/BB ratio by two or more points from season to season. Price is set to join those groups.
It's tough when media, especially the Rays' telecast, cites this season as not being as good as 2010. He's been unlucky in some areas which casts a negative light on his season, but he's drastically improved in areas that he has far more control over. As the season slips further and further away with each loss, and fans losing interest by the day, Price's season is going to get lost in the shuffle. And that's a shame, because it's been damn impressive to watch.