Yes, it's still early, but should Price's velocity have you worried?

USA TODAY Sports

A drop in velocity has hampered Price throughout his first two starts

On a day where aces around baseball got battered and beaten (it was the first time in Major League history two reigning Cy Young winners allowed 8+ runs on the same day), David Price struggled mightily through five innings as the Rays were denied a sweep of the Indians in embarrassing fashion, losing 13-0.

The major takeaway from his performance was the second consecutive game that saw a dip in Price's velocity compared to the end of last season.

Below are the numbers from Price's last start of the season, on September 30, 2012, against the Chicago White Sox: [All stats courtesy of brooksbaseball.net]

Pitch Statistics
Pitch Type Avg Speed Max Speed Avg H-Break Avg V-Break Count Strikes / % Whiffs / % SNIPs / % Linear Weights
FF (FourSeam Fastball) 95.92 97.9 8.76 1.21 50 32 / 64.00% 3 / 6.00% 27 / 60.00% 0.4913
CH (Changeup) 86.70 88.57 8.55 -0.20 13 9 / 69.23% 2 / 15.38% 5 / 55.56% -1.3428
SL (Slider) 89.63 91.95 2.16 -1.10 18 14 / 77.78% 0 / 0.00% 10 / 71.43% 0.2565
CU (Curveball) 80.74 89.48 -3.51 -9.59 20 11 / 55.00% 1 / 5.00% 6 / 40.00% -1.0437
FC (Cutter) 94.97 97.3 3.86 0.81 5 5 / 100.00% 3 / 60.00% 4 / 100.00% -0.5386
FT (TwoSeam Fastball) 95.23 96.27 11.10 2.90 3 1 / 33.33% 0 / 0.00% 0 / 0.00% -0.1799

Across the board, the numbers are fairly healthy. There's a 9 MPH difference between his fastball and change-up, his slider is sitting just under 90 MPH, and his cutter clocks in just under 95. On top of that, the distribution of his pitches is excellent, throwing four different pitches at least 10 times, keeping hitters off balance. With great velocity working on both his slider and cutter, he was able to throw the two pitches for strikes on 19 of his 23 pitches.

Below is Price's pitch graph against the Orioles in the season opener.

Pitch Statistics
Pitch Type Avg Speed Max Speed Avg H-Break Avg V-Break Count Strikes / % Whiffs / % SNIPs / % Linear Weights
FF (FourSeam Fastball) 92.67 95.39 7.52 6.49 8 4 / 50.00% 0 / 0.00% 1 / 20.00% 0.2437
CH (Changeup) 86.50 87.64 13.41 6.22 10 6 / 60.00% 1 / 10.00% 5 / 55.56% 1.3728
SL (Slider) 84.68 88.55 3.30 1.53 4 4 / 100.00% 0 / 0.00% 2 / 100.00% -0.5423
CU (Curveball) 79.19 80.71 -0.29 -3.95 14 9 / 64.29% 2 / 14.29% 6 / 54.55% -0.0874
FC (Cutter) 90.94 92.63 5.10 5.54 5 5 / 100.00% 0 / 0.00% 4 / 100.00% 0.7568
FT (TwoSeam Fastball) 95.46 97.35 14.19 7.08 59 40 / 67.80% 4 / 6.78% 31 / 62.00%

-0.6914

While the two-seam velocity was consistent with last year's numbers, his four-seam has trended down to 7 MPH over the change. His slider (though only thrown 4 times), was in the mid 80's, way below where it was last season. Since his change-up velocity was basically the same, the lack of speed on his other pitches hurt the effectiveness of his change-up. This could be the reason why Price relied so much on his two-seam fastball, especially with his slider clocking in unusually slow.

Sunday's numbers aren't much prettier either:

Pitch Statistics
Pitch Type Avg Speed Max Speed Avg H-Break Avg V-Break Count Strikes / % Whiffs / % SNIPs / % Linear Weights
FF (FourSeam Fastball) 93.21 95.31 8.94 7.38 5 2 / 40.00% 0 / 0.00% 2 / 40.00% 0.0038
CH (Changeup) 86.11 89.65 12.09 5.62 17 13 / 76.47% 0 / 0.00% 5 / 55.56% -0.5066
SL (Slider) 88.36 89.31 4.60 4.42 5 3 / 60.00% 1 / 20.00% 3 / 60.00% -0.0361
CU (Curveball) 79.66 81.07 -0.97 -3.95 13 8 / 61.54% 2 / 15.38% 5 / 50.00% 1.7107
FC (Cutter) 89.94 90.65 4.32 5.84 7 4 / 57.14% 0 / 0.00% 3 / 50.00% 0.7424
FT (TwoSeam Fastball) 94.54 95.89 13.35 7.15 49 31 / 63.27% 2 / 4.08% 21 / 53.85% 2.6900

While the four-seam speed was slightly up, his two-seam speed was down a tick from Opening Day, and after hitting 97.35, he failed to reach 96 all day. On the bright side, the velocity on the slider was in the 88 MPH range, a major jump over opening day.

The drop in velocity can also be attributed to Price's low strikeout totals, where he's punched out only 7 batters through his first 11 innings (5.73 K/9), well below his career rate (8.3 K/9).

The key is not only velocity for velocity's sake, but also in relation to other pitches. When Johan Santana was the majors best pitcher, it was his devastating change-up that was the difference maker, but when his velocity on his fastball sagged, his change-up became less effective. Last season, there was about a 11 MPH difference between Price's fastball and change-up, and about a 5 MPH difference between his cutter and change-up. In his two starts this year, the difference between his fastball and his change-up are only about 7-9 MPH, with the difference between cutter and change-up closer to the 3-4 MPH range.

It should be noted that Price pitched well in spring training, striking out 20 batters in 17 innings, ending up with a 2.12 ERA. But Price's WHIP was 1.41, higher than any season he's recorded in his major league career. While he showed relatively good control (5:1 K:BB ratio), he was hit fairly hard, allowing 20 hits over that span, which accounts to over a hit an inning. He did allow only one homer, but when you factor in that he was facing minor leaguers in a lot of those appearances, his trouble with the long-ball so far this season isn't surprising. Essentially, Price survived on great strand-rate and strikeout rates, two things he has lacked so far this season.

For Price, slow starts aren't exactly uncommon. Last season, Price's two starts saw him last a combined 9.1 IP, with a 1-1 record, 4.82 ERA, and an 8:7 K/BB ratio, no numbers to write home about. Even Price's third start last year wasn't noteworthy, lasting 5.2 IP, allowing two runs while striking out three and walking two in a win over Toronto. Over Price's first eight starts, he only struck out more than six once (a May 4th masterpiece against Oakland), before fully righting the ship, and ending up with his first Cy Young.

In 2011, Price also opened up the season 1-1, with a 4.85 ERA, striking out 9 over 13 innings. Throughout April of that year, Price went 3-3 with a 3.95 ERA, a 1.27 WHIP, and 6.59 K/9, numbers Price improved on throughout the season.

For some pitchers, it takes a few starts to really start ratcheting up their velocity. But last season, Price's velocity on all his pitchers were nearly identical to those in his season finale. In the season opener, Price was in the 95-96 range with his two-seam and four-seam pitches, a hair under 88.5 with his slider, a change-up that settled at 86, a curveball just under 80, and a cutter at 92.

His second start of the season showed both his cutter clock in at just under 92 MPH, with his two-seam and four-seam pitches just under 97. In comparison, his change-up was at 86 MPH, and his curveball was just over 80. The key differences between his pitch speeds allows Price to challenge hitters, and keep them off balance.

In both starts, the difference between his fastball and change-up was about 10-11 MPH, and his cutter and change-up about 6 MPH. Those differences haven't been there so far this year.

To his credit, Price was optimistic after the game, tweeting:

Price's next scheduled start is this weekend against the Red Sox, most likely on Saturday, which gives him five days of rest. It will be important to see if he continues his improvement of his velocity on both his slider and fastball, and if he can re-capture some of the zip from his cutter.

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