Searching For The Cause Of Price's Struggles

What is wrong with David Price - Dustin Bradford

Why is David Price struggling?

This has been an extremely frustrating season for Rays' fans. With the team's mediocre play, there are plenty of culprits deserving a share of the blame. Yunel Escobar is hitting for a mere 43 wRC+, Jeremy Hellickson lost his command, and the bullpen is an absolute train wreck. However, the biggest disappointment has to be David Price, who has degenerated from a Cy Young winner to a replacement level type pitcher. Why has Price been so bad?

To find out why David Price is doing poorly, we must first establish what aspects of pitching he is struggling with. Unfortunately, this is not as easy as it seems. While David Price's ERA is 6.25, his FIP is 4.43 and his xFIP is 3.36. Is Price just getting unlucky? After all, his strikeout rate is only slightly down, his walk rate is the lowest of his career, his BABIP is .351, and his HR/FB% is 20.5%. If someone was only looking at the stat line, they might be inclined to suggest that David Price has just been unlucky. A deeper examination reveals a similar trend, with almost every process oriented stat falling in line with Price's career numbers. The following chart illustrates this point.

Stat 2013 2012 Career
ERA 6.25 2.56 3.32
FIP 4.43 3.05 3.53
xFIP 3.36 3.12 3.58
SIERA 3.47 3.16 3.61
BABIP .351 .285 .280
HR/FB% 20.5% 10.5% 9.7%
LOB% 64.5% 81.1% 75.2%
GB% 52.2% 53.1% 46.4%
FB% 28.3% 27.0% 35.1%
LD% 19.6% 19.9% 18.5%
K% 20.8% 24.5% 22.4%
BB% 6.3% 7.1% 7.9%
O-Swing% 29.1% 27.1% 28.5%
Z-Swing% 63.4% 63.7% 64.7%
Swing% 44.9% 44.0% 45.6%
O-Contact% 69.4% 68.1% 70.3%
Z-Contact% 88.0% 87.1% 85.9%
Contact% 81.5% 80.8% 80.8%
Zone% 46.2% 46.2% 47.3%
SwStr% 8.2% 8.3% 8.6%

All stats courtesy of fangraphs.com.

As the table reveals, Price is pitching surprisingly similar to his Cy Young season in every category besides BABIP, HR/FB%, and LOB%, which are three stats often associated with luck.

Last year, David Price averaged 96.23 mph on his sinker, his primary fastball. This season, the velocity has dipped to 93.93 mph. Many have suggested that this is the root cause of David Price's ineffectiveness. While I initially believed this theory was true, the pitch's statistics tell a different story.

Stat 2013 2012 Career
Swing% 40.25% 43.30% 45.15%
Whiff% 6.19% 6.39% 7.79%
BIP% 18.58% 17.86% 18.87%
Foul/Swing% 40.00% 44.72% 41.74%
Whiff/Swing% 15.38% 14.76% 17.25%
GB/BIP% 63.33% 53.68% 47.93%
FB/BIP% 8.33% 21.75% 27.78%
LD/BIP% 25.00% 17.89% 18.30%
BABIP .375 .327 .305
TAv .284 .263 .264

Once again, most of the numbers are remarkably consistent with those of his 2012 season.

The original intent of this article was to identify exactly what Price was doing wrong. But after looking into his season, it would be dishonest of me to claim that I know why Price is struggling. In fact, I doubt anyone really knows why. His velocity is down and his BABIP, HR/FB%, and LOB% are all very bad. While this will not be a popular conclusion, the velocity and the three stats above are the absolute only difference between Price right now and the Cy Young version of Price we saw last year. That is not to imply that this is all bad luck; it might be, or it might not be. However, the only thing I know for certain is that there is no convincing evidence that Price is broken or will not rebound. We can speculate about the velocity's effect, his attitude, or even his mental fortitude, but the matter of the fact is that Price's struggles are very difficult to understand or explain.

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