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Don't Sleep on David Price

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It sure seems strange to be writing this. A year ago, David Price was on the cover of every pre-season baseball preview. The former #1 overall pick's triumphant pose following the 2008 ALCS was etched into history and people were projecting him as the 2009 staff ace. DRaysBay urged caution with the two-pitch lefthander, but when Price began the season in Durham, fans mercilessly were calling the Rays cheap. Then, David Price debuted and he pretty much struck out or walked every batter while struggling to make it into the fifth inning. Meanwhile Jeff Niemann emerged as a surprise rookie of the year candidate along with Brett Anderson of Oakland and Rick Porcello of Detroit. Very quietly, Price seemed to reinvent himself over the 2nd half of the season, both walking and striking out fewer hitters. However, his ratio was improving as was his ground ball percentage. Over the final two months of the season, price finished with a GB% north of 44%. He also began throwing his changeup, his missing third pitch, with more frequency and greater confidence. The change actually ended the season as his top-ranked pitch according to linear weights Runs Above Average per 100 pitches at .88. Below is a comparison of the Tale of Two Prices:

 

FIP

ERA

BB/9

K/9

BA

OBP

SLG

1st Half

5.31

4.70

6.3

9.6

0.241

0.360

0.429

2nd Half

4.37

4.27

2.5

5.9

0.241

0.296

0.380

 

They profile like entirely different pitchers. Let's see how 2nd half Price fared against the seasonal numbers of Anderson, Porcello, and Niemann: 

Age

FIP

xFIP

ERA

BB/9

K/9

BA

OBP

SLG

GB%

Rick Porcello

20

4.77

4.52

3.96

2.7

4.7

0.267

0.323

0.416

54.2%

Brett Anderson

21

3.69

3.8

4.06

2.3

7.7

0.265

0.312

0.399

50.9%

Jeff Niemann

26

4.07

4.74

3.94

2.9

6.2

0.266

0.33

0.399

40.5%

David Price

24

4.59

4.72

4.42

3.8

7.2

0.241

0.319

0.397

41.5%

Price 2nd half

24

4.37

N/A

4.27

2.5

5.9

0.241

0.296

0.380

N/A

 

The three-pitch Price measures up nicely with the rest of this crowd. Of course, other rookies may also have improved as the season progressed. There's a bias that favors Porcello and Anderson in that they pitch more frequently against weaker hitters. Below you will see the average BB and K%'s of the teams in each division:

 

BB%

K%

K/BB

AL East

9.76%

19.32%

1.98

AL Central

8.86%

19.68%

2.22

AL West

8.13%

19.95%

2.45

 

There is a 1.63% difference between in walks between the AL East and West. This does not even take into account some of the hitter friendly ballparks of the East. What if we were to look at how each pitcher fared vs. each division sorted by FIP (small sample size alert)?:

 

FIP

IP

K/9

BB/9

Niemann AL Central

3.13

54.4

7.11

1.49

Anderson AL Central

3.18

45.4

8.13

2.38

Price AL Central

3.27

29.3

9.22

3.69

Anderson AL West

3.66

70

7.07

2.19

Anderson AL East

4.18

51

7.94

2.29

Porcello Central

4.56

77.3

4.54

2.45

Niemann AL East

4.61

63.9

5.92

3.8

Niemann AL West

4.72

47.3

5.71

3.04

Price AL West

4.81

23.6

8.01

6.1

Price AL East

4.93

57.7

6.24

2.96

Porcello East

5.08

31.4

4.59

3.44

Porcello West

5.91

38.4

5.39

2.34

 

77 innings in the weak Central saved Porcello as his FIP was north of 5 against the rest of the American League. The sensational Anderson clearly comes out the best as he was the top dog against the East and West, and placed 2nd in the Central. One important caveat: Each pitcher faced each team a different amount of times.  Price was heavily penalized in the West with all 26.3 innings coming against Texas and Anaheim. Had he had the chance to face Seattle and/or Oakland, it is very likely he would have ranked higher.

I feel pretty comfortable projecting Price to rise to the top or at least alongside Anderson as the best pitcher in this crop. As he continues to gain confidence in his third offering and rediscover his prized slider, I would expect his K rate to improve again while maintaining a lower walk rate. Don't make the mistake of letting David Price be the forgotten man of the rotation.