Published On: Fri, Apr 6th, 2018

David Price is reinventing himself, and it's working

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As he attempted this spring to quash any lingering concern over his left elbow, David Price made the kind of bold statement, hedged as it was, that had considerable potential to backfire given his already tense relationship with both the media and baseball fans in Boston.

“I feel good right now,” Price told reporters, including Rob Bradford of, in early March. “I think I’m ready to have my best year.”

So far, even the most call-in-to-a-Boston-sports-radio-show type would have to agree that the dude is delivering.

Through two starts, both of them coming against the punchless Tampa Bay Rays, Price doesn’t have an ERA, having allowed just 10 baserunners – seven hits, only one of which went for extra bases, and three walks – over 14 scoreless innings. On Thursday, in the first game at Fenway Park this season, Price became the first Red Sox pitcher since 1949 to open his campaign with two straight starts of seven-plus shutout innings. As he walked off the mound, having expended just 91 pitches to record 21 outs, the former American League Cy Young award winner received a standing ovation.

“It was huge,” Price said of the ovation, per Steve Buckley of the Boston Herald. “To go out there and get 21 outs and give up no runs … I didn’t want to tip my cap, because that would kind of take myself out of the game, I feel like.”

Price, it should be noted, was still good last year, compromised as he was – in 11 starts, he managed a 3.82 ERA and averaged almost a strikeout per inning – but his outsized success this year warrants further investigation, and it very much looks like he’s approaching his craft differently. Now, it seems, as Price veers toward his mid-30s, fresh off an elbow injury, the five-time All-Star is re-inventing himself, and while the Rays are perhaps the furthest thing from an offensive juggernaut, it’s working.

Across his first two turns through the rotation in 2018, Price’s reliance on his cutter has been unprecedented, with the offering accounting for 35.3 percent of the pitches he’s thrown so far. Price’s cutter usage has been steadily increasing over the past few years, likely in response to his slowly waning velocity, but it’s now his go-to pitch for the first time ever.

Gone are the days when Price could reach back and blow a hitter away with velocity – his four-seamer has topped out at 94.5 mph this year – but his arsenal of distinct fastballs has always made him difficult to barrel up, and Price is embracing that more than ever, from the looks of it. (He really got into frustrating hitters with divergent fastballs in September, when he was bumped to the bullpen following an eight-week stint on the disabled list due to renewed elbow trouble and all but ditched his four-seamer.)

As a bullpen mercenary, Price was sublime, holding his opponents to a scant eight hits over 15 2/3 scoreless relief innings down the stretch and into the postseason, and the results have been just as staggering this year. (As you’ll infer from that first table, he has since reincorporated the four-seamer into his repertoire.) His strikeouts are down significantly (20.0 percent), but Price has also managed a notable jump in both his soft-contact (21.6 percent) and infield pop-up (15.0 percent) rates, and his efficiency is straight-up bananas: Price is averaging just 3.34 pitches per plate appearances right now, the lowest mark of his career by far. In other words, he’s no longer missing bats, but Price is consistently inducing weak contact early in counts.

To reiterate, though, the cutter has been central to his early-season success, not only because it sets up his other fastballs that much better, but also because it’s damn hard to square up. Against the cutter, Price’s opponents are hitting .059 – as you’ll see in the chart below, even when it’s in the middle of the plate, hitters aren’t driving it – with an expected weighted on-base average (derived from exit velocity and launch angle) of just .153. As a group, pitchers managed a .148 wOBA at the plate last year. Price’s cutter is essentially turning hitters into pitchers.

Just for fun, let’s see how it compares to his other fastballs:

Pitch Usage AVG ISO xWOBA Exit velocity (MPH)
Cutter 35.33% .059 .000 .153 83.7
Two-seam 32.93% .188 .063 .277 85.7
Four-seam 11.98% .667 .000 .525 97.7

Impressive right? Makes you wonder why he didn’t use it more in years past, right? Well, in years past, Price could do this:

It goes without saying, of course, that regression is coming. Price’s batting average on balls in play, a measly .189, will soon start gravitating toward league average. He won’t make it through an entire season with zero percent of his baserunners coming around to score, either, and one of his (increasingly abundant) fly balls will eventually sneak over the Green Monster. But after two frustrating seasons in Boston, the early returns of Price’s new approach have to be tremendously encouraging not only for the veteran left-hander himself, but for a Red Sox team tasked with defending its division title against the increasingly formidable New York Yankees.

And while he’s not the pitcher he was in his mid-20s, Price is still on his way to a damn fine season. His best in a Red Sox uniform, for sure.

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