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It didn't take long for the dominoes to start falling after Jordan Zimmermann signed with the Tigers, and one of the biggest dominoes was next in line, with David Price signing the richest pitching contract in history.

Before we get going, I wanted to mention that the historical mechanics grades come from the archives of Raising Aces articles or previous editions of the Starting Pitcher Guide. All of the grades are based on historical scores rather than a post-hoc analysis in the present day.

The Player: David Price

The Terms: Boston Red Sox for 7 years, $217 million

As if he hadn't spent enough of his career in the AL East, Price returns to play for his third club in the division, this time leading a Red Sox ballclub that has the talent on-hand for a quick turnaround and the financial means to patch the holes on the mound. Boston signed the lefty to the richest contract ever given to a pitcher (at least until Zack Greinke signs), shoring up the biggest weakness on the roster at an average cost of $31 million per annum through 2022. The Sox have locked in his age 30-to-36 seasons, but Price he can opt out after 2018, in case a 32-year old Price has maintained his worth while the market exploded – a best-case scenario for the Sawx, as it means that he was worth the $30 million that Price is owed for each of the next three three years.

Career Stats

The final snapshot of 2015 had David Price getting hit hard in the playoffs, losing the trust of his manager in the process. Granted, John Gibbons had been Price's manager for all of three months at that point, but the playoff struggles were nothing new to the southpaw, as Price has given up a 5.12 ERA in 63.3 career innings of postseason play with 11 homeruns allowed. His proclivity for the strike zone has left Price occasionally vulnerable to high-contact lineups (like that of the Royals), but Price has been able to continually develop his game over the years to present a new challenge for opposing hitters seemingly each time he takes the mound.

Left-handed batters haven't stood much of a chance against Price, with a career slash line of .220/.265/.312, and he has enjoyed pitching in Fenway, where he has a 1.95 ERA in 74.0 career innings (11 starts). He has also finished in the top two of the Cy Young voting three times in the last six years, including the second place finish of 2015, and the historical trends of free agency suggest that the Red Sox took advantage of a rare opportunity.

The Stuff

  • 2009

    2010

    2011

    2012

    2013

    2014

    2015

    FB Velocity

    94.0

    95.5

    95.7

    96.2

    94.5

    94.2

    94.8

    FB Frequency

    74.5%

    74.4%

    70.4%

    60.9%

    53.8%

    57.0%

    53.0%

    CUT Frequency

    *16.3%

    *5.0%

    9.4%

    15.9%

    18.0%

    14.5%

    16.2%

    CB Frequency

    3.9%

    15.6%

    9.1%

    11.1%

    11.3%

    8.8%

    8.1%

    CH Frequency

    5.3%

    5.0%

    11.0%

    12.1%

    16.8%

    19.8%

    22.8%

*He threw a slider in 2009-10, but converted to a cutter in 2011

The above chart lists the numbers from his past seven seasons, but it does not include his 14-inning cameo out of the bullpen in September 2008. The velocity spiked in Price's Cy Young-winning season of 2012, and though he suffered a stiff drop-off following that peak, he has maintained a pitch speed that qualifies as plus regardless of handedness (and gets an extra bump for his being a lefty). Back in 2009-10 he threw a slider, but he has taken off a bit of supination from that pitch to throw a 90-mph cutter instead. He began throwing the cutter with regularity in 2011 and over the past four seasons it has been his weapon of choice on one-sixth of the pitches that Price throws.

The lefty has morphed his arsenal along the way, and the most stark development has been with his changeup. The pitch has gone from after-thought to a premier platoon weapon, and in 2015 the change came into play against left-handers as well. Part of what makes Price so effective is his command of a four-pitch arsenal (five if you count the sinker) that he will mix with the same frequency regardless of count, rather than fall into a trap of early fastballs and late secondaries.

The Mechanics

Mechanics Report Card

  • 2012

    2013

    2014

    2015

    Balance

    60

    65

    60

    55

    Momentum

    60

    55

    55

    55

    Torque

    70

    65

    65

    65

    Posture

    60

    65

    65

    60

    Repetition

    65

    70

    70

    70

    Overall

    A

    A

    A

    A –

For an explanation on the grading system for pitching mechanics, please consult this pair of articles.

Try not to get too spoiled from these early reports on Price and Zimmermann; I only give out about 10 A's per year, and Zimm and Price have been two of those ten for the past several seasons. Price now pitches from the stretch all the time, simplifying his process to augment excellent repetition. He nestles into the set position whether pitching from the windup or the stretch, and his rhythm-altering technique has made life hell on opposing base stealers – only two runners even attempted to steal second against Price last season, and both were caught. His unpredictability also makes it tough for this evaluator to get a precise reading on the stopwatch when timing his stride, because it's difficult to anticipate when the front foot will lift off the ground.

His balance took a hit this last season due to a more pronounced lean-back during his stride, tilting his Z-plane balance toward second base. The lean-back has been present for a few years and was a bit exaggerated last season, but his mechanics have undergone year-to-year improvement for most of his career and I would not be surprised to see him regain previous levels of mechanical efficiency. For example, his posture still peaks at 65-grade when all is going right, but the presence of occasional 55's and the abundance of pitches with 60-grade spine-tilt lands him five points lower than in 2014.

Unlike yesterday's example of Jordan Zimmermann, Price lacks any mechanical precursors or scars to raise concern from an injury perspective. Elbow drag is not an issue, and a strained triceps from 2013 is the only wart on his injury record.

The Verdict: The Rich Get Richer

Signing any pitcher for seven years is a serious gamble, and that's before we tackle the $217 million that's on the line. That said, there was no other opportunity to make such a significant upgrade to a team's rotation, as Price has proven himself to sabrmetricians, to scouts and to mechanics tools like me. He was the best pitcher to be on the free market in quite some time, and though it will be nearly impossible for Price to live up to that contract, perhaps no team had a more pressing need to make such a major upgrade to the rotation. Papi is on his farewell tour, Pedroia is past his prime and the next wave of Sox are primed to take over Beantown. Price will be part of that renaissance, led by last year's free agent hauls of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval in addition to homegrown cogs such as Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts. The mound was a disaster that had to be addressed if the last-place club of last season was going to contend in 2016. It's a move that only a handful of teams can afford to make, but if the club can foot the bill on a $200 million free agent then the Red Sox made a strong choice.

Thank you for reading

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DetroitDale
12/04
$1 million per start. I'm old enough to remember when Jack Morris, in his Prime was branded a greedy SOB for wanting $1.8m / year. Price and Dombrowski.. maybe they can talk Jeff Jones out of retirement to help Little Ricky get his groove back. What's Next Yoennis? Torii Hunter as bench coach? Seriously, this team is gonna ride Price to the World Series, Dombrowski will show it to his old boss, while wearing it on his middle finger "Can't win with me, eh old man?"
bhacking
12/04
I was with you right up until "lead by last year's free agent hauls of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval..." 2015 WARP of -1.2 and -1.4 respectively. I'm not saying the Red Sox shouldn't be co-favourites for the AL east at this point, but I don't see those 2 leading the charge.
tombores99
12/04
Fair point. I'm trying to get in the head of the Red Sox FO, and at this point I don't think that they consider the $136 million owed to those two players to be a sunk cost just yet. Granted, I probably should have put the kids at the lead of that sentence, rather than the supplement.
oldbopper
12/05
I caught your tongue in cheek humor but I think the FO does fully realize that Cherington threatened the future of the franchise with these two signings and are terrified at the damage that has been done to the fan base. As a lifelong Sox fan, watching the Ramirez drama continue to play out has some strange type of eerie sensation to it. Sort of like knowing it is going to continue to be a disaster but not knowing exactly which way it will evolve. The chance that he can play an acceptable first base is slim and none, and slim was just seen taking the train out of town, and the only possible way to move him is to accept a Josh Hamilton deal and pay virtually all of his contract.
alfredeinstein
12/04
as far as the more pronounced z-plane tilt during his stride is concerned—when is that occurring? on certain pitches? later in games? no discernible pattern?
tombores99
12/04
He did it all the time in 2015, to varying degrees. It was present throughout the season, for the Tigers and the Jays, from April through October. It was more pronounced from the windup than the stretch, generally.
PitchingDoc
12/05
Love the paragraph on the change up - constantly trying to get my pitching students to know the value of that pitch. Now I can tell them it's a pitch that help get you $217 million! Where can I get an explanation for your mechanics grading? Thank you.
tombores99
12/05
Thanks! I agree that off-speed pitches are critical, whether going with the change or the split. I wrote a 2-part series a few years ago that went through each of the grades on the Report Card. The articles are linked in the italicized bit right after the report card in this article.