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Game 81 is long past, All-Star Week has come and gone, a handful of teams are admitting defeat with sell-offs this week, and pretty much every sample we look at feels like it's of sufficient size. We are deep into the season, which means that many deals that had fans starry-eyed in December are now leaving them wondering what went wrong in the summer.

Last offseason, the Red Sox' new GM Dave Dombrowski gave his club and its fans a legitimate boost in signing ace starter David Price to the largest pitching contract in baseball history— seven years, $217 million. For this, the Red Sox have collected 135 innings—third in the American League—but watched 68 earned runs score against him, fourth in the league. His 4.51 ERA is actually worse than the Boston starters' output last year—the disastrous collective performance that sunk the Red Sox to fifth place and inspired the calls for Price in the first place.

That’s certainly disconcerting to Red Sox fans, who assumed they were acquiring the same version of David Price that baseball fans—and Dombrowski, who had previously acquired him in Detroit—are so familiar with. They wanted the Price who was a four-time All-Star, the 2012 AL Cy Young winner, and the runner-up (with Detroit) for that prestigious award in 2014. Instead, they've got a lot of newspaper articles recently headlined "Another Disappointing Start…"

There’s generally a few standards thoughts that come to mind upon seeing a pitcher the caliber of Price show such a drastic decline from one season to the next, especially after signing with a new team. These immediate thoughts can range from:

1) “Did he switch leagues?” (No.)

2) “Has the environment in which he’s pitching drastically changed?” (Price has been even worse on the road.)

3) "Did he change pitching coaches?" (Yes, but Price has thrived under a variety of pitching coaches in his career, and Boston—with John Farrell in the manager's chair—has generally been seen as a good place for pitching tutelage.)

4) “Could dealing with jumping between three clubs in one calendar year be having an effect on him mentally?” (Possibly.)

None of these is a “Eureka!” game-changing reason for Price’s apparent “decline.” And, hey, look at that—we used quotation marks around the word decline. That's interesting.

When you dig into the nitty gritty of it—what we like to do at Baseball Prospectus—the decline isn’t as steep as it may look. That's what's so important about baseball statistics: They really need each other to crystallize what we know, to help us achieve a fuller look. No number is an island. Never fear, Red Sox fans, for the rest of the numbers are here.
























A few things have stayed the nearly same, such as Price’s strikeout rate and walk rate, so they can be ruled out as the culprits. cFIP showed Price regressing a tad, but nothing that should merit a jump in ERA of over two full runs.

But something that we all know as nearly second nature by now is that ERA needs context. A lot of context. We have that context!

In 2015, Price had peripherals nearly identical to his ERA across the board. His DRA was 2.50, and his ERA 2.45. His cFIP was 75, his ERA- 60. Life made sense. But in 2016, his ERA has risen to over a full run higher than his DRA or his FIP, and his cFIP (81) doesn't resemble his ERA- (102) in the slightest.

Let’s start with FIP. FIP is an exceptional tool for filtering out the plethora of noise that ERA leaves behind. But it’s still too simple. FIP only allows for events that are in a pitcher’s control — strikeouts, walks and home runs. But we know there are countless other events that are not a pitcher’s fault. If there weren't, ERA would work, and meatheads on the internet wouldn’t exist.

This is where DRA comes in, with the same idea of filtering out the noise that ERA leaves behind, but accounting for the other nuances in pitching that help us achieve the best understanding of a pitcher’s true performance currently possible—what is to be accounted for by said pitcher, and what is to be accounted for by his defense, his catcher, the temperature of his games, and so on. According to DRA, Price has been himself this season. With a career ERA of 3.21, and a 2016 DRA of 3.20, he’s been, arguably, everything the Red Sox could have hoped he would be.

Price’s major run scoring issue this season has been home runs, and it’s not because of Fenway Park. While the ballpark allows lots of offense generally, it's not a good park for home run hitters. It’s not as if Price is an extreme flyball pitcher who went from Petco Park to Great American Ballpark and, oh, shoot, there’s the answer.

Through just the first half of the season, Price has allowed 16 home runs, just one fewer that he had all of last season. His HR/FB rate has seen an increase of six percentage points, bringing it to 13.8 on the season, despite his overall flyball rate being down by nearly six percentage points (30.3 percent).

Price is aware of the issues he’s faced this season, telling the Boston media after his poor outing on Sunday that he hasn’t lost confidence in himself, he feels healthy, but that he’s “just not making good pitches, that’s what it boils down to.”

Price certainly seems fine healthwise, and isn’t seeing any sort of warning signs of impending injury on the horizon. His velocity may not be what it was in 2012, when his fastball topped out at 97 mph, but it has been steadily climbing this season and is now comparable to the 2014 version of Price. While his BABIP has spiked, as well, his batted ball data isn’t suspect, either. Price is inducing first-pitch swings at a higher clip than last year (12.9 percent), and his outside-the-zone swing rate is only down 1.7 percentage points.

There’s really nothing concerning here—except the results. Price is simply mislocating some of his pitches, and on a handful of extra pitches, the hitters he’s facing are making him pay.

“You can feel bad out there and still go out there and execute pitches and you’re going to get good results," Price said on Sunday. "It doesn’t matter how good you feel, if you don’t go out there and execute that’s when things happen.”

A year ago, Price was an ace. He'd been an ace for more of the almost-decade he's spent in baseball. He's either not an ace anymore or he still is, an ace going through an uncharacteristically bad season that tells us very little about his next start or his next season.

It's almost August, and the samples are supposed to be big enough now, but dig into the average player's stats and you start to realize that, in fact, it takes a lot longer than this for anything to get really clear. There’s a lot more baseball left to play in 2016, and Price has made it clear that he’s determined to show Boston that he’s still the guy he was just one year ago.

Thank you for reading

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As someone who has watched almost all of his starts, I can say that his major issue has been that he is leaving too many pitches out over the plate and hitters aren't missing it. It seems his command (or control? I always forget which is which) seems to abandon him at times. I think this is the major explanation for his babip and homer problems.
I don't have any research to prove this, but I watched a ton of Price in 2014 (he was my favorite pitcher to watch at the time) and he was a guy who works over the plate. (In fact, I just glanced at his Brooks page and he is throwing fewer pitches in the fattest part of the zone this year than he did in '14.) I can completely buy an argument that they just look more over the plate when they get hit. Also could buy the opposite argument!
Control is throwing strikes. Command is painting corners. Price still has control of his pitches but when his command slips, the ball go far.
The first question I want to ask when I see an apparent decline is, "is he hiding an injury?" Velocity and other indicators would seem to indicate that he is healthy.