Is David Price Actually Improving?

Casual fans who look at David Price’s stat-line this year definitely come away unimpressed. On the surface, his 4-6 record with a 3.97 ERA are sub-par for a pitcher of his caliber, especially one who has been pegged as an ace for his entire major league career. Along with the underwhelming initial stat-line, his average fastball velocity is still down from its apex at about 95-97 MPH to around 92-94 MPH. All of this looks like it spells disaster for both the Rays, who want to ship him out at the deadline for future cornerstone players, and for Price, who is a free agent after the 2015 season.

This table can show you the slight but meaningful decline in Price’s velocity since his Cy Young Award winning season in 2012:

Velocity (MPH)
Fastball    Sinker    Change    Curve    Cutter
2012    96.49       96.17        84.93      79.55     89.88
2013    94.51        94.47       84.72      80.32     89.15
2014    94.38       93.96       85.63      79.88     87.26

But if you delve deep into the world of statistics, it appears that David Price is arguably improving as a pitcher.

His K/9 is sitting at a career best 10.02 along with a career best BB/9 at 0.90. If you look a little deeper at the sabermetric stat-line Price is also performing at a career best FIP and xFIP, which are 2.97 and 2.66, respectively. These two stats portray how Price’s ERA is not indicative of his actual performance. Continuing this trend, his LOB% sits at below average 67.5%. High strikeout pitchers like Price usually have more control over their LOB%, so its very likely that Price will positively regress toward his career average of about 75%. It could even be better due to his increase of strikeouts and decrease in walks. He also is sporting a career high 12.3% HR/FB that is contributing to his inflated ERA.

And if you look even deeper into the statistical world, Price is changing how he pitches—-and its actually improving his performance from its already lofty level. The only problem is the surface stats are not catching up with his actual performance…… just yet. Here is a table that shows Price’s pitch usage over the past three years:

      Pitch Usage
Fastball    Sinker     Change    Curve    Cutter
2012    12.56%    48.39%    12.15%    10.85%    16.06%
2013    15.07%    39.43%    16.61%    11.02%    17.87%
2014    15.97%    40.45%    17.02%    10.93%    15.64%

 With the velocity decrease in mind, the data is portraying that Price has had to adapt as a pitcher in order to continue having success. His fastball and changeup usage has increased because he can no longer blow it by hitters with ease. Along with this:

 Whiff Percentage
Fastball   Sinker  Change  Curve   Cutter
2012     9.24        6.15       12.37      20.25    9.74
2013     9.83        4.49      17.38      6.73       6.29
2014     9.28        9.20      19.09     12.88    12.02

In 2014, Price is rocking better whiff rates than in his amazing Cy Young Award winning 2012 season. His whiff rates have increased across the board other than his curveball. This means that David Price has adjusted his game around his diminishing velocity and has adapted from a power pitcher to a smarter, more crafty pitcher that changes speeds and does not solely rely on velocity to put away hitters. These increased whiff rates are the reason that Price is sporting a career best K/9 ratio. He is throwing a career best 72.1% of pitches for strikes on the first pitch of an at-bat, which contributes to his career best BB/9.

Overall, a simple glance at Price’s stat-line would give the impression that he is declining. But after looking deeper at his actual performance this season, the underlying facts show that he is changing the way he pitches and could quite possibly be getting better. There are rumblings that scouts no longer view Price as an ace that can lead a team deep into the playoffs. From a scouting perspective that may appear to be true, but with the knowledge of these underlying statistics, I believe that Price is still the pitcher he always has been, if not better.

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9 years ago

It’s really quite crazy how Price’s ERA is that high yet the underlying stats show just how amazingly well he’s pitching. Great research and article. Enjoyed reading it.

9 years ago


And I’d actually be glad to see Price consistently throwing good pitches without hitting top velocity. This can only help his long-term durability.

9 years ago

In some aspects Price is pitching better but he’s also on pace to give up 30 Hrs. Barf.

A 97 mph fastball at the top of the zone used to be a foul ball, now a 94 mph fastball is a HR. Take it for what it’s worth.

9 years ago

.323 BABIP 68.0 % LOB 13.3 % HR/FB

These figures really tell the high level story since they often fluctuate about a mean and he’s on the wrong side of all 3 means. That’s why his xFIP comes in at 2.79. Leo, your piece supports this by telling the granular story. Nice work.

Any scout who reports that David Price is no longer an ace, isn’t doing his employer any favors.

Pablo Sanchez
9 years ago

All you do is name stats. Any monkey could do that

Art Johnson III
9 years ago

I agree with Pablo. This article didnt WOW me. Nothing special. Numbers Never Lie. Obvious stuff.

9 years ago

I wish I was more Sabermetrically savvy to enjoy this article. I enjoy watching DP pitch.