After signing a massive seven-year, 217-million-dollar contract with the Red Sox this past offseason, David Price got off to a slow start. After his May 7th start against the Yankees in which he gave up six earned runs in just 4.2 innings, Price’s ERA stood at a whopping 6.75 yet his peripherals remained strong. He had a 2.98 FIP and 11.5 K/9. However, he was giving up hard contact over 41 percent of the time. The immediate fix was a mechanical issue noticed by Dustin Pedroia that was limiting Price’s leg lift and diminishing his velocity. Frustrated with his failures, Price vowed to be better.
And better he has been. After throwing a gem in Sunday’s win over the Mariners where he went eight innings allowing his only run on a solo shot by Franklin Gutierrez, Price lowered his season ERA to a still high 4.24 and had his eighth straight quality start. Over those eight starts, Price has been much better, allowing 16 runs over 58.1 innings for an ERA of 2.47. During this stretch, he has a 3.88 FIP and 8.6 K/9 and has only allowed hard contact around 27 percent of the time. Although his strikeouts have gone down and his FIP went up due to his decrease in strikeouts to go with an increase in home runs allowed, Price has limited the amount of hard contact he has given up. This can be seen in the BABIP over the two stretches. In his first seven starts, his BABIP against was around .370, while in this current eight-start stretch it is hovering around .230.
This in turn, has allowed him to be very successful while pitching to contact. His biggest issue remains his ability to keep the ball in the park. Over his last eight starts, Price has allowed at least one home run in seven of them. So while he has limited hard contact against him, the few mistakes that he makes each game are punished. Despite this increase in home runs allowed, he continues to pitch well and go deep into games, allowing the Red Sox bullpen a chance to recover after the consistently shaky starts from their 4th and 5th starters.
There are a few main reasons to this improvement. The first was his ability to regain his velocity. Looking at his velocity each month thanks to data from Brooks Baseball, there is a small but steady increase in his average four-seam and sinker velocity. Before May 8th, his velocity was low by his standards. Typically a pitcher averaging 94 to 95 MPH with his fastball, he had been sitting 93 MPH.
|2016, Before May 8th||93.2||93.0||84.3||78.8||88.8|
Although just a small dip in velocity, it made him much more hittable.
Since May 8th, his velocity has been back on the rise.
|2016, Since May 8th||94.2||93.4||85.0||78.3||89.0|
After the mechanical change, his four-seam has been averaging around 94 MPH and his sinker has been averaging around 93 MPH, but still slightly up from what it was before. Although it is a small increase, this added velocity has helped Price dominate hitters, gain confidence, and re-establish himself as an ace.
Another key factor in this improvement has been his pitch usage. Using pitch data from Brooks Baseball, I was able to look at Price’s pitch usage. In his first seven starts, Price relied on mixing different types of fastballs with his main offspeed pitch being a change-up while also displaying the occasional curve.
|2016, Before May 8th||27.6||22.6||19.8||6.6||23.4|
His four-seam was used around 28 percent of the time yet it lacked the movement displayed by his cutter and sinker. The high four-seam usage to go with decreased velocity spelled trouble for Price.
However, since May 8th, Price has made an adjustment displayed by the fact that he is now using his sinker as his primary pitch while also using his four-seam far less frequently.
|2016, Since May 8th||9.0||36.1||22.4||8.3||24.3|
His sinker is now used around 36 percent of the time compared to his four-seam being used around nine percent of the time. With this added movement and velocity, Price has been able to be more effective while keeping the use of his curve, cutter, and changeup around the same. This simple switch from a four-seam to a sinker has allowed him to go on a tear.
Looking forward, the Red Sox need Price to continue to be the pitcher that he has been over his last eight starts. They are paying him ace money and he is expected to pitch like one down the stretch as Boston hopes to continue their great turnaround year. If Price continues to have outings like these, the Sox should like their chances come October with him taking the mound with their season on the line.