Newly acquired Boston Red Sox ace David Price may be more well known for his outstanding fastball, but what effect did relying more on his other pitches have in 2015?
What a whirlwind of a week! The Boston Red Sox had, officially, the dubious honor of having the highest paid pitcher in history on their books for all of about half an hour, until the Arizona Diamondbacks (forgiven if you had no idea this team existed) reversed a dump truck of money over Zack Greinke. Two days later and the shock, of both the LA Dodgers losing Greinke, and it being Arizona of all teams getting him, are palpable. And that’s only the beginning.
The starting pitcher market is so wild this year that one Jeff Samardzija got snagged soon after by the San Francisco Giants as a “consolation for not signing Greinke.” In some alternate world where that might actually make any kind of sense, that should encourage any parent to have their child attempt to be a pitcher. A $90 million contract for the guy who gave up the most hits, runs and home runs in the entire league last year is breath-taking. I’m pretty sure I could give up even more hits, runs and home runs, who knows how much money they’d pay me?
So it seems all the more obvious that Boston made the smart move, in more ways than one, getting ahead of the market with David Price. As we learned from his official unveiling, via Tom Werner, Red Sox President of Baseball Ops Dave Dombrowski had Price in mind from day one of his tenure, literally. Now Boston can look forward to at least 3 years, if not 7, of one of the best pitchers in baseball. All for the now, suddenly reasonable looking, cost of $30 million per year and, perhaps more crucially, without having to surrender the all-important draft pick (as Arizona and San Francisco have done).
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Many may suggest that it’s still a bad deal for Boston, contrary to what we’ve discussed before. But even further to that, I want to examine in greater detail one particular element that sheds light on how professional Price is and gives hope that he can remain at a high level for the duration of his contract and stay in Fenway – his pitches other than his fastball.
Price is one of the smartest pitchers in baseball, he gets to know his opponents, his teammates and, of course, himself and his limitations. A fastball pitcher by trade, his main weapon of choice has always been the 2 or 4 seamer, sitting at 95 MPH or above with the best control in the Majors. His secondary pitches haven’t been so prominent, indeed they haven’t really needed to be, until 2015 that is. This year saw changes in mechanics and ultimately in usage of Price’s other pitches, but primarily his cutter and changeup.
The cutter is probably the biggest weapon of the two, indeed it’s so close to a fastball many consider it to not be a different pitch at all. According to Brooks Baseball though, with Price’s trade back to AL East in July, he was able to add enough velocity to get the cutter up to 90 MPH and, unsurprisingly, his usage doubled for the rest of the year. Owen Watson of Fangraphs summarized the change in Price’s cutter in 2015 as follows:
"“Price started throwing more cutters, throwing them harder, and locating them further inside to right-handed hitters toward the end of last season.”"
The changeup, on the other hand, has been steadily becoming Price’s favorite pitch for years. He has steadily started using it more every year he’s pitched in the Majors. His confidence in the pitch runs parallel to increases in velocity and horizontal movement, the latter shows that in 2015 his changeup dropped on average an inch more than the previous year. Price’s mechanics on his secondaries no doubt were helped by spending time training with former Vanderbilt colleague Sonny Gray, now ace for the Oakland A’s, who is one of the best groundball pitchers in baseball.
Either which way, it’s no surprise that the Red Sox saw something there for the future. Boston’s pitching analyst Brian Bannister allegedly worked tirelessly computing the longevity of the pitchers, given their stuff and adaptability, before any deal was done. Price’s adjustments certainly didn’t escape the notice of Red Sox manager John Farrell who questioned Price on the subject early on in the discussions. As The Boston Globe’s Alex Spier writes:
"“Farrell, a former big league pitcher and pitching coach, asked Price to talk about why he had altered his pitching repertoire from year to year, even after he had established himself as a force on the mound. Once a pitcher who relied almost exclusively on a fastball and slider, Price now draws on a mix of pitches including an excellent change-up.”"
The answer is obvious – Price knows that he needs to adapt to continue to dominate as the years build up, he’s just preparing early. His fastball speed was actually its highest since 2012, averaging 94.2 MPH, but its usage continued the trend and dropped down to some 53%, its lowest in his career. Worry not Red Sox Nation, as Price’s mid-season adjustments were successful for him and devastating for opponent batters. Price racked up an obscene K/9 of 10.38 following his trade into the AL East and adjustments made to changeup/cutter, a significant upgrade from the 8.28 he had managed previously.
What this all means is that Price is not only right now performing at the top of his game, he looks set to continue that for that foreseeable future. By establishing his secondaries and honing them to become deadly now, he can decrease usage of his fastball slowly which should maintain its high velocity longer and keep those delicious swings and misses a-flying. Similarly, should his heater lose a tick or two later on, well, he’s already got an otherwise dangerous arsenal that can pick up the slack.
While other pitchers, notably new Detroit Tigers pitcher Jordan Zimmermann, are experiencing declines on their peripherals, Price is only getting better. His adaptability, among his other plus points, will serve him and Boston well going forward and I can’t imagine him being anything other than the ace for the entire duration of his contract.
So maybe I won’t be signed by the Giants any time soon, though perhaps removing some vowels from my last name might help, but for Boston, at least, the offseason is turning out exactly how Dombrowski wanted. And who doesn’t want that?