Boston Red Sox ace David Price has not lived up to expectations. Will his signing follow the same path as Barry Zito’s?
The Boston Red Sox signed David Price for the most obvious of reasons – he was the best pitcher available and to lengthen that he is simply one of the best in baseball. The 30-year old lefty is a Vanderbilt graduate and has already won a Cy Young Award and been a five-time All-Star.
The Red Sox made Price the highest paid pitcher in baseball with a $217 million contract which includes $30 million for this season, or slightly less than one-sixth the Red Sox total payroll. Certainly Ace money for an Ace who is now a mid-rotation or lower pitcher.
The latest effort was 5.1 innings against the New York Yankees in which Price allowed three runs on 11 hits. The Red Sox six-game losing streak was halted – isn’t an Ace supposed to stop losing streaks and not start them?
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The Price of 2016 is an enigma. Just when you envision a turn around, a bad game follows. Price does not offer up excuses and certainly has taken ownership in his performance, but all too often it seems a close game is lost when Price should be winning. A late game home run to a weak hitter in San Francisco or another one in Baltimore. Price is on a pace to eclipse his previous long ball high of 25.
Do the numbers lie?
Earned run average can be misleading in the new world of metrics, but 4.36 is still an aberration. Even a FIP of 3.40 does not give me any great solace – even the xFIP a bit lower at 3.27 provides little comfort. Price has a career high .328 BABIP and that gets negative attention – at least by me.
The good news is Price takes the ball and leads the American League with 20 starts, innings pitched (130) and strikeouts (141). His BB/9 is still reasonable at 1.9 compared to his career average of 2.2. However, the H/9 is now above one an inning at 9.1. The all-inclusive WAR is 2.7 or fourth in the AL. A mixed numbers bag.
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The numbers are reasonable if this was a pitcher one and all considered a non-ace – a Rick Porcello type that is certainly one in which you apparently have a slightly better chance of winning than losing. No matter how you frame it, cherry-pick numbers or look at W/L, this is not an ace. What this may be is a long-term fiscal nightmare.
I am of the school that most are in that Price is simply too good to fail – or is he? I see the beginnings of another similar disaster and with a pitcher of similar talent – Barry Zito. Take a quick look and remember – as I do – the Zito signing debate.
Zito, like Price, is a lefty and signed at the time the largest contract ever doled out to a pitcher – $126 million by the Giants. Zito also fast-tracked from college, won a Cy Young Award and took the ball consistently, but Zito had less than impressive numbers in his pitching history and his signing became quite a focal point in metric debates – quite similar to Felix Hernandez’s Cy Young Award year a few years in the future. That “numbers” debate was absent with the Price, sans his playoff performances.
The first half of 2007 was a bitter disappointment for the Giants, as Zito went 6-9 and posted a 4.90 ERA. The second half improved slightly, but the questions I had with Zito prior to his signing was his BB/9 and K/9 totals that clearly showed a finesse pitcher with a tendency to put too many batters on base with walks – opposite of Price in both BB/9 and K/9 categories.
Zito’s ERA in eight seasons with the A’s was 3.58 and his FIP 4.21. Price twice led in ERA and Zito only came close one season (2002) with a 2.75 – the only full-time season where he posted an ERA under 3.00
There was quite a discussion when Zito signed if his numbers warranted such a contract. Being one who was quick to adopt many of the metrics I was somewhat ostracized for even using rudimentary metric figures by many who were “old School” when it came to statistical analysis.
The negative views were clearly right as Zito’s Giants years made his contract one of the monumental failures, finishing seven seasons with a 63-80 record, 4.62 ERA, and 4.61 FIP. Thankfully the Red Sox choose to avoid Zito.
Zito was supposed to be an ace and didn’t deliver and neither has Price – yet. For the Giants, it was a ponderous contract, but the team did win two World Series during his tenure. And as far as Zito one can say he demonstrated Ace qualities in only one season – while Price has throughout his career.
I don’t look for history to repeat.