Boston Red Sox: David Price still worthy of being called an ace

Jul 17, 2016; Bronx, NY, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher David Price (24) pitches against the New York Yankees during the second inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 17, 2016; Bronx, NY, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher David Price (24) pitches against the New York Yankees during the second inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

Boston Red Sox fans seem to perceive David Price as a disappointment, yet he’s been producing like the top of the rotation arm we expected for months.

What are the traits that make a starting pitcher worthy of the “ace” title?

They have to be a workhorse that can go deep into games to save the bullpen from being overworked. David Price currently leads the American League with 177.2 innings, so he certainly checks that requirement. An ace should be a power arm that can dominate opposing lineups. Price is third in the league with 179 strikeouts, so he’s overpowered his fair share of hitters. To be considered among the elite, a pitcher must have a sparkling ERA that tells opposing teams how difficult a task it is to score runs against them.

Ah, so this is where we find the hesitation to call Price an ace. Fans expected the $217 million man to be among the league leaders in ERA after the Boston Red Sox signed him to a record contract, yet even after hurling 8 shutout innings against the Tampa Bay Rays Monday night, Price’s ERA stands at a still unimpressive 4.00 for the season.

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Price’s tenure with the Red Sox got off to a rocky start, as a brutal April left him with a 5.76 ERA. That number inflated to a season-high 6.75 after two horrendous starts to begin the month of May in which he coughed up 6 runs in each game against the New York Yankees.

The poor first impression that Price made in his first seven starts in a Red Sox uniform left a sour taste in our mouths, resulting in the ace moniker being stripped from him and replaced with the dreaded bust label. Despite a drastic turnaround, the perception among many fans is that Price has not lived up to expectations.

Those that have already made up their minds about Price may not have realized just how good he has been since that dreadful start. Since May 12, covering his last 20 starts, Price owns a 3.17 ERA. That’s a tick below his career mark and the 8th best ERA in the AL over that span. If ERA is your preferred method of evaluating a pitcher, Price has been the best starter on this Red Sox staff for over three months now.

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Despite his recent dominance, that 4.00 ERA – about a run higher than we expected – still sticks out like a sore thumb. It leads fans to believe that Price isn’t the same pitcher they thought we were getting, but a closer look at the numbers show that he’s still the same guy he’s always been on the mound.

Price’s 9.1 K/9 is tied for 6th in the league and stands above his 8.6 career rate, while his 2.0 BB/9 is also an improvement over his 2.3 career rate. This results in a 4.59 K/BB ratio that ranks 5th in the league, well above his career level and not significantly far off the 4.79 ratio he produced last year when he finished second in Cy Young voting. Price’s 1.1 HR/9 rate is a bit higher than usual, but that shouldn’t be unexpected considering most of his career has been spent pitching in more forgiving pitching environments in Tampa and Detroit.

The ERA may not be flattering, but the advanced stats show a much brighter outlook of Price’s season. His 3.45 FIP is a bit more appealing than his ERA and not far off of his 3.22 mark.

The main culprit behind Price’s inflated ERA may at least partially be influenced by bad luck. The veteran lefty isn’t giving up substantially more hits than usual, but teams that have done damage against him have managed to string hits together in bunches. Price is sporting a career-high .320 BABIP, the fourth highest mark in the league, which looks like a clear outlier compared to the rest of his career. Once his BABIP normalizes toward his career level then teams will find it much more difficult to score against him. We’re already seeing this trend in the right direction, as Price has allowed a BABIP south of .300 in four of his last five starts.

Since the turning point to Price’s season he has lasted at least six innings in 16 of his 20 starts. He has tossed eight innings on eight of those occasions. Sure, he’s had a couple of meltdowns during this stretch too, but what pitcher hasn’t?

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His overall numbers since the middle of May show Price has been one of the best pitchers in the league. While Price’s introduction to Red Sox Nation got off to a rough start, he has since settled down to become exactly what we expected him to be – the ace of this rotation.