Red Sox: David Price’s quality start overshadowed by control issues

Jun 3, 2017; Baltimore, MD, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher David Price (24) throws a pitch to a Baltimore Orioles batter in the second inning during a game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Patrick McDermott-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 3, 2017; Baltimore, MD, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher David Price (24) throws a pitch to a Baltimore Orioles batter in the second inning during a game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Patrick McDermott-USA TODAY Sports /

Boston Red Sox starter David Price took another promising step toward regaining his previous form, yet his control remains an issue.

By the time Andrew Benintendi smacked a single to deep right field in the bottom of the 12th inning for his first career walk-off hit we had nearly forgotten about the pitcher who started that night for the Boston Red Sox. That would be David Price, taking the mound for the fourth time following a delayed start to the season.

In fairness, with the clock creeping up on midnight it nearly was a new day by the time Xander Bogaerts crossed the plate representing the winning run. This came seemingly hours after Price departed after six inning of work.

While the lefty wouldn’t factor into the decision, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a factor in Boston ultimately prevailing. Price allowed three runs for his second quality start in his last three appearances. It’s a promising step in the right direction coming off a six-run shellacking in New York last week, although we’re still waiting to see the dominant David Price.

Despite some rather lackluster results, Price still has the mindset of an ace.

"“I expect to go out there and to dominate, to be honest. I don’t expect anything less,” Price told reporters after the game, via WEEI’s Rob Bradford. “It doesn’t matter how I feel or what’s going on, or whatever the circumstances may be. I expect  to dominate every fifth day. My mindset has not been altered with the injury or anything else. I expect to go out there and to dominate whoever I’m pitching against.”"

Retaining a positive mindset is encouraging, yet regardless of how Price feels there’s no doubting that he’s been far from dominant.

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I’m not even worried about his bloated 5.09 ERA. That’s the first thing critics will point to in the latest batch of complaints on how the $217 million man hasn’t lived up to his contract. Price’s ERA is inflated by that one poor outing in the Bronx. He’s allowed three runs or fewer in each of his other three starts. He’s not bleeding runs every time out, the high ERA is a small sample size mirage.

It’s not a dip in velocity either, which is often what we look for when a pitcher is struggling. Price’s most commonly used pitch, the two-seam fastball, is averaging 93.9 mph. That’s just over one mph faster than last year and a tick below his outstanding 2015 season.

The root of Price’s problems has been his control. Tuesday night he threw only 63 of his 103 pitches for strikes (61.2 percent). Through four starts he’s thrown 63.6 percent of his pitches for strikes, down from his career rate of 66.6 percent.

Issues with throwing strikes have dragged his strikeout rate down slightly to 8.22 K/9. That’s still very good but it’s Price’s lowest since 2010 and a significant drop from his peak. More concerning is his career-high 4.30 BB/9, nearly double his career rate. The result of his strikeout and walk rates both trending in the wrong direction is a 10.2 K/BB rate, his lowest since 2009.

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Price walked four batters over his six innings of work, his second straight outing issuing as many free passes. He walked 4+ batters only twice all of last season and hasn’t walked that many batters in consecutive starts since 2010.

Walks aren’t the only problem brought on by Price’s control issues. Failure to locate his pitches can result in leaking out over the plate too much just as easily as it can end up outside the zone for a ball. Price has allowed five home runs, including at least one in each of his four starts, for a career-high 1.96 HR/9 rate.

How concerned should we be about these results? Honestly, not very. Keep in mind that Price missed most of training camp and the better part of the first two months of the season. He built up his arm strength through conditioning programs before going on a brief minor league rehab but it’s not the same as keeping to a pitcher’s regular schedule entering the season.

Price has a long history of being an elite strikeout pitcher who limits walks and homers. What we’ve seen thus far is very uncharacteristic. Could it be a sign that the 31-year old is starting to decline? Perhaps, although considering his velocity hasn’t fallen off there’s little reason to believe he’ll fall apart so quickly.

He’s not all the way back to being an ace-caliber pitcher but Price is still making progress. Remember, he struggled early last season as well, only to bounce back with two consecutive months posting a sub-3.00 ERA over the summer and finish with a 3.58 ERA in the second half.

Next: Evaluating the defense of Bogaerts

Price is still trying to hone his location but it’s only been four starts. Give him time. Once he finds his control again he’ll be back to being the pitcher the Red Sox hoped for.