Red Sox: Has David Price figured out how to be a wily veteran?

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 05: David Price #24 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the second inning of a game against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park on August 5, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 05: David Price #24 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the second inning of a game against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park on August 5, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /

Since getting hammered by the Yankees on July 1, Red Sox starting pitcher David Price has gone on an excellent five game run. Has he turned a corner?

Boston Red Sox starter David Price has had an up and down season. His first two starts, both against the Tampa Rays, were excellent. But he struggled in four of his next five games giving up 21 ER over 23 innings. Then he put up nine straight good or better starts before getting rocked by the Yankees on July 1 for 8 ER over just 3.1 IP. To that point he had thrown 4.1 innings against the Bronx Bombers across two starts and given up a staggering 12 ER. And there was that missed start against them because of carpel tunnel syndrome in May.

So it wasn’t any surprise that Red Sox fans, hoping for a sweep of their division rival, were more than a little nervous about the thought of David Price taking the mound Sunday night. But the veteran rose to the challenge and threw six stellar innings. His final line was 6+ IP, 2 ER with 5 K and 3 BB. Of course, it would have been a clean six innings and one earned run if manager Alex Cora had pulled him after the sixth when he had 99 pitches thrown. He didn’t, and the results were a single and a walk before an error scored a run, which put a bow on his night. It was his fifth straight strong start.

Has he figured something out?

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Since the July 1 start against New York, he has a 2.84 ERA and has allowed just a 2.93 wOBA against. He is striking out 24.2% of batters faced in that span, with a 3.41 FIP. In his most recent start he threw 34 cutters, 27 sinkers and 11 fastballs. This is significant because on the season he has thrown the sinker more than the cutter to the tune of 33.87%. The cutter comes in as his second most used pitch at 28.61%. Does the usage on Sunday indicate a real change or was it just part of the random fluctuation most pitchers have from game to game based on how they feel in their bullpen warmups?

During his July 30 start against the Phillies, David Price threw 35 cutters to 23 sinkers. On July 20, facing the Tigers, the count was 31 to 27 in favor of the cutter. And July 12, versus the Blue Jays, saw a 24 to 27 mix. Finally, going back to July 7 against the Royals we can see a 27 to 47 mix in favor of the sinker. It appears that he started leaning more heavily on the cutter after his July 12 start. It’s possible this trend will reverse and we’ll go back to seeing the sinker as his primary weapon. But it’s also possible that Price has made a conscious and deliberate change to his approach. The results against the Yankees on Sunday are a promising indication that if this is an intentional adjustment, it’s a good one. Never mind the last three games combined where we’ve seen 3 ER over 20.1 IP.

It’s possible that David Price is tweaking his arsenal.

It’s probably more likely that this is just an upswing in the typical up and down that defines a David Price season at this point in his career. And if so, that’s okay. But one of the things that the best starters are able to do as they get older is to figure out how to continue to dominate with lesser stuff. And Price’s fastball velocity is at a career low 93.2 MPH average this season. Pitchers lose velocity as they age. It’s part of getting older. How they adjust to that diminished stuff is what separates the good pitchers with excellent peaks from the greats. If you are looking for a recent example of this phenomenon, check out Clayton Kershaw‘s velocity by year and pitch usage.

His fastball velocity in 2015 was 94.2 MPH on average. It has since declined to 91.61 MPH. As that velocity has declined, his usage of the pitch has also lessened. At the same time, his slider usage has risen to match that drop. Despite the lower velocity, Kershaw has managed to remain one of the most effective starters in the game. He currently boasts a 2.55 ERA with a 3.13 FIP and a 2.99 xFIP. His transition from hard throwing lefty to something more in the vein of a junk-baller has been incredibly smooth. Most such transitions aren’t. If David Price is in the midst of such a transition, it could bode well for the rest of his contract. It likely won’t allow him to return to being the ace he was signed to be, but something closer to a strong number two may be within reach.

Next. Takeaways from the Red Sox sweep of the Yankees.. dark

For now we’ll just have to sit back and watch his pitch mix to see if the trend continues. And even if it does, we’ll need to see if it remains effective. In the mean time, he finally showed up in a big game and that should give fans hope that he can do so in October as well. Did his success against the Yankees leave you less worried about the playoffs? Let us know in the comments!