David Price is very good.
But he’s not that good.
Price has all the characteristics of someone who should be a legitimate, top of the rotation ace pitcher. A 6-feet-6-inch lefthander with a mid-90’s fastball, above-average command, and a $217 million contract.
He’s been an all-star and a Cy Young award winner.
But Thursday afternoon at Fenway, Price once again looked anything other than great. Despite being spotted a five-run lead, Price was tagged for seven runs on eight hits over 3 2/3 innings before exiting to chorus of boos from a disgruntled fan base. The clunker raised his $30 million ERA to 7.06.
This will certainly come off as an overreaction to one bad early-season outing, but not only does Price not look worth the contract, he barely looks like someone that can be seen as a staff anchor. And more importantly for this particular pitching staff, he doesn’t look like someone whose a sure bet to stop the bleeding every five days.
As someone whose watched closely ever since Price came out of the bullpen to dominate the Red Sox in the 2008 ALCS, I’ve never felt that the former Commodore was worth all the hype, except for maybe that one series.
His postseason failures have been well documented. In fourteen career playoff appearances, Price is 2-7 (one win in relief against Boston in 2008) with a 5.12 ERA. It’s always been the biggest knock against him, but it’s everything else about him that worries me.
Price’s money pitch has always been a plus-fastball with great tailing action, that makes it difficult for even right-handers to pick up. His value is that he’s equally good against righties and lefties. His fastball is that good.
But the rest of his stuff is not.
He features an above-average slider, a slurve, and a changeup that has improved over the course of his career. But none of those pitches, with the exception of perhaps his slider on good days, are put-away pitches. They’re just good, and sometimes very good. Not $217 million, “savior of the staff” good.
His command has a reputation for being very good. For his career, Price has a 1.132 WHIP (walks/hits per inning-pitched), which sits somewhere between above-average and elite. His career base-on-balls per 9 IP (2.312) is also well above average.
The problem lies in the ability to overcome days when you don’t have elite command. The truly elite pitchers can still find a way to have a great outing, even on days when they don’t have their best stuff working.
Price relies so much on his fastball command, because his secondary pitches are so ordinary. And if the command of his other pitches isn’t spot-on, hitters will sit on his fastball, and hammer him. I don’t care how good your fastball is, if big league hitters no you’re not comfortable commanding your off-speed pitches, they’ll just wait patiently until they get a fastball, and pound you.
Price also, and this is really just an eye test, gives up a lot of solid contact. To be fair, he also doesn’t give up a ton of contact, as he routinely posts some of the higher strikeout numbers in the game. But when he does get hit, he seems to get hit hard.
Numbers only tell part of the story. For every great set of statistics for a given player, you can likely find a grouping of numbers that are less than flattering.
But ask yourself this: When have you ever watched David Price, and thought you were legitimately watching one of the best pitchers in the game? If you have, it certainly didn’t come in the playoffs. Pitchers like Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, Noah Syndergaard, Max Scherzer, Zach Greinke, and Jose Fernandez just jump off the screen at you. Price is just kind of there.
Fenway can also be a difficult place for lefties to make a living. As a visitor, Price has faired well, going 6-2 with a 2.56 ERA. Though, its worth mentioning that the Red Sox haven’t exactly been the world’s greatest baseball team over the last five seasons. The one time they were, in 2013, Price surrendered seven runs on seven hits in Game 2 of the ALDS.
So far, his two outings at Fenway in a Boston uniform haven’t gone particularly well. He’s tossed 8 2/3’s innings and given up a staggering 13 runs, with both games played against division rivals. Those numbers will surely correct themselves as the season progresses, but the team needs him at his best against teams in the AL East.
Again, no one is doubting whether or not Price is a great pitcher. He is. But $200 million pitchers are a different animal, and it’s tough to argue that he belongs in the same company as Kershaw, baseball’s other $200 million-arm.
His biggest problem may be his age.
Price is 30-years-old, and will turn 31 before the end of the season. He’s not going to start throwing any harder as his career enters the homestretch. Pitchers that have sustained a high level of success well into their thirties typically have excellent command of above-average secondary pitches, a quality Price exhibits only sometimes.
He’s always been durable, which should bode well for the sustained velocity of his fastball. But it’s fair to assume that we’ve already seen the best of Price, which makes the projected value on the back end of his mega-deal especially unsettling.
To be clear, I’m happy Price is a member of the Red Sox. I’m just not ecstatic, and I’m definitely not excited about his contract.
I’ve never viewed Price as someone who teams should be emptying out their farm systems for, and I’ve certainly never viewed him as someone who should be the second-highest paid pitcher in the game.
He’s a fringe ace, that should be more appropriately viewed as the best number-two starter in baseball. For me, true staff aces posses a more dynamic set of secondary pitches, and a proven track record of being able to stomach life in the postseason, let alone playoff baseball in Boston.
Price is without-doubt the best starting pitcher on the team. And he’s still one of the better starters in the game, especially among lefthanders.
But with so much riding on the success of this season, the final of David Ortiz’s career, the Red Sox need David Price to be that good.
So far, he hasn’t been good at all.