On Opening Day, David Price did exactly what a major league ace is supposed to do when he doesn’t have his best stuff- go out to the mound and battle to keep his team in the game. Price went 6 innings allowing 2 runs on 7 hits, striking out 4 while walking 2. 68 of his 100 pitches were strikes. Just how off was Price’s repertoire and how did he manage to get by that? Let’s compare the Pitch F/X data from Price’s Opening Day start to his Pitch F/X data from last season, with all the data courtesy of Brooks Baseball but the graph being my own creation. Let’s see what we find.
The different colored lines on the graph represent the movement of Price’s pitches, and while the two graphs look very similar, a few differences quickly jump out. We see a red line appear on the right that wasn’t on the left and it takes a little while for us to find the gold line that basically looks exactly the same as red line, only finishing a little bit lower. That gold line looks quite a bit different from the gold line on the left and we see other differences with all the other pitches, with the biggest ones lying with the purple line and the green line, both of which finish a good deal farther to the left in the graph on the right. What does any of this mean? That’s where the key comes in. For the first thing we noticed, we find that there are six pitches on the right compared to just five on the right, with the added pitch being a slider. With that knowledge in mind, something quickly becomes clear: Price’s curveball and cutter were blending together in his Opening Day start. The movement for the “slider” was much closer to the curveball than the cutter, but the velocity with just a bit lower than the halfway point between the curveball and cutter and the result was that Price couldn’t locate his breaking pitches on any sort of consistent basis because he couldn’t predict the way they would move.
With his breaking ball all over the place, Price was force to rely on his sinker more than he’s usually comfortable doing, throwing it 59% of the time compared to his average of 48% in 2012. That was especially alarming because its average velocity was nearly 2 MPH slower than where he was last season, although he did hit 96 MPH a few times, and the lesser velocity combined with maybe some overthrowing led to much more horizontal movement towards right-handed hitters than Price usually gets, making Price tough on hitters but also making it difficult for him to command his fastball consistently. Price might have also been slinging his arm a little too much on his changeup, leading to an overabundance of horizontal movement that Price couldn’t always handle, most notably allowing the Matt Wieters home run on an errant changeup.
What was Price dealing with on Opening Day? An extremely inconsistent breaking ball, a fastball with less velocity that he still couldn’t command, and a changeup that was all over the place. To survive, Price gave up on trying to be fine with all of his pitches looking for strikeouts and instead attempted to use all the movement on his pitches, especially his fastball, to force weak contact, doing that quite well for the most part as he allowed 7 hits in his 6 innings but was able to keep the Orioles scoreless after the 1st inning. Fans at Tropicana Field didn’t see David Price at his bets on Opening Day. However, they saw Price doing his best to battle his way through struggles that would have made a lesser pitcher come apart and managing to deliver results exactly in line with what we expect from him.