Before David Price went on the DL, fans throughout baseball had to wonder whether they were really seeing the same pitcher that won the AL Cy Young Award last season. Since he has come off the DL, you could ask the same question–but the reason would be the total opposite. We have never seen David Price this good. In his five starts since coming off the DL, Price is 4-1 with a 1.76 ERA, a 27-1 strikeout to walk ratio, and 3 complete games in 41 innings pitched. Price’s performance begs a multiplicity of questions: How is this happening? Will it last? And if it does last, does it mean that David Price has taken the next step as a pitcher?
If you look at the following table, you’ll see Pitcher A and Pitcher B and some their statistics. They could not be any more different.
Pitcher A is a power pitcher who allows too many home runs while Pitcher B doesn’t miss many bats and is susceptible to some hard contact but compensates by just throwing strike after strike. As you may have guessed, Pitcher A is pre-DL David Price and Pitcher B is post-DL David Price. What is happening? Simply put, Price is throwing pitch after pitch in the zone, and hitters simply can’t do anything with it the vast majority of the time. Price has thrown strikes 73% of the time, a mark in line with Cliff Lee‘s 71% mark on the season, and according to Minor League Central, his zone percentage has jumped from 54.4% to 62.6%. Price is just pounding the strike zone, and while that’s costing him in terms of his strikeouts and leaving him open to some home runs, it’s eliminating his walks entirely and forcing hitters to make plenty of weak contact. Price isn’t just throwing the ball down the middle but making plenty of pitcher’s pitches, and the results have been fantastic. Interestingly, Price is actually throwing fewer fastballs than before the injury according to Brooks Baseball, 49% to 55%, but he’s been able to keep hitters off-balance with an array of changeups, curveballs, and cutters all being located well down in the zone. As Price’s low strikeout rate hints at, Price isn’t missing many bats with any of his pitches and that’s a little concerning. But Price has done a masterful job throwing strikes and changing speeds, and even if he has not overpowered hitters, he has certainly left them feeling deranged.
Historically, Price has struck out a lot more batters than this, and he has certainly walked plenty more as well. You have to think Price will revert back to that soon. Either his fastball command will go like it did earlier in the season or he will get his feel back for his secondary pitches and start missing more bats again, and both are likely to happen. Once Price starts striking out and walking more batters, his newfound efficiency should wane and he’ll go back to being a consistent 7-inning pitcher and not a complete game threat every game. And at the end of the day, that’s probably fine.
It’s great to see David Price really learning how to be a pitcher and not a thrower. After watching these five games, you can even say that the transformation is complete. But do the Rays really want Price pitching to contact and depending on his defense and luck to succeed, not to mention precise command of his fastball? Price has to find the right balance between efficiency and power in order to be the pitcher the Rays know he can be. Price is pitching like a pitcher with much worse stuff, and the Rays want to see him returning to the pitcher he’s always been, the pitcher who won the AL Cy Young award last season. The league will adjust to this new Price, but Price certainly has the capability to adjust right back and keep his place among the best pitchers in baseball.