Game 20 Preview: Are David Price’s Velocity Struggles A Reason for Concern?

By Robbie Knopf

Thus far in 2012, David Price has not lived up to expectations. He has gone just 0-1 with a 6.26 ERA in his first 4 starts, and not only that, the Rays have lost all four of his starts. The four straight starts to begin the season without a team win is tied for the longest in Price’s career and has already doubled his previous career-most of 2 to begin a year. And the issues have stretched beyond just his performance. Joe Maddon was sure that Price would be fine, but did acknowledge that his fastball velocity has been down.

"“I have no concerns about David whatsoever,” Maddon said. “He’s going to get extremely hot and just role with it. That’s just the way it’s going to be. He has not pitched at the top of his game yet. The velocity has been down just a click, but there’s been other good things.”"

Price has not pitched as badly as his ERA would indicate–his strikeout to walk ratio is a rock-solid 21-7 in 23 innings pitched–but his velocity is down? That’s a terrible sign! Maddon and Price both said that Price’s velocity is usually down early in the season, but especially given Price’s struggles, is there serious reason for concern?

According to Brooks Baseball, Price’s career fastball velocity is 95.46 MPH on his four-seam fastball and 95.07 MPH overall. Averaging those together based on how Price has used them, Price’s career fastball velocity is 95.26 MPH. In April, his four-seamer has been at 95.60 MPH while his sinker has been at only 94.29 MPH, and the overall average is 94.79 MPH. Based on the difference in Price’s velocity from month to month for his career, we can be 99.9% confident that his true velocity in April is less than his velocity the rest of the year. This year, though, his velocity is even lower, coming in at 94.55 MPH, not significantly lower than his career velocity in April, but still a noticeable difference. What’s going on? The reason is simple: Price is throwing more two-seamers than ever before.

For his career in April, Price has thrown 39% of his pitches for sinkers at 94.29 MPH and 24% of his pitches for fastballs at 95.6 MPH. So far in 2013, Price has thrown 44% of his pitches for sinkers at 94.46 MPH and 9% for fastballs at 95.00 MPH. What’s really happening is that Price has changed his approach as a pitcher. He’s throwing more sinkers than ever and his sinker has always been not as hard as his four-seamer. And in general, Price is doing more pitching can throwing, throwing more breaking pitches and giving hitters a lot more to think about. His velocity may be down a little bit, but a decent part of that is by design as he has added more movement to his fastball. And this isn’t a Wade Davis situation from 2011 since 94-95 MPH is still plenty hard.

Not convinced that Price can still bring it when necessary? On 3-2 pitches, Price has thrown two four-seamers averaging 97.12 MPH and eight sinkers averaging 95.19 MPH. When he has reared back, he can still throw extremely hard. Why has Price struggled? Not velocity, but simply command. Once Price gets back in sync in that regard, he’ll be just as good as ever and maybe even better with more trust in his secondary pitches to go along with his still overbearing fastball.