We thought it was just a phase, just a rough stretch. He was David Price after all, and he would be just fine. But they just didn’t stop. He had one horrible start and then another, and it wasn’t only the results, but his stuff. His fastball velocity was down significantly, dropping from 96.34 MPH to 94.07 MPH according to Brooks Baseball. He simply has not looked like the same player lately. What in the world is going on? To try to ascertain that, let’s take a look at the Pitch F/X data from Price comparing this season to last season. The data is from Brooks Baseball while the graph is of my own creation, and the comparison is quite interesting.
These two graphs comparing the movement on Price’s pitches look remarkably similar. His sinker and fastball have blended together more and his curveball looks clearly worse, but you have to do a double-take to see that they aren’t exactly the same. The key is even more similar–the fastball (and sinker) velocity is less as we know, but all the other pitches are about as close equal in terms of velocity as you can get. The way Price has used his pitches has also not changed much at all. Is the decreased fastball velocity along with some command struggles really to blame for all of Price’s struggles this season?
We always hear how important it is for pitchers to have a velocity difference between their fastballs and changeups. That is especially pertinent in this case. Price’s decreased fastball velocity isn’t just affecting his fastballs themselves, but really his entire repertoire. All of his pitches are losing effectiveness because suddenly the velocity gap between them and his fastball isn’t nearly as large, lessening Price’s margin for error quite a bit. Especially hung out to dry is his cutter, which differed by 6 MPH last season but only 4 MPH this year. Price’s cutter has still been an effective pitch for him for the most part, generating a good amount of swings-and-misses and groundballs, but it certainly stands out that hitters and hitting .345 in at-bats ending with his cutter this season compared to just .206 last year. On his changeup, closing the gap in the velocity difference has actually made it generate quite a few more whiffs, 17.9% of the times he has thrown it this year compared to 12.5% in 2012. However, he has also allowed a great deal more flyballs, watching his groundball to flyball ratio be halved from 1.80 to 1 to .9 to 1, and he has already allowed 2 home runs on it after allowing just 3 on his changeup all of last year. And then there has been his curveball, which has been downright terrible yet has actually seen an uptick in usage from last year, a terrible combination. The curveball’s duller movement is probably completely independent of the fastball, but it is his struggles with his fastball that has caused him to throw it more often when he really should not be.
There is no reason that David Price can’t be extremely successful with a 94 MPH fastball as opposed to 96 MPH. However, it isn’t just his fastball velocity that is causing him to struggle so mightily, but really the trickle-down affect that the lost velocity has had on all his other pitches. If Price is going to be successful, a good place to start would be throwing all his pitches 2 MPH softer to pair with the decrease on his fastball. Get the cutter down to 88 MPH, the changeup to 83 MPH, and the curveball down to 77 MPH and suddenly hitters will be kept off-balance on them just as much before if Price can hit his spots. Hopefully this is all a moot point and Price’s velocity will come back soon, but if it doesn’t, Price has to make an adjustment and it’s certainly something within his power to do.
Even amidst all his struggles, Price has struck out 8.1 batters per 9 innings while walking just 2.4, not too far off at all from his 8.7 and 2.5 marks from his Cy Youngseason last year. The major differences have been that he has allowed 10.1 hits per 9 and 1.6 home runs, well above the 7.4 and 0.7 values he managed in 2012. The dominance is still there as he’s striking out plenty of batters and walking very few, but hitters just haven’t been off-balance nearly as much and have been able to make better contact against him because not just Price’s fastball but his entire arsenal has been worse, in large part because their velocities have been too similar. When Price fixes that, his results should get right back to what we’re used to even if his fastball velocity doesn’t instantly return.