Should the Tampa Bay Rays Be Concerned About David Price’s Velocity?

By Robbie Knopf

The results for David Price on Opening Day were extremely good. He went 7.1 innings allowing 2 runs on 6 hits, striking out 6 while walking 2. The numbers were vintage David Price. His stuff was not. The game marked the first time that Price threw a fastball under 90 MPH since April 24, 2012, and in fact, he threw two. Price’s average fastball velocity was 93.64, quite normal for him in the past year, but the variance in his velocity was as high as ever. 25 of his 66 fastballs were 92 MPH or lower, and 11 were 91 MPH or lower. Could it be a precursor to the type of injury problems he dealt with last season? The probability is no and that is not something we can be sure about anyway. One thing that is worth analyzing, though, is whether pitching at lower velocities affects Price’s ability to perform.

The highest percentage of Price’s fastballs were at 94 MPH compared to any other velocity (21 of 66), and when he threw it there, he dominated. 18 of his 21 pitches at 94 MPH were strikes and he generated three swings-and-misses while forcing five groundballs versus one flyball. When he went up to 95 MPH, however, he threw strikes just 4 of 8 times. Of course we are dealing with a one-game sample, but difficulty with control would be a valid reason for Price to throw his fastball more slowly. But as Price threw his fastball more slowly, his performance only got worse. At 93 MPH, he threw 9 of 12 strikes, forcing two whiffs and a 1-1 groundball to flyball ratio. Then at 92 MPH, everything began to fall apart. He did throw it for strikes 12 of 14 times and even forced two empty swings, but his groundball to flyball ratio slipped to just 1-3, including Erik Kratz‘s two-run home run. Then from 89-91 MPH, Price’s fastball was a strike only 7 of 11 times and he managed just one whiff. Presumably Price’s command did not get worse as his velocity slipped, but his margin for error certainly did and it cost him even in a great all-around game.

Just as bad of a sign was how Price’s velocity slipped as the game wore on. After topping 93 MPH in three of his first four innings of the game, his velocity dropped each of the next four frames. He was at 92.8 MPH in the 5th, then 92.0 MPH in the 6th, then 91.0 MPH in the 7th, then 90.6 in the 8th. There were times when Price showed the ability to reach back for more. After starting out the third inning at 93 to 94 MPH, he went up to 95 MPH with two on and two outs. But Price was able to do that less as the game progressed, and that is not a good sign.

Let’s not overreact–this was one game. Price will hope to continue building up arm strength, and the odds are that he will maintain his velocity better through games in his coming starts. But the bottom line with David Price is that if his fastball is staying more 91-93 MPH than 93-94 MPH, he can go from an ace dominating as expected to getting hit hard in a matter of moments. We have to continue monitoring David Price’s velocity in his coming starts, and if he is having issues like this a month from now–no matter what his ERA is–then we will know that something is actually wrong.