So far this season, the Tampa Bay Rays‘ David Price has found himself atop the leader board in a few different MLB categories. Seeing as he is the reigning AL Cy Young award winner, this shouldn’t come as a surprise to any baseball fans.
Unfortunately for David and Rays fans, these are not the categories you’d like to see yourself or favorite pitcher near the top in. In 7 starts this season, the 6’6 lefty has allowed the 4th most earned runs in the majors (31) and is tied for 7th in home runs allowed (8).
Just one-fifth of the way into the 2013 season, that is half the number of home runs he allowed in his entire 2012 campaign, when he finished with a career best ERA mark of 2.56 in 31 starts.
Interestingly enough, the issue doesn’t seem to be with Price’s control. With 40 strikeouts and 12 walks, he’s pretty much right on pace with his 2012 totals for strikeouts (205) and walks (59). Although there has been a fractional drop, his K/9 is still above 8.0 this season. His WHIP, however, which has been fairly static throughout his career at around 1.1, has ballooned to 1.48.
Seeing as Price uses all 5 of his pitches pretty regularly, I was curious to see if any frequencies – or velocity – had dropped this season as compared to last.
What I found was that Price is throwing his Four-Seam fastball with about the same frequency, but his velocity on that pitch had dropped almost full two MPH, from 96.5 to 94.6. And his Sinker, the pitch he relies on most (over 40%) had an even more significant drop, going from 96.2 to 93.9.
Since you can somewhat rule out control issues (on pace with 2012 totals) and strikeout % (no significant drop), the culprits seem to be both a drop in velocity and a raise in hits allowed per 9 innings. From 2010-12, Price never average more than 7.4 hits per 9 innings. The 2013 number – 10.9 – is cause for some concern.
Fortunately for David, it seems that he has been a victim of an unfortunate BABIP this year, since he currently sits at .351 and league average is roughly .290. Through some fault of his own, he has also done a poorer job stranding runners on base, as his LOB% is 64.5 this season.
Over the course of the season, that BABIP average should come back down closer to Earth, but will the decreased velocity allow opposing hitters to locate his pitches earlier?
It seems they aren’t having much a problem seeing the ball out of Price’s hand thus far, and the fact that 20% of the fly balls Price have allowed have left the park for home runs is something to keep an eye on.
(Stats from this article thanks to Baseball-Ref, Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs)