David Price’s Startling Improvements | The Process Report

David Price’s Startling Improvements

At this point, I can admit that it looks like I was wrong when I wrote this:

I think—and I may turn out to be wrong—that Price has already had the best individual season we will see between the pair with his 2010. There is nothing to be ashamed about if a 2.72 ERA over 208 2/3 innings pitched is the absolute max of your abilities and you have reached the apex by the age of 25. Hellickson, for reference, has been just about perfect as a starting pitcher thus far in his big league career and he has 37 1/3 innings with a 2.65 ERA. I doubt that continues over the next, say, 170 innings, for a plethora of reasons.

The American League East isn’t getting worse and the majority of the parks in the division are of the hitters variety. I believe only Roy Halladay and Pedro Martinez have been able to produce back-to-back sub-3 ERA seasons while in the division, so that speaks to the amount of talent it takes. And yeah, it takes some luck. It takes some defense, some bullpen support, a manager with foresight, and sometimes a friendly home scorer without integrity to post a sub-3 ERA in the East.

If David Price continues to pitch as he has through his first 14 starts, then he is going to push hard to finish with an earned run average below 3.00 in consecutive seasons. Price is accomplishing something so many set out to, but so few realize by lowering his walk rate, increasing his strikeout rate, and keeping his home run rate in check.

The walk rate reduction isn’t a drop in the pan either, this is an honest-to-goodness slashing, from 9.2 percent of batters faced to 3.9 percent. To put that into perspective, Price has 15 walks through 14 starts—he had 17 walks through seven starts last season and 18 walks through four starts in 2009. As for Price’s strikeout rate, it is up a full percent, from 21.8 percent to 22.8 percent. The only negatives to report are that Price’s home run rate has ascended from 1.7 percent of plate appearances to 2.3 percent, and that his earned run average is up from 2.72 to 3.51 in otherwise depressed offensive environment. Worry not about that ERA, though, as Price should stand to lower it—more on that in second.

Price’s revelation carries fringe benefits too. Exiting Saturday’s start, Price is averaging 109 pitches per appearance, which is an average of one more pitch per start than in 2010. One pitch is like one cent, you can’t do a lot with it, but you know what? Price is averaging seven innings per start instead of 6.7 innings. Through his first 14 starts he has 97 1/3 innings pitched, through his first 15 starts last season he had 99 2/3 innings pitched and 107 2/3 through 16 starts. Unless Price bombs out in his next start (and if he does, I will take full responsibility), he is going to surpass that total by a handful of innings, and should he pitch a complete game (and if he does, I will take full responsibility), he will come within a few outs of matching his 2010 pace through one fewer start.

So, say Price makes 31 starts again this season. Say he continues to average seven innings per outing. That would be 119 more innings, or 217 innings pitched on the season. The highest earned run total Price can allow while maintaining a sub-3 ERA through 217 innings pitched is 72 (72 is 2.99, 73 is 3.03). Price has allowed 38 to date, so he has 34 earned runs of wiggle room, meaning he has to have a 2.57 earned run average over his next 119 innings in order to secure that sub-3 ERA. Neither impossible or probable, but he has a chance at it—and that’s a higher likelihood than I gave him back then.

If there were a pitching version of the Triple Crown, I fancy it would include innings pitched, strikeouts, and earned run average. Price isn’t going to lead the league in all three—not this season, at least—but he is going to improve on two of those aspects, and the third should follow suit. He might not post sub-3 ERA in back-to-back years this time, but if he continues to develop, then it may happen in the future.

[Ed: Tommy covered the “why” on FanGraphs earlier this week.]

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