Losing The Advantage
During today’s broadcast, SunSports showed the following graphic with the opponents’ batting average against David Price in specific counts:
That first number does not seem accurate as the data we have shows us that opponents are hitting .229 against him after 0-2 counts (16 for 70), and are now hitting .282 against him after 1-2 counts (22 for 78). Needless to say, neither split is a desirable one for him.
The table below shows how Price’s numbers in the split compared to the league average for all qualified starting pitchers:
Now, those same numbers against his career average as a starting pitcher from 2009 to 2013:
|2014 After 0-2||0.229||0.417||20||54||39||37||27|
|2009 to 2013||0.173||0.310||21||38||39||36||15|
|2014 After 1-2||0.282||0.564||28||49||39||29||18|
|2009 to 2013||0.164||0.281||20||44||40||40||17|
The percentage of pitches being put into play by the opposition is no different than it has been for him historically, but the recent percentage of those batted balls in play become hits has skyrocketed. Price’s batting average on balls in play after 1-2 counts is nearly double the league average. After those 1-2 counts, only Miami’s Nate Eovaldi has a higher opponents’ batting average at .323 but Price’s .564 BABIP is 99 points higher than Eovaldi’s or any other qualified starting pitcher.
After Price gets into a 1-2 count, batters swing and miss at a higher rate of his pitches than the league average and gets called strikes better than the league average. Batters put a lower percentage of his pitches into play than the league average, but batters chase Price’s pitches well below the league average.The reason for this is most of what they see is hard stuff, and most of it is located within in the strike zone.
Over the previous five seasons, Price threw fastballs and cutters 68 percent of the time after the count got to 1-2, 25 percent breaking balls (curves/sliders), and seven percent changeups. The old version of Price would get more batters to chase pitches out of the strike zone even though he would get fewer swings and misses. The 2014 version of Price allows hitters to know something hard is coming and he throws those pitches in the zone above the league average. He still has plenty of velocity to put pitches by batters, but when they guess right, Price has supplied most of the fuel for a base hit allowing for too many well-hit balls. The same sins are being committed in 0-2 counts as Price has historically thrown hard stuff 70 percent of the time after 0-2 counts, but has done so 83 percent of the time this season.
The league-wide average for well-hit balls after 0-2 counts is .084, while after 1-2 counts, it is .093. For Price, both of his well-hit averages in each split are well above the league-average.
Certainly, pitch selection is somewhat at fault here. Joe Maddon is big on pitchers establishing their fastballs and working off their fastballs and attacking the strike zone. We have seen Price take this approach and get primal on batters and be successful, as was the case two starts ago when dominated Seattle or the times when he’s neutralized the tough Toronto lineups. However, pitching is as much about pitch execution as it pitch selection, and if Price fails to execute his pitches properly, it gives batters a chance to be successful. The backdoor cutter that misses the backdoor or the inside fastball that leaks back out over the outer half to the barrel of the bat become well-struck baseballs.
Price’s current strikeout to walk ratio is extremely impressive, but he is sacrificing the statistical high ground in the battle against batters by attempting to overpower them or generate weak contact rather than allowing the batters to generate their own trouble by expanding their strike zone. To take the steps forward in improving his numbers, perhaps he should take a step back in filling the strike zone with hard stuff and get craftier.
All data and heat maps via ESPN Stats & Info