David Price

Price Check: Of Hard Hits and Big Misses

I cannot believe I’m saying this, but Roger Clemens is making a whole lot of sense.

David Price’s mechanics have been a hot topic recently, and Clemens visited the NESN booth on Thursday night to weigh in on them. It was, sadly, wonderful. I’m not sure I’m ready to have Clemens back in my life, but maybe we’ve finally turned the corner. Is the Rogerssaince at hand? Will he be a regular presence in our lives, and our booth? And if so, can he take over for Steve Lyons?

Mike Cole’s NESN.com writeup of Clemens’s visit is all extremely good stuff, but here’s just one long example, on Price’s newly tilted delivery, and how his new alignment might help him deceive batters easily:

“You love that. He’s going to hide the ball. That’s what makes his ball explode and a hitter not to see his ball until extremely late. If you look, for example, if you find video of (Jake) Arrieta in Chicago right now, tremendous tilt, tremendous close on the ball, and you won’t see the ball come off his fingertips until late.” […]

“We’ve got guys in the league who throw extremely hard and the guys I play with, and (when I was playing) I’d run in the outfield the next day and I asked hitters why guys throwing 98 mph with a great hook (would get hit), but the guys say ‘We see the ball extremely well off them,’ because they’re not staying closed,” Clemens said. “That steering wheel’s not staying closed.”

The stats seem to indicate that keeping the steering wheel closed has been a problem. And it appears he’s been working on those mechanics:

It would help explain why, exactly, Price has been allowing so much hard contact, a subject into which Tony Blengino delved last week on FanGraphs. His question was “Is It Time to Worry About David Price?” and to start with the last part first, here was his answer (basically, “no”):

We aren’t seeing the beginning of the end for Price. Take a step back — even with such horrible contact-management performance thus far in 2016, he’s still an above-average starting pitcher. He won’t ever, however, be a superior contact manager, and that will continue to keep him out of the game’s innermost circle of starting pitching elite. In fact, we may be watching his decline from a slightly above-average contact manager to a slightly below-average one, and from a 70-80 “tru” ERA- guy to an 80-90 one.

So how did we get here? Well, the good news is that we might not be here for long: While Price’s numbers are down, these things are still random enough, Blengino writes:

The big issue here is his unsightly line-drive rate, way up at 29.1%. The only surprise here is that two AL starters actually have higher liner rates allowed. This explains some, but not nearly all, of Price’s difficulties to date in 2016. The good news is that liner rates, unlike the other frequencies listed above, are quite variable from year to year for most pitchers. The bad news is that Price’s liner-rate percentile rank in 2015 was a similarly high 81. Price’s vulnerability to squared-up contact is becoming a thing.

And now for the LA LA LA CAN’T HEAR you point, the one that could keep you up at night:

Just 7.0% of all MLB fly balls have been at hit at 105 mph or harder this season. Of the flies allowed by Price, 16.7% have exceeded the 105-mph mark. That’s a problem, as hitters bat .920 AVG-.3.428 SLG on such fly balls.

Yikes. That’s scary. Hopefully a combination of Dustin Pedroia’s Jedi powers, a possible ball-hiding scheme and natural fluctuation, might solve, or help to solve, Price’s issue with hard-hit balls. On the bright side, there’s reason to think he might be the Price who was promised, as he’s turning up the propane:  

Finally, there are two Price-centric reports I’d like to touch on, because they deserve a response. The first is from the Globe’s reliable Red Sox reporter Alex Speier, who made a natural comparison between CC Sabathia and David Price but framed it in a strange way. “CC Sabathia represents a cautionary tale and hope for David Price” is odd from start to finish.

I’m not sure why Sabathia would represent a “cautionary tale” for Price, because Sabathia has had a long and distinguished career, even on the Yankees. That leaves two ways to read it. The first is as a caution for Price not to get old. Great idea; tough in practice. The second — the area in which Sabathia actually presents a cautionary tale, albeit an uncommonly forthcoming one — is in the area of depression and alcohol abuse, and it’s clearly not what Speier was referring to. But it’s the only part that fits the bill.

Long story short: I’d be mostly cool if Price ended up like Sabathia.

This is, I hope, helpful nitpicking: Speier’s report was in the service of honesty and decency, and there’s no malice there. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about the ESPN E:60 segment about Price that aired this week. I watched it yesterday in search of Price news, not realizing that it was basically a recycled version of a 2008 piece for the same newsmagazine program, with new bits about Price’s antagonistic historical rivalry with the Sox and Big Papi grafted onto the beginning and end.

The piece made me sad, and that is largely the point. It is a puff piece and a tear jerker. It covers the deeply tragic story of the deaths of Price’s two childhood best friends, who died independently of each other, both in their early 20s, just as Price was nearing his big-league debut. It seems to have, understandably, messed Price up to the point of considering retirement, as this trailer implies.

The only problem is that it isn’t true. Price “almost” quit baseball, as the segment itself reports, “to work at McDonald’s” — a line Michael Smith implausibly takes at face value, or did in 2008 — because he was a homesick kid at college who cried on some phone calls home, which is singularly unremarkable but given the same treatment as the deaths of Price’s friends: the music, the foreboding, all of it. Don’t take my word for it: You can watch these terrible transitions for yourself here.

This is a bad segment, a manipulation of the real tragedy, and totally unnecessary. It is taking something bad and making it worse. In the words of Ray Smuckles, it is not your business to turn out a funeral. You’d think ESPN would have learned this exact lesson from its Dr. V debacle, but, as always, they’re counting on you simply not to think at all.

Photo by Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports Images

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1 comment on “Price Check: Of Hard Hits and Big Misses”

Walt in Maryland

Whatever else we might think of Roger Clemens, the guy pitched at a historically high level until he was well into his 40s. He knows a little bit about pitching.

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