David Price

Price Check: He’ll Pitch Better, But He Doesn’t Have To

David Price got hammered on Friday in Texas, giving up 10 hits and 6 runs in 2.1 innings pitched. It was bad. It happens, especially against Texas, especially in Texas — if you were going to pick a Price mulligan from weeks away, this is one you might have chosen. If you did, you were right. If you didn’t, you were disappointed. Either way, it sucked and it’s over.

Unless it’s not. There is a line of thought that Price “has to” pitch better than this, especially in light of his terrible April. His ERA is still a bloated 4.68, but his DRA is still considerably better, at 3.36. While DRA is a good stat and you should use it, you don’t even need it to presume Price will improve: He has a whole career and a recent history of suggesting that he will. It’s not just the safe bet. It’s basically the only bet. There’s no reason to panic.

If and when it he rebounds, it’ll be great for the Red Sox, especially after last night’s Eduardo Rodriguez travesty, but he doesn’t have to do a damn thing differently. He makes $30 million dollars per year either way. He doesn’t earn them by way of performance; he earned them the second he signed his name on the dotted line, full stop. Am I being more than a little pedantic? Yes. And I’m happy to do it. I’m solidly pro-labor. Viva la revolución!

It is not that Price owes us nothing. The contract between an employer and an employee both implies and definitively states conditions that must be met for the contract to continue, and Price must meet those. Furthermore, I’ll accept that a big-time player owes the fans of his team a concerted effort to maintain a standard of excellence, mostly by owing it to himself.

By way of example, it’s easy to slam Dan Duquette for his fumbling of the Roger Clemens situation (20 years ago if it was a day), calling out a bloated and sluggish Rocket, but Clemens had made his contempt for the organization plain. That he was still above-average speaks to Clemens’s underlying talent level, but a game organized and played by humans is going to have its personality conflicts, and after this one, Clemens had to go. Sometimes you need a new start.

Sometimes, it’s the new start that undoes you. Price’s first half-season in Boston hasn’t gone as planned, but he’s not dogging it. A more recent example of someone who may have broken the implied code of conduct between a team and its fans is Pablo Sandoval; like Price, I feel that he earned his money the second he signed his contract, but my sympathy to his situation has nearly completely waned. Insofar as a fan can pick up signs that are signs that a player might really be trying, I picked them up from Panda in a way that is not oozing from Price right now in any way, shape or form.

To hear some tell it, Price is trying to deflect from the issues by simply saying he executed poorly, and has to pitch better, but I find it refreshing. It doesn’t matter the profession: sometimes you’re just not good, be you a major league pitcher, a nuclear physicist, a loan shark, or, at worst, a writer, and the only solution is to get up tomorrow and do it better.

Price’s April was bad enough to get the attention of the wolves, and lo, one bad start in six weeks later, and they’re at his door.

A major league starter doesn’t have that luxury, however, which provides us (and now I mean writers) an opportunity to score points at their expense. Price’s April was bad enough to get the attention of the wolves, and lo, one bad start in six weeks later, and they’re at his door. And why not? If he pitches well next time out, it’ll be because he was put in his place. If he is bad, it’ll be because he hasn’t learned his lesson. It’s a win-win.

But as we know, the “win” stat can be deceiving, and that’s not just limited to baseball. Ask the victorious, clueless pro-Brexit leadership how they’re feeling right now. A win isn’t always a win, and reminding Price of his de facto and de jure job descriptions (pitch wonderfully and pitch well, respectively) doesn’t illuminate much beyond a writer’s inability to forgive and forget. Slamming Price for a bad hour is conflating a lecture with an analysis. To be sure, some people want and need lectures, even as sports fans. For the average fan, there isn’t a lot of room for nuance.

If you’re reading this, you’re not the average fan. The audience for this targeted take is much smaller than the audience that thinks Price owes the Red Sox better starts because of how much he’s paid, and always will be. Sports deal in final scores, and are inherently reductive to that end. It’s considerably easier to retroactively enforce a moral code to explain away poor results (i.e., Price isn’t trying hard enough) than to simply throw out an outlying non-optimal result (i.e., Price had a bad game), but it doesn’t make it right. Occam’s Razor says Price had a bad game and nothing more — but a razor can do a lot of damage if you use it wrong.

Photo by Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports Images

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