David Price

David Price, Bullpen Bound?

It has been a wild ride in Red Sox land over the last 100 hours. In what feels like their 50th appearance on Sunday Night Baseball this season, they lose a Chris Sale start and drop the series to the hot-on-their-heels Yankees. The late game means a late arrival back in Boston, which, as players told Tim Britton of the Providence Journal, had an effect on the next game. They then get whooped by Toronto 10-4 in said next game. Before the team gets a chance to be back on the field, a huge story breaks about their Alan Turing-like video guys and illicit use of Apple Watches to steal signs. It was a tremendously dumb thing to do and the Red Sox got caught doing it. Luckily, no one seems to care all that much other than certain folks in the media and non-Red Sox fans. With that story hovering over the team, they played a 19-inning game in which they struggled to score against the Buffalo Bisons pitching staff, but eventually win and keep a safe distance ahead of the Yanks. Following the marathon game, last night they played through rain for most of the game, despite both teams having an off day today. All-in-all, it has been a really weird stretch of the season.

Amidst all of that, there was interesting player development: the oft-vilified David Price threw a couple of bullpen sessions, has been scheduled for a sim-game, and appears to be on track for getting back with the team. This got me wondering about what Price’s role will be going forward and how to best fit him onto a playoff roster.

He could take the ball and perform like his old, dominant self for seven-ish innings four or five times next month, but what is the likelihood of that? From my perspective, it is low.

I would love to see a healthy David Price start games for the Red Sox before this season is out, but given his current status, it seems unlikely that he will have enough time to get stretched out for a start before the postseason. The idea of Price’s first start since July 22 coming in a potentially pivotal playoff game concerns me. Of course, he could take the ball and perform like his old, dominant self for seven-ish innings four or five times next month, but what is the likelihood of that? From my perspective, it is low. This estimation has nothing to do with the ridiculous idea that he is bound to wilt when the calendar turns to October. Rather, it comes from the fact that he has been dealing with a balky elbow since March, and owing to that, hasn’t thrown a meaningful pitch in six weeks. As such, I think the better course of action is to move away from getting Price ready for a spot in the rotation and toward preparing him for a role as a reliever.

With a little under a month to go before the playoffs start, Price has plenty of time to get his arm and mindset ready for a mid-game jog to the mound from right field and, barring any further setbacks in his rehab, he should get an opportunity to actually do so a few times in real, live games. Price’s arsenal is well-suited for life as a one-or-two-inning reliever. Generally, relievers possess a strong fastball and at least one secondary offering that keeps hitters from sitting on the hard stuff all night. Price checks both of these boxes. He still runs his four-seamer/sinker into the mid-90s, and plays off it with his cutter and changeup to keep hitters off balance and generate swings and misses. I could also talk about Price’s experience as a dominating reliever, including playoff action (as the 2008 Red Sox likely remember). I suppose those early days of his career provide an experience from which Price could draw something, but it was 15.1 innings, ten years ago, so I doubt it has much bearing on how he might fare as a reliever in 2017.

Moving Price to a relief role brings the advantages of limiting his workload (and potential stress on the elbow), prevents him from worrying about pacing himself, and keeps him from having to navigate a lineup multiple times, which has been an issue in his starts this year. First time through the order Price has held opponents to a .568 OPS. That ranks 20th best among the 179 starters who have at least 90 batters faced, and places him alongside guys like Jimmy Nelson, Madison Bumgarner, Justin Verlander and Sonny Gray. Decent company to have. The problem is that the second time through the order opposing batters have knocked Price around to the tune of a .798 OPS, which ranks 99th among the 177 starters who have faced at least 90 batters the second time through. Any guesses at who leads the way in OPS-against the second time through the order (with at least 90 batters faced)? The answer is Doug Fister at .487. Fister has been a real gem for the Red Sox. By OPS-against, Fister (-.416), Rick Porcello (-.072), Eduardo Rodriguez (-.082), and Drew Pomeranz (-.156) have all been better the second time through the order, while Chris Sale has been slightly worse (.071). But Sale is still holding opponents to a comically low .581 OPS in their second trip, so we needn’t be worrying too much about him. In any case, it seems as though keeping Price from facing a lineup multiple times could be a valuable strategy to undertake.

It is worth noting that the 230 point jump in OPS Price has surrendered this year while working a lineup for the second time is based on a small number of batters faced and is not typical for him. For his career, Price has allowed a .655 OPS the first time through the order and a .682 OPS the second time. Generally, relying on career numbers is better practice, but it is safe to say that Price’s 2017 is different because of the elbow issue and therefore evaluating it separately, albeit cautiously, could be informative.

So what might Price look like as a reliever? As noted above, his outings in 2008 as a reliever likely provide little usable information. So to get a sense of how Price’s numbers could change with a move to the bullpen we can employ Tom Tango’s Rule of 17. Derived from almost four decades of data, this rule states that as a reliever BABIP is 17 points lower, strikeout rate is 17% higher, home runs per contact is 17% lower, and walk rate remains the same. For Price this would give something like the following:





Career SP Based





2017 SP Based





I give the numbers based off of Price’s career numbers and 2017-only numbers because like I said, 2017 stands out as being different due to the issue with his elbow. Regardless of the baseline used, those are some pretty attractive numbers. Add a David Price pitching with rates like those to a bullpen with Craig Kimbrel, Addison Reed, Brandon Workman, and Carson Smith, and you are going to give opposing teams fits from the sixth inning on. This is especially so in the playoffs where the numerous off-days and greater sense of urgency pushes the idea of more liberal and creative use of elite relievers, as Terry Francona, Joe Maddon, and Dave Roberts successfully demonstrated last year. Obviously Price’s elbow situation will present some limits on his use, but 30-50 pitch outings once or twice every three days doesn’t seem unreasonable.

I am not the first person to suggest moving Price into a relief role. Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald made it a couple of weeks ago, and a couple of the great BP Boston fellas discussed it with Alex Speier on the most recent episode of The Red Seat podcast. Regardless of who came first with the idea, I would like to see the Red Sox put it into practice. Perhaps this is already the case and they are just being secretive to prevent Price from having to answer a bunch of questions about a role change. Probably need one of them special Apple Watches to find out their true plans. Kidding aside, this season Price has gone to rather extreme lengths to demonstrate his desire to be there for his teammates and to be a good teammate. From my standpoint, accepting and even pushing for a role in the bullpen for the playoffs would be a great example of this.

Photo by Kirby Lee – USA TODAY Sports

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2 comments on “David Price, Bullpen Bound?”


How could you leave Buck Showalter off the list of managers who used their relievers creatively in the playoffs? Leaving Britton in the bullpen was a masterstroke that no other manager could have dreamed up.

Chris Teeter

This made me laugh. Well done.

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