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2017 Red Sox Review: David Price

A look back at a strange year for the Red Sox lefty.

Divisional Round - Boston Red Sox v Houston Astros - Game Two Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Welcome to the Red Sox Review series. It’s a fairly standard feature in which we will review the year that was for every player who made a decently large impact on the Red Sox this year. How do I come up with that definition? Completely arbitrarily, of course! The list of players I’m using can be seen here, and if I am missing anyone please let me know in the comments. Anyway, for the players who are included we will look at the positives of their 2017, the negatives, review their One Big Question from the preseason and look ahead to what’s on the table for 2018. Today, we discuss David Price.

The Positives

This was a really, really strange year for David Price and the Red Sox. We’ll probably remember it mostly for the negatives, but there were plenty of positives to go around, too. Most notably, of course, would be his performance out of the bullpen in September and October. It seemed to me like he pitched more than he actually did, but in his five relief appearances in the final month of the year he tossed 8 23 innings without allowing a run, striking out 13 batters and walking only two. He then came through with 6 23 scoreless postseason innings over two appearances with six strikeouts and two walks. He was electric in this role, and while the circumstances to get him here weren’t ideal he made the best of it and was able to have a huge impact on the team’s playoff run.

Looking more generally at Price’s year as a whole, there was also the matter that he limited home runs and hard contact in general much better than he did in the previous season. We’ll touch on that a bit more later on, though.

MLB: Houston Astros at Boston Red Sox Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Before Price hit the disabled list and eventually had to return as a reliever, he was pitching phenomenally well and it was looking like a legitimate one-two punch with him and Chris Sale at the top of the Sox rotation. In a seven-start stretch leading up to his injury, he pitched to a 2.66 ERA while allowing a .666 OPS (spooky) and a 43/12 K/BB ratio in 44 innings of work. His re-injury and subsequent exit from the rotation was a big blow to the Red Sox as they lost someone who was once again looking like an elite starter.

Digging a little deeper, we also saw a version of Price that missed bats a bit more than he did in his first season in Boston. Of course, it’s hard to know what to do with that since some of it is influenced by throwing shorter stints later in the year. Most pitchers can up their strikeout in that situation. Meanwhile, he also dominated left-handed hitters in a small sample, holding them to a .494 OPS in just 70 plate appearances.

The Negatives

On the mound, I think it was a largely positive year for Price and I wish we could remember it for that. Unfortunately, he had a rough year off the mound and those things tend to stand out more. For one thing, the injury was less than ideal. It’s hard to blame Price for this, of course, but it happened and it hurt the team. It first crept up in spring training and caused him to miss the start of the year, and obviously kicked him out of the rotation for almost all of the second half. Price is so valuable partially because of his durability, so an injury like this is a big deal.

Then, there’s the whole Dennis Eckersley situation in which Price led a tirade against the legendary pitcher and commentator on the team plane. It is this writer’s opinion that this entire situation was blown completely out of proportion and that it’s no coincidence that it was brought to light during a down period of the season. That being said, it’s clearly not a great look and something Price should be embarrassed by. The way the aftermath was handled clearly didn’t help matters, either. Price isn’t here to make friends with the fans or the media, obviously, but he also needs to be better than this.

As far as his performance on the mound, it’s hard to find real negatives for the southpaw. The one that stands out was his uncharacteristic lack of control. He didn’t turn into a walk machine or anything like that, but he’s alway been one of the elite control pitchers in the game and suddenly walked almost three batters per nine innings in 2017. Perhaps this was a side effect of his injury, but he can’t really be his old self if he continues walking batters like this.

The Big Question

Was all of the hard contact allowed by David Price in 2016 just a fluke?

Price was disappointing in his first year in Boston, but the strange part about it was that his peripherals looked good. Instead, it was what happened on balls in play that hurt his overall line. It’s always easy to write that off as luck, but watching him pitch it was hard to take that as the only truth. Something needed to be fixed in 2017. It wasn’t the best version of Price we’ve ever seen, but he allowed a sub-.300 batting average on balls in play and was able to limit his homers to fewer than one per nine innings despite the onslaught of power displayed by the league in 2017. This is closer to the version of Price we expected when he signed than the one we saw in 2016.

Looking ahead to 2018

In an ideal world, Price is back in the rotation and slotted behind Sale to give Boston one of the more fearful one-two punches in the league. I don’t think it’s anything close to impossible that this will actually come to fruition next year. That being said, those elbow issues that plagued Price last year always have the potential to creep back up. If he’s healthy, I have little reason to believe he’ll be anything other than a strong number two, but it’s hard to be completely confident in his health over the course of the entire season.