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 we come up with that definition? Completely arbitrarily, of course! The list of players we’re using can be seen here, and if we are missing anyone please let me know in the comments. Anyway, for the players who are included we will wrap up their season in a sentence, look at the positives of their 2018, the negatives, review their One Big Question from the preseason (when applicable!) and look ahead to what’s on the table for 2019. Today, we discuss David Price.
The Year in a Sentence
The playoffs were a synecdoche of the season, in that David Price gave Boston fans every reason to fear the absolute worst at the outset, only to deliver career-defining, paradigm-shifting performances toward the end, cementing his place in Red Sox history.
When push came to shove, Price did the damn thing. The $217 million contract will always be too much for some people, but when you sign a deal like that, you are signing a deal to win your team the World Series. Price has now done it, and he’s comfortable (and handsomely paid) enough in Boston to have forgone his opt-out and stuck with the team. In the glow of the title run, he famously said that he holds “all the cards,” with respect to the media, the league, or both. No matter what he meant, this seems like a good thing.
But it wasn’t just the postseason run -- minus the false start -- that was a net plus for Price. It’s hard to say any part of the 108-win championship season was particularly dicey, but the second half might have looked a whole lot different if Price hadn’t been as good as he ever has been in a Sox uniform. He was 3-0 with a 2.10 ERA in August, his best month in Boston, as the team was backsliding slightly toward “merely extremely good” territory -- Price’s pitching kept them great.
That said, it was always coming down to the playoffs, and after getting pounded against New York in less than two innings in the ALDS, Price did the damn thing, pitching to a 3.38 ERA against the Astros in the ALCS and a 1.98 ERA against the Dodgers in the World Series, both over two starts. With Chris Sale still fighting back from the injury that cost him large parts of the second half -- the very same parts Price was dominating -- Price was Boston’s best starter by far. It wasn’t an accident that he was all over the trophy when the season finally ended. It was his as much as it was anyone’s.
The improvement wasn’t a matter of luck, as the Globe’s Alex Speier noted down the stretch. His changes, Speier wrote, included “moving from the third-base side of the rubber to the first-base side, lowering his release point in part to flatten the plane of his cutter, and significantly altering his pitch mix to ‘work backwards.’” As it turned out, he worked all the way back to his Tampa Bay era, Cy Young form. It’s a hell of a positive.
The Yankees. Price can’t pitch to the Yankees. It’s really bad! In the regular season, Price’s ERA against New York was 10.34. It’s much better than the 16.20 he put up over 1.2 innings in the postseason, but... ouch. Further down, his ERA was 2.98 at home and 4.31 on the road. That’s a pretty huge swing, but there are a lot of them hidden in his stats. His first/second half splits are even more violent than home/road (4.42 ERA vs. 2.25 ERA) and his wins/loss stats are kinda insane, even if the results are baked into the numbers. In Price’s 16 wins, his ERA was 1.93. In his 7 losses, it was 9.64. That’s terrible, and the culprit is home runs. Price’s most worrisome negative is his tendency to give up dongs, which happens to everyone these days, especially against New York, and while the same is true of Rick Porcello, among others, it’s more pronounced for Price. It’ll be a problem against the Yankees going forward, but it’s one for which the Sox have no choice but to prepare. To this end, the signing of Nathan Eovaldi, who owns the Yanks, might take some heat off Price, but David’s stubborn and probably wants to prove everyone wrong, so who knows? It’s one thing to hold all the cards. It’s another thing to know how to play them.
The Big Question
He can be, and that’s good enough. His post-All Star Break run of world-class pitching left no doubt that he’s still capable of harnessing his talent.
The Year Ahead
He only holds those cards until the season starts, honestly. It remains to be seen if his playoff swag can sustain itself throughout the year, and whether or not he can avoid the Yankee Yips. That said, they can only get so bad. Price has forever existed in everything except bulk to become a facsimile of C.C. Sabathia, remaining effective well into his thirties on old-man stuff, and now he’s got the equivalent of C.C.’s 2009 Yankees World Series title to put a floor under any assessment of his total value to the club. Sabathia’s substance-abuse issues pushed his mid-contract years into mediocre territory, but he’s been otherwise solid. I expect Price to be better. He’s probably a top-25 pitcher this year, in that he’s probably the 25th best starter this year. That’s pretty good, but the most important thing is that he’s finally been to the mountaintop, stretched his legs, took a selfie. Post that.