clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

What’s behind David Price’s hot start?

Don’t be the one to respond about the competition.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The Red Sox offense is really starting to turn a corner after a frustrating and slow start, and there are reasons to be excited about the lineup even in this stretch during which they’ll be without Xander Bogaerts. That said, this is still a team built on pitching and the starting pitching in particular is the reason they have won nine of their first ten games. They currently have a 1.68 ERA from their starters, and everyone has contributed when their turn has come up. Out of all of the great performances, though, David Price has been the headliner, and that’s fantastic news as one could make the argument that the veteran lefty is the biggest wildcard on the roster. If he can be his old self, he totally transforms this rotation and the outlook for the entire team. This is not a new theory, nor is it one that I’m alone in expressing, but we are seeing early on how much better he makes this team. With Price pitching so well after being so vocal about turning a new leaf in 2018, it’s hard not to be excited about the early returns here.

We’re only talking about two starts, so it’s not prudent to get too carried away with Price at this point, but what fun is being prudent? In 14 innings this year the southpaw has yet to allow a run and he’s allowed just seven hits and three walks with ten strikeouts. His first outing of the year was something truly special as he had incredible command and didn’t walk a batter through a seven-inning outing that only took 76 pitches. It took 91 pitches to get through his other seven shutout innings and he walked three batters, but still only allowed three hits. Of course, the rebuttal to anything re: Price at this point in the year will be that he’s faced the Rays in both of his outings. It’s a fair point! He has not faced the best lineups and that will help any pitcher. It’s also the only data points we have on 2018 Price and the ol’ eye test is making me feel pretty good, too. Even the numbers show some encouraging changes from Price.

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

The one thing that stood out for Price last year on the negative side — beyond the injury, which was obviously the lowlight of his 2017 — was the lack of control, relatively speaking. Price has spent most of his career as one of the best pitchers in baseball in terms of limiting free passes, and it’s been one of the reasons he spent much of his career as a Cy Young candidate. Last year, his walk rate shot up to 2.9 per nine innings, which is still fine but also his highest rate since 2010. If he really was/is going to be a new guy in 2018, the veteran would need to prevent players from drawing walks. Allowing just three walks in 14 innings is doing just that. Even better: The plate discipline numbers support this. According to Baseball Prospectus’ plate discipline numbers, Price hit the strike zone less than half the time for the first time of his career in 2017. This year, he’s gotten that rate back up to 53 percent over his first two starts.

Perhaps more important has been the repertoire he’s been using compared to his first two seasons in Boston. For as great and well-regarded as Price has been over his career, he hasn’t really had truly dominant stuff since the early parts of his career and really relies heavily on fastballs and changeups. There’s no big, put away breaking ball like you see from most top-level pitchers. That hasn’t changed this year, but he is relying more on the cutter, which is the closest thing he has to the big, put-away breaking ball. After throwing the pitch about 20 percent of the time in his first two years in Boston, Price has that rate up over 35 percent through his first two starts this year. He’s been leaning on it particularly against righties, throwing it over 40 percent of the time as he runs the pitch in on the hands of righties. The strategy is working wonderfully, to say the least, as he’s induced a ton of weak contact and pop ups with the pitch, and one has to think a few more whiffs will eventually come if he can keep up his pinpoint command. The command is the most encouraging part of all of this, as he’s not really losing any cutters over the heart of the plate and is getting almost all of them to the glove-side of the plate.

Things can still go south for Price after just two good starts with both coming against the Rays lineup. Nobody here (at least I don’t think) is ready to guarantee that Price is all the way back and ready for another Cy Young caliber season. That being said, things look really good early on and he’s been a huge reason for the hot start to this Red Sox season. Wednesday night marks the real test for the lefty, though, going up against the vaunted Yankees lineup. Chris Sale was able to mostly shut them down in game one, and now Price will try to follow that up with a similar performance in game two. If he can bury that cutter in on the hands of New York’s big sluggers and give them fits all night, it’d be another step towards a special year for Price.