If the Red Sox are going to bounce back from this frustrating start, and most of us think they are, David Price will be part of the reason why. The lefty has really been the lone bright spot for a rotation that has struggled so mightily through the first few weeks of the season. He added a stellar start to his resumé on Sunday, tossing seven scoreless innings with seven strikeouts and no walks in a 4-0 win. There aren’t many negative things to say about how he’s pitched over the last 12 months, really, as the 33-year-old has more than proved his worth and it goes far beyond the stat line. That was on display when his teammates rallied around him last year as he re-wrote the postseason narrative that plagued the first eleven years of his career, capping it all off with his first championship (and what I’d argue should’ve been his first World Series MVP trophy).
On top of what Price already does on and off the field, it eases my mind that Chris Sale has someone like that around who may be able to help him figure out what’s going on. Price, the 2018 Comeback Player of the Year, has obviously been going through an extensive remodel over the last few years to makeup for a loss in velocity. Sale might be approaching his own period of re-definition as he has displayed a dip in velocity himself to start this season. The 30-year-old’s fastball is averaging 91.53 mph in three starts this season, which is well below his career average of 95 mph (BrooksBaseball.net). There were growing pains when Price went through this process and I can’t say it was always fun to watch, but he was more effective in the postseason last year than he’s ever been before and was a big reason why the Sox dropped another banner over the Monster recently.
Per Brooks Baseball, the average speed on Price’s fastball has continued to decrease slightly from year to year since 2013 and sat at a career-low 93.14 mph last season. That’s a full three ticks slower than his 2010 average (96.28 mph) and 1 mph slower than 2017 (94.47). The decrease in velocity has led to a little more creativity. His changeup is more effective than ever with an average whiff percentage of 21.09 over the last four seasons, compared to 14.27% from 2011-2014. Price seems to be mixing in the cutter and change more often with the usage of both trending upwards over the last few years, which has contributed to a more off balance experience for opposing hitters. Even with the decrease in velocity, he still posted a 9.05 K/9 in 2018, slightly above his career-average of 8.68, per Fangraphs. If Sale hopes to maintain similar consistency throughout his transition into an older version of himself, Price is not a bad guy to be around.
I don’t think anyone wants to see this year go to waste. Even with a few recent contract extensions, the time is still ticking on Boston’s core — especially the offense. J.D. Martinez can opt out after this season, while Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts are both free agents after 2020, in addition to Mitch Moreland, Brock Holt and Steve Pearce. It physically pains me to write this, but if Mookie and the Sox can’t agree on an extension next offseason, you have to seriously consider trading him before he hits free agency — but that’s for another day. Obviously, that’s also worst-case scenario but I can’t imagine Dealin’ Dave Dombrowski letting Betts walk for nothing. If we are nearing the end of this era, it won’t feel right if it ends with the Sox at the bottom looking up.
The first few weeks of this year have been frustrating to watch, especially in contrast with the 17-2 start in 2018 that keyed Boston’s fourth title in 15 years. Not much has changed on the roster, so I am struggling to understand how things can be this bad. The 2-8 start for the Sox was the worst record through 10 games for a defending champion since the 1998 Florida Marlins, who finished the season 54-108. And six of Boston’s next 13 games are against the Rays. You know the old saying: you can’t win the division in the first month of the year, but you can certainly lose it. Hopefully, Price can help make sure that doesn’t happen.