2015 Player Previews: RHP David Price

Dave Dombrowski had always been known as a bit of a trade wizard, but probably no one anticipated his ability to swing landing Cy Young ace David Price from the Rays. Despite a rotation full of studs, he swung the deal anyway, and for the second year in a row, the Tigers have one of the best pitchers in baseball in the rotation, and on the verge of free agency.

2014 In Review – David Price

2014 Stats
TB/Det 248.1 34 15-12 6.1 2.76 2.78 3.26 .306 9.8 1.4 41% 9.7%

The former Cy Young winner had a rather dominating season in 2014, despite the fact that traditional metrics might not have indicated it was as elite as it was. The 15-12 record and 3.26 ERA would lead one to conclude that, but they would overlook the fact that his FIP/xFIP were half a point lower than his ERA, and that Price led the majors in a number of prominent categories.

Among those, Price led MLB with 248 1/3 innings, which was also a career high for him, surpassing his prior amount by more than 20 innings. With a strikeout rate of nearly ten K’s per nine innings and that heavy workload, Price also led baseball with 271 strikeouts, while walking only 38 batters and posted a 1.08 WHIP. All that led Price being worth over six wins, behind just three other pitchers – Corey Kluber, Clayton Kershaw, and Felix Hernandez.

Despite that success, there was a perception that Price didn’t have a great partial season with the Tigers. Price admitted that the adjustment to a new team was challenging after leaving the only organization that he had ever known, and the Tampa area that he had made home. Price did post an ERA of 3.59 with Detroit, but his strikeout and walk rates were still very good (9.5 K/9, 1.7 BB/9), and his FIP was actually more than a full point lower than that ERA.

So while the Tigers were poised to lose Max Scherzer to free agency, and gave up Drew Smyly in the trade for Price, the club still acquired one of the best starting pitchers in baseball, right in the middle of his prime.

2015 Player Projections

2014 Advanced Projections
Service G IP WAR ERA FIP BAbip K/9 BB/9
ZiPS 31 210.2 4.3 3.67 3.57 .306 8.7 1.7
Steamer 32 217.0 4.5 3.24 3.22 .290 8.4 1.7

Despite the success that Price had in 2014, both projection systems see a decline in Price’s performance this season, forecasting a full two win drop in Price’s output, going from a guy worth more than six wins to a guy worth about four wins.

It is worth noting that the six-plus wins that Price was worth last year was a career high, and from 2010 through 2013, he was roughly a four win player. So, rather than forecasting that as he reached the peak age of 29 that Price saw an uptick in performance, they’re leaning toward it being an outlier, that was at least partially driven by that innings uptick.

They do both however see a decline in his walk and strikeout rates, and a resulting ERA in line with what he posted in 2014, despite having a much lower ERA.

A four win starter is still a very valuable pitcher of course, and would have been among the top 20 in MLB last year, so it’s not as if they’re forecasting the bottom falling out. It’s more a case of Price not necessarily dominating like one of the best aces in baseball.

The TigsTown Take

Price seems to have a renewed energy this year after getting a year to acclimate to his new team and town – he’s built relationships with his staff and teammates, and gets to start the year with the Tigers in Lakeland. In addition, he’s 29 years old, right around the peak age for performance, and he’s entering his contract year, so the pressure is on him to post great numbers in hopes of receiving a mega contract in free agency, similar to what Scherzer got from the Nationals this off-season.

Take that, couple it with a willingness by the club to push their starting pitchers, and it seems more likely that Price is going to put together a year similar to 2014, only with the top-level numbers aligning with the underlying peripheral stats.

Price may not reach 250 innings, but here’s betting he’ll get close, while continuing to strike out more than a batter per inning and performing like an ace en route to an All-Star caliber season.

2015 Projections come from two different sources; ZiPS, and Steamer, both publicly available via FanGraphs.com and presented for information purposes only. ZiPS projections come from Dan Szymborski, and Steamer from Steamer Projections, a trio of independent academic researchers.

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