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The Curious Case of David Price

No matter where you looked this preseason, David Price was ranked as a consensus Top-10 pitcher. The Tampa Bay Rays ace entered the season with a 3.17 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP over 147 major league starts, and a Cy Young Award winning season under his belt. So,  fantasy owners anticipated a career year in 2014 as Price is set to hit free agency this winter.

After 13 starts this season, Price sits at a respectable-but-not-ace-like 35th on ESPN’s player rater (among starting pitchers) largely thanks to an uncharacteristic 4.03 ERA. Price has allowed at least three earned runs in seven of his 13 starts this season (he allowed three earned runs or more in just ten of his 27 starts last season) and his inconsistency has caused some panic among virtual general managers.

What should fantasy owners expect from David Price moving forward?

His ERA suggests that he’s having his worst season since his rookie year in 2009. His advanced metrics though tell an entirely different story; in fact, they indicate that Price has never pitched better and that his ERA is inflated due to a lot of bad luck.

Indicators that Price is having a career year

1). He’s striking out everybody. Price’s current 26.4 percent strikeout percentage smashes his career high of 24.5 percent and all of his plate discipline rates suggest that he’s capable of keeping up this pace.

  • He’s getting ahead in counts way more than he has throughout his career, his 72.1 percent first-pitch strike percentage is nine percent higher than his career average and 4.4 percent higher than his previous career high (2013).
  • His 10.6 percent swinging strike rate is also the highest of his career (other than the 12.3 percent swinging strike rate he had in four September starts when he was called up in 2008).
  • He’s getting hitters to chase pitches outside the zone 32.6 percent of the time (another career high) and they’re making contact on just 65 percent of those swings (you guessed it, another career best rate).
  • Hitters are making contact on just 85 percent of swings on pitches inside the strike zone (what do ya know, another career best mark; and the 18th best in baseball). Lots of former pitchers say that one of the main signs that a pitcher has truly dominant stuff is their ability to generate swings and misses within the strike zone.

2). His walk percentage has consistently declined throughout his career and this year he’s barely walking anybody.

  • His walk percentage has dropped from 9.7 percent in 2009 to an MLB best 2.4 percent in 2014. Heading into Monday’s start, Price has issued just nine free passes in 383 plate appearances.
  • His 24.0 percent K-BB% is the best in baseball (and the best of his career).
  • He’s holding hitters to a career best .292 OBP when he falls behind 1-0 in the count and his walk percentage when he throws a first-pitch ball is a career low 6.6 percent.
  • He’s walked just two batters all season when he throws a first-pitch strike. His 0.9 percent walk percentage when he gets a batter to an 0-1 count blows by his previous career best of 2.4 percent (2013) and it’s a substantial difference from when it was 7.0 percent back in 2009.

Indicators that Price’s ERA is inflated by bad luck

1). His .332 BABIP. For his career, Price has a .285 BABIP and the league average is typically around .300 (at the moment the league average is .296). Over the course of recent history the Rays have had one of the better defenses in baseball so there’s no reason to not expect that number to regress.

2). Hitters have a 13.0 percent home-run-to-fly-ball rate against him. For his career he has a 9.4 percent home-run-to-fly-ball rate and he’s never had a season with a rate higher than 11.1 percent (2009). The league average is typically right around 10 percent (right now it’s at 10.6 percent) and over the course of a whole season that number typically regresses towards the league average.

3). He currently has an 11.4 percent infield-hit percentage, which tells us he’s gotten very unlucky on some soft hit balls that found the Bermuda Triangle in the infield. His previous career high before this season was 8.4 percent (2011), last year it was 4.0 percent and for his career he’s averaged 6.6 percent. Barring an insane amount of bad luck, that number will begin to regress towards his career average.

4). Price’s 3.14 FIP and his 2.73 xFIP both indicate that he’s pitched much better than his 4.04 ERA leads people to believe and those two rates suggest that as the season goes on his ERA will drop.

What should fantasy owners do with David Price?

First off, if you’re reading this and you’re a David Price owner: do not sell this guy at a discount. I repeat, whatever you do, do not sell David Price for anything less than you would have expected for him in the preseason.

If you’re reading this and you aren’t a David Price owner: you still have a small window of opportunity to buy low on Price from a panicking owner (just make sure you don’t share this article with said panicking owner, or take him/her to David Price’s Fangraphs page and explain what FIP is) but that window is closing, and soon it’s going to be sealed shut.

CBSSports.com has an awesome feature where they track every single instance in which a player has been traded in their fantasy leagues. In the past few days, these David Price trades all happened:

Clearly the opportunity is still there to take advantage of a frantic David Price owner but you need to act fast or you’re going to lose your chance.

If you are a David Price owner, pleaseplease, pleaseeeeee don’t trade him for Tyson Ross.

Tags: Advanced Statistics Buy Low David Price Tampa Bay Rays

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