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Tuesday afternoon, the blockbuster trade that netted the Dodgers Mookie Betts and David Price was officially announced.
The Dodgers acquired OF Mookie Betts, LHP David Price and cash considerations from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for OF Alex Verdugo, minor league IF Jeter Downs and minor league C Connor Wong.
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) February 11, 2020
Obviously, the main get here is Betts. However, to lower the prospect cost for him, the Dodgers also took back David Price and agreed to pay half of the $96M remaining on his contract over the next three years. While Price’s contract was the grounds he was involved in this deal, there’s a reason the Dodgers are not looking to flip him; he can be an instrumental piece to the rotation in 2020.
Price began his career in Tampa Bay in 2008, and pitched there six and a half seasons, winning the AL Cy Young in 2012. In 2014, he was traded at the deadline to Detroit, and in 2015, traded midseason to Toronto. Finally, after 2015 he became a free agent and signed a massive, seven-year, $217M contract with the Boston Red Sox.
At the time, this record-breaking contract wasn’t seen as ludicrous. Price was well on his way to a hall of fame career and had remained both reliable and consistent over the past seven seasons. However, as many pitchers do with age, Price’s numbers took a hit.
|2008-2015 (TB, DET, TOR)
While Price has been respectable, he’s also regressed into mediocrity, posting a 4.28 ERA in 2019, the highest of his career in ten years.
Price, 34, is undergoing a very similar transformation as fellow Dodgers pitcher, Clayton Kershaw. While the latter is three years younger, both were dominant southpaws, who have now lost velocity as they’ve aged. Predictably, their effectiveness has dwindled.
Despite this downward trend, Price did something in 2019 that is nearly unprecedented. As his velocity diminished, he somehow found a way to strike more batters out.
Strikeouts and velocity go nearly hand-in-hand, so to see this inverse trend is an anomaly. How did Price manage to do this? First, he severely reduced his sinker usage, which is not a swing-and-miss pitch. To make up for it, Price threw more changeups than ever before, which accumulated a massive 34% whiff rate.
As seen below, Price is also one of the best tunnelers in the league, meaning his deliveries and arm slots for each pitch mimic each other and are almost identical. This is a common tool for aging pitchers, and Price has nearly perfected it.
David Price, 86mph Changeup and 90mph Cutter, Overlay. pic.twitter.com/SIepnkGth6
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 20, 2019
Despite Price ranking 17th out of 113 in strikeout rate among starting pitchers with at least 100 innings, he still posted a measly 4.28 ERA. Price’s command was in check, so what was causing this? For the most part, bad luck.
Price’s BABIP (batting average on balls in play) against was .336, the highest mark of his career. His hard hit rate of 36.9% wasn’t terribly impressive, but Price still did not any love from the baseball Gods. Here’s how his BABIP compares with other starting pitchers who had higher hard hit rates.
|Hard Hit %
Other factors go in here such as the soft contact rate and type of batted ball allowed, but there is no denying Price ran into terrible luck in 2019.
Assuming Price’s BABIP levels out in 2020, combined with his more modern pitch usage and increased strikeout rate, Price has a legit shot at being the Dodgers’ #2 starter come October.
Even if Price isn’t able to maintain his strikeout rate, he still provides the Dodgers pitching staff with something they don’t have a whole lot of: track record.
Buehler and Kershaw speak for themselves, but after those two, there are a lot of question marks in this Dodgers rotation. Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin, and Julio Urías are all unproven as starters, Alex Wood and Jimmy Nelson are bouncing back from major injuries, and Ross Stripling was supposed to be in Anaheim by now.
Price gives the Dodgers assurance and an arm they can trust. His BABIP may not regress to the mean, his surge in strikeouts may be a fluke, and his arm may only hold up for 100 innings, but there’s value in having a proven pitcher with a track record as consistent as Price’s.