Game 39, Rays at Mariners
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. David Price, 7:10pm
Two of the biggest names in the AL East have posted incredible K:BB ratios and sparkling xFIPs. David Price leads all of baseball with his K:BB of nearly *10*. A bit further back, but still impressive, is CC Sabathia‘s 4.8 mark. Both have seen their strikeout rate increase and their walk rate drop below 2/9 (Price is now walking a Cliff Lee-like 1 per 9 IP). Price’s RA is 4.86 while Sabathia’s sits at a grisly 6.07. Thanks to Chris Young and Roenis Elias, we’ve talked a bit about pitchers whose actual runs-given up comes in far shy of what their fielding independent stats would predict. In David Price, we have the poster child for the opposite phenomenon.
Like Sabathia, there’s no mystery about this – it’s not sequencing, and while his BABIP’s higher than it’s been, that’s not the problem either. The problem is home runs. Sabathia had never run a HR/9 above 1 in his long career until 2013. So far this year, it’s nearly 2. Similarly, Price hadn’t run a HR/9 over 1 since 2009, a year in which he threw 128 innings and was a four-seam/slider pitcher. In recent years, he’s been a sinker/cutter/change-up guy, and his GB% started creeping up while his HRs allowed dropped accordingly. Price was excellent last year, as his new attack-the-zone philosophy produced a great K:BB ratio while he also limited homers. But something changed: batters, especially righties, stopped hitting his sinker on the ground. His GB/FB ratio vs. righties went from 1.8 to 1.2, and in a tiny sample of 2014, it’s dropped below 1. He didn’t pay for it in 2013, as fewer of those fly balls went over the fence; his HR/FB last year was the 2nd lowest of his career. That hasn’t happened this year.
Many point to Sabathia as a bounce-back candidate due to his excellent K:BB ratio and insane HR/FB% of 23%. Sabathia’s getting plenty of grounders, but whatever doesn’t bounce seems to leave the yard. While Price’s K:BB is even better, his HR/FB isn’t historically out of whack. It’s high, and I fully expect Price to post better runs-allowed numbers than he has to date. He’s an excellent pitcher, after all. But the question is what does he look like with a perfectly normal HR/FB of 10-12%? With a sinker that isn’t making batters top the ball, he’s going to give up some elevated contact. If he can keep that contact in the park, he’s an ace. But what if home runs are the price he pays for a 1.01 BB/9? Again: a big chunk of his awful HR/FB so far this year has come from the 3 HRs *lefties* have hit off of him. He still dominates lefties, and they still have a 2 GB/FB ratio. That may be luck. But his GB% has dropped on all of his pitches against righties, and his sinker – like all sinkers – is much more effective against lefties. I’m not saying that Price is going to end up like Cesar Ramos, whose sinkless sinker produced an offensive explosion for the M’s last night. But I think it could keep him from being a true #1. Hell, you could argue that, when he’s healthy, Alex Cobb has been the better pitcher. And Chris Archer’s neck and neck with Price right now, though of course that’s more a compliment to the Rays depth than an indictment of Price. In any event, I’m not going to cry about the M’s missed opportunity to acquire Price in trade.
Iwakuma can teach Price a thing or two about succeeding in MLB despite an elevated HR rate, and HR/FB ratio.
1: Jones, CF
2: Romero, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Hart, DH
5: Smoak, 1B
6: Seager, 3B
7: Ackley, LF
8: Zunino, C
9: Miller, SS
The Rainiers played an early game today in Las Vegas. It was school day, with thousands of kids packing Cashman Field, each armed with a vuvuzela. Please, keep Rainiers announcer Mike Curto in your thoughts tonight. With rest and with physical/mental therapy, he WILL get through this.
Cam Hobson pitches for AA Jackson today, while the enigmatic Tyler Pike goes for High Desert. Pike’s a top-10 M’s prospect, but a very odd 24:25 K:BB ratio isn’t helping his stock. Gabriel Guerrero’s stock is still rising, however – BP had some good things to say about him here ($).