Fantasy Baseball: Can David Price Bounce Back in 2017?

Things didn't go quite as planned for Price in his first season with the Red Sox. Can he be a less frustrating fantasy asset this year?

In the midst of finishing last in the American League East for the third time in four years during a disappointing 2015 season, Boston Red Sox ownership felt it was time to shake things up by bringing Dave Dombrowski in to become their President of Baseball Operations. That's exactly what he did in his first winter in charge.

One of the most publicized issues for the 2015 squad was that they lacked a true "ace" in the starting rotation, which immediately became one of Dombrowski's top priorities. It didn't take long for "Dealer Dave" to make a big splash, signing David Price to a seven-year, $217 million contract.

Unfortunately, 2016 didn't exactly go as planned for the presumed ace, and he ended up playing second fiddle to holdover and surprise Cy Young winner Rick Porcello by the end of September.

Price didn't have a bad season by any stretch, though. His 4.5 fWAR was 12th among qualified starters, he led the league in innings pitched (230) and was seventh in strikeouts (228). Still, the glaring number that jumps off his stat sheet is that 3.99 ERA, which was 40th among qualified starters and his worst since his first year in the Tampa Bay Rays rotation (2009).

It's not what the Red Sox were expecting after committing more than $200 million to him, and he wasn't the kind of pitcher any fantasy baseball owner was anticipating on draft day.

What does all this mean for Price's 2017? Will he return to his elite pre-2016 form? Or is this a pitcher in his early 30s that's beginning his decline?

The Good

The good news is that Price was a bit unlucky last year. The 3.99 ERA doesn’t look great, but his FIP (3.60), xFIP (3.52) and SIERA (3.60) all suggest it should’ve been lower. His .310 BABIP was also a bit on the unlucky side (a career high), so some regression can also be expected there.

A big culprit of Price's disappointing season stemmed from a rise in home runs allowed.

A whopping 30 left the park when he was on the mound, tied for ninth most in the league. While that's obviously not a good thing, it's worth noting that Max Scherzer (31) and Justin Verlander (30) were right there with him, and they were both Cy Young finalists (Kate Upton thinks they both should've been winners, though). Much of Price's issues can be blamed on an unsustainable home-run-per-fly-ball rate (HR/FB), which was 13.5%, the worst of his career.

Another positive is the southpaw maintained a healthy 24% strikeout rate and 5.3% walk rate (league average tends to hover around 20% and 8%, respectively). While his strikeout rate was down a tick from 2015, when it was 25.3%, it was right in line with his career average (23.5%).

Furthermore, Price has been quite durable throughout his career. Since 2010, he’s had fewer than 31 starts once (27), and fewer than 208 innings once (186), both in 2013. With those workhorse numbers, his strikeout floor remains strong on volume alone.

We can anticipate some positive regression in ERA and HR/FB rate, strong strikeout and walk rates and little-to-no durability concerns. Great -- the bounce back is a lock. Well, as Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast, my friend.” Price's tough season can't totally be blamed on bad luck.

The Bad

After a sluggish April, much was made of Price’s reduced velocity, and how Dustin Pedroia found a mechanical flaw in his delivery to fix it. While his velocity did improve from that point forward, he still produced a career low in velocity, according to Brooks Baseball. He dialed it up on occasion, but Price simply didn't have the consistent velocity from years past.

That said, Price’s second-half ERA was 3.58, so he probably got more strikeouts after he fixed his delivery, right? Not quite -- his strikeout rate dipped form 27.1% in the first half to 20.3% in the second half.

So what happened? After struggling in the first half and going for more strikeouts at the expense of leaving too many hittable pitches over the plate, there is evidence he may have intentionally pitched to contact in the second half. It's a small sample size, though, and it's tough to say if this trend will continue.

However, between that and his reduced velocity, there might be more concerns with his future strikeout rate than originally thought. It's tough to quantify how well this approach worked because Price's batted-ball numbers were, well, ugly.

The Ugly

Okay, so ugly might be a bit harsh, but let’s face it: Price got hit hard last year. He gave up the most hits in the league (227), and his 34.8% hard-hit rate was the eighth-worst among qualified starters. Other noteworthy names in that range include James Shields (33.8%), Jered Weaver (34.7%), and Mike Fiers (35.3%). That’s practically a who’s who of DFS gas cans. And for those keeping score at home, that trio posted ERAs of 5.85, 5.06, and 4.48. Yikes.

Previously, Price never had a hard-hit rate above 28.6%. His career average is 27.9%. Last season may wind up being an outlier, but it's an alarming jump from his normal production.

Will 2017 Be the Good, the Bad or the Ugly?

Buying low on players coming off underwhelming seasons is great when the value presents itself, but with many experts viewing Price as a top-10 pitcher, chances are it'll be tough getting him at much of a discount.

Is the Price worth it? (Sorry, I couldn't help myself.)

When putting it all together, there’s room for both optimism and concern.

Like many things, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

With a lengthy track record and several signs that there will be positive regression from last year, Price is a safe bet to rebound in 2017, and Steamer projections are a pretty accurate representation of what to expect.

2014 26.9% 3.8% 1.08 3.26 2.78 2.76 6.0
2015 25.3% 5.3% 1.08 2.45 2.78 3.24 6.4
2016 24.0% 5.3% 1.20 3.99 3.60 3.52 4.5
2017 (steamer projection) 23.5% 5.3% 1.13 3.48 3.44 3.64 4.5

Also, with Boston's addition of Chris Sale, perhaps Price will pitch better without the pressure of being the sole ace of the staff, but that's probably searching for a narrative. Still, the abnormally high hard-hit rate and decline in velocity are tough to completely ignore. If you choose to invest, realize that while Price has a solid floor, it's probably not the best idea to expect a full return to his 2014 and 2015 numbers.

It's possible we've seen the best of Price already, but he still has enough left in the tank to be a solid fantasy asset.