Why Is David Price Struggling With the Tigers?
It happened again.
On Wednesday night, Tigers starter David Price was beaten up by an opposing team's offense once again, giving up five runs on eight hits and three walks in 5.2 innings, as Detroit lost to the Minnesota Twins 8-4.
When the Tigers acquired Price from the Tampa Bay Rays at the trade deadline, he was picked up with the expectation that he would win games like this. He was acquired to beat a team like the Twins, who are 65-87, have a -65 run differential and are 19 games behind them in the standings. Price was not supposed to give up five runs to a team like this, especially in the heat of a pennant race.
With their loss, and Kansas City's 6-2 win over Chris Sale and the Chicago White Sox, the Tigers hold just a half-game lead over the Royals in the AL Central.
Price was supposed to help the Tigers extend their lead in the Central, not watch it shrink. But since coming over from Tampa, it's been a struggle at times for the 29-year-old left-hander.
Looking at some of the peripherals, Price has not pitched terribly since joining Detroit. His Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) remains far below his actual ERA, which indicates he's done a good job at limiting the things that are "in his control." That is, he's continued to strike a lot of guys out (9.63 batters per nine), keep the walks down (1.9 walks per nine) and keep the ball in the yard (7.9% HR/FB rate).
However, Price has given up a ton of hits since joining the Tigers.
In his last five starts, Price has allowed 12, 8, 9, 8 and 8 hits. That's 45 hits in 31 innings, resulting in 20 earned runs, and an ERA of 5.81. Yes, his FIP of 2.45 indicates he's been unlucky, and his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) in his last five starts is a ridiculous .430, so obviously he has suffered from some misfortune.
Still, when a pitcher gives up that many hits, it's not all bad luck.
David Price has given up at least 8 hits in 5 straight starts. It had never happened more than 2 starts in a row previously.— Matthew Pouliot (@matthewpouliot) September 18, 2014
Just four pitchers have allowed more extra base hits this year, and he's given up 25 homers in 2014, fifth-most in baseball, and the most he's ever given up in a single season (previous high was 22 in 2011).
Price's walk percentage the last two years (3.7% in '13 and 3.8% this year) is below the 7.1% he put up in 2012, and far below the 9.7% he had in 2009. He's pounding the strike zone more often, and his strikeout rate of 26.9% this season is the highest of his career. That's all good, however, that means he's allowed more contact, with hitters batting .241 against him this year, and .251 against him last year. His career batting average against is .232.
One of his chief problems has been dealing with left-handed hitters. For his career, Price has held lefties to a .209 batting average with a .253 weighted on-base average (wOBA), with righties hitting .240 with a .299 wOBA. This year, the splits are reversed, with lefties hitting .256 with a .297 wOBA and righties hitting .235 with a .287 wOBA. It's the first time in six full seasons as a starter his platoon splits have reversed.
Price has also had particular trouble this year in the first inning, a new phenomenon for him.
|Season||1st Inning ERA||Innings 1-3 ERA|
On Wednesday night, his early-inning issues resurfaced. He gave up three runs in the first after he was staked to a 2-0 lead, which is just a momentum killer for any ball club. If he can get past the early hurdles, he's largely been very good, with a 2.15 ERA in innings 4-6 this year and 2.31 in innings 7-9. Teams have an OPS of .748 in the first three innings against him, which drops to .567 in the middle innings and .599 in the final three frames.
For the first time in his career, he's simply had a hard time finding his groove early in ballgames.
Despite some negative trends, there is some good news for the Tigers. His nERD of 2.32 is tops among all Major League pitchers, meaning Price would give up 2.32 runs per game less than a league-average pitcher over a 27-out game. He's still striking a lot of guys out and walking fewer, which are both very good things. And you could assume a lot of the batted ball numbers will start to normalize.
For Detroit's sake, they hope that turnaround will begin soon, as they try to fend off the hard-charging Royals for the AL Central crown.