Why David Price and the Boston Red Sox Are a Perfect Match
One wonders where the Boston Red Sox would have gone last year had they had a true number-one starter at the top of their rotation.
What would have happened had they traded for Cole Hamels? What would have happened had they signed Jon Lester or Max Scherzer? What would have happened had they not said to themselves, "Hey, let's give Rick Porcello ace cash!"
Last year, Red Sox starters posted a 4.39 ERA, 13th out of 15 teams in the American League. Would a more stable rotation, with a clear ace at the top, have helped out guys like Porcello, Clay Buchholz and the rest of the gang who helped the team finish in last place in the AL East?
Evidently, Boston's new president Dave Dombrowski didn't want a repeat of last season, so he went out and got one of the two best starting pitchers on the free agent market in David Price.
Last year, Price went 18-5 with a 2.45 ERA, 2.78 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) and an fWAR of 6.4. His nERD of 2.48 was eighth-best in all of baseball, meaning over a 27-out game, Price would have given up 2.48 runs per game fewer than a league average pitcher.
Price's arrival in Boston was desperately needed for a team that was an ace short from the time the opening curtain went up in 2015.
Price threw 220 1/3 innings last year, piling up 225 strikeouts with just 47 walks. His 6.4 fWAR was a career high for him, and for the second time in his career, he led the league in ERA.
The deal itself is interesting. It is a seven-year, $217 million contract, the largest ever for a pitcher, and it's the biggest contract ever given out in Red Sox history. It also includes a player opt-out after the 2018 season. And now, with the addition of closer Craig Kimbrel in a trade a couple weeks ago, the Red Sox have the look as the American League East favorite in 2016.
Boston's rotation will be fronted by Price, with Buchholz slotted in as the number-two, followed by Porcello, last year's rookie sensation Eduardo Rodriguez, and Wade Miley. That's a much more palatable rotation than the one that sunk the Red Sox's chances from the get-go.
Price finished second in the AL Cy Young voting this year, but for my money, should have beaten Houston's Dallas Keuchel out for the award. Keuchel bested Price in five areas, wins (20-18), WHIP (1.02-1.08), innings pitched (232-220.1), Baseball Reference Wins Above Replacement (7.1-6.0), and nERD (2.51-2.48). However, Price bested Keuchel in ERA (2.45-2.48), Fielding Independent Pitching (2.78-2.91), strikeouts per nine innings (9.19-8.38), walks per nine (1.92-1.98) and FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (6.4-6.1).
While Price's regular season resume cannot be questioned, there are some who are worried about his inability to pitch well in the postseason. In 14 playoff games (eight starts), Price is 2-7 with a 5.12 ERA. However, most people in baseball don't put a whole lot of stock in those playoff numbers. His 63 1/3 innings are a small sample size when compared to what happens over the course of a regular season.
In the playoffs, Price has struck out 8.4 batters per nine innings, and walked just 1.7 for a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.92. In the regular season, Price has struck out 8.6 batters per nine, and has actually walked more batters in the regular season, 2.3, for a 3.70 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His WHIP and hits per nine are also roughly the same.
The big difference is the home run rate, which is 0.8 homers per nine in the regular season and 1.6 per nine in the playoffs. Team executives know about the randomness of the postseason and smartly did not see fit to penalize Price for it.
As for the Red Sox, Price fits like a glove. He becomes the third left-hander in their rotation, good for the lefty-heavy American League East. He's also done really well in his career pitching in Boston.
David Price: 1.95 career ERA at Fenway Park, best of any active pitcher (min. 5 starts) 7th-best among P's with at least 10 starts there
— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) December 2, 2015
And Red Sox fans shouldn't be too worried about that player opt-out. In fact, it may benefit Boston for Price to opt out after three years, leaving the team free and clear from a contract that will pay him in excess of $30 million a season in his mid-to-late 30s.
Boston still needs some pieces for their offense, but given the question marks surrounding the rest of the division, the Red Sox should be considered the favorites as of now. Of course, there is still a long offseason to go, and the Winter Meetings next week could see a whole more changes for that ultra competitive division.