David Price Changed One Pitch, and Now He’s a Postseason Star
David Price had been buried by the media and an unwieldy 0–9 record in the postseason. One big change in Price’s offerings has shifted the story of his career, and given Boston a 2–0 World Series lead.
David Price seems tired of, more than anything, constantly contextualizing his baseball career. After each start, there are the questions: What does this mean? and can you talk about how it feels? — we can’t outrun our craving for context, to mark the moment. While Price’s autobiographical telling is typically reserved (as his fraught relationship with the media has taught him to be), he did allow some truth through. In response to the what does it mean query, the Boston starter said: “It’s huge — this is the biggest stage in baseball. To be able to do that (get a win) feels good. I’m pumped for myself.”
Hearing an athlete elucidate their pride is a refreshing thing. Price, a highly valuable starter with the Red Sox this season despite his wonky career playoff numbers, knew something was amiss, and changed it. He’s talked about “finding something” in his marathon bullpen session in Game 4 of the ALCS, and spoke to Ken Rosenthal in on-field interview last night about his ability to evolve. What was the evolution that might have re-launched the David Price fan club revolution in Boston?
David Price’s 2018 was solid — his 80 ERA- was 10th among American League starters — though not revolutionary. His Cy Young-type days appear to be in the past (well, they did appear to be in his past), and his contract ($30 million) pleads for more. But top ten league-wide production is, may we all be reminded, still extremely good! And Price’s second half was even better: by slicing his walk rate and garnering more grounders, the big lefty’s post-All Star ERA- of 50 was the best in the American League. Though the underlying numbers tailed a little behind, not suggesting a full-blown Rays/Tigers renaissance, the results were there: his 2.25 second half ERA, scaled to a full season, would be the best of his career.
Even so, if Price was evolving, he was doing it in the shadows. With Mookie Betts’s run at the MVP, JD Martinez’s titillation with the Triple Crown, Chris Sale’s strikeout binges, and the eventual dog day doldrums of Boston’s division dominance, Price, for once, was out of the spotlight.
The playoffs, though, if we can speak kindly of Boston sports fans, reveal a more fervent side of humanity, a side more eager to wield spotlights. And Price’s postseason career, to this point, has demanded the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. In his penultimate regular season start, Price yielded four runs to the Yankees. Two weeks later, in Game 2 of the ALDS, he was tagged with two home runs by the Bombers, lasting just an inning and two-thirds, the shortest playoff start of his career. People, as you might imagine, started shining the big construction lights on Price again. Price’s Game 2 start against Houston in the ALCS didn’t resonate as negatively, perhaps because he pitched into the fifth in a game the Red Sox won, but it was unsightly, and led to more bullpen murmurings. Which is where, if Price is to be believed, he found something. That something? His changeup.
Since warming up (unnecessarily, it turned out) in Game 4 against the Astros, and starting the next day on three days of rest, Price has given himself to the pitch. In the last two games, the pennant-clincher in Houston and last night’s Game 2 win over the Dodgers, Price has thrown his changeup 36% of the time, up from 22% in the regular season. Batters have flailed at two-thirds of those 65 changeups (55% in the regular season), whiffing 25% of the time (18% in the regular season), and hitting .067 against the pitch. Banished is Price’s cutter: used 27% of the time in the regular season — his second-favorite pitch — it’s been unveiled on just 9% of Price’s offerings the last two games. In its place is the changeup — seemingly refurbished since its regular season iteration, when hitters batted .263, well above league average, against it.
Truly, the sample is small, but the games are large: the Astros and Dodgers boast two of the best offenses in all of baseball, and have pretty well scorched everyone except for Price in these playoffs. In the last two games, Price has pitched 12 innings, struck out twelve, walked three, and given up six hits, two runs, and one meager extra base hit. Price has dominated, and didn’t give up a single hit around a fourth inning kerfuffle in Game 2.