Baseball season is upon us, and the AL East is as competitive as ever. Any of the five teams could legitimately win 90 or more games, making it the most formidable division in Major League Baseball. I’ll be going position by position on a daily basis, analyzing how the Rays are situated heading into the season, and how they compare to the rest of the division at each spot. Today, lets take a look at the #1, or Ace, of the pitching staff.
It’s amazing what one year can do. At the start of last season, there was a legitimate debate as to who was the “Ace” of the Rays pitching staff. Remember, James Shields was the Opening Day starter for the Rays. Even if Shields had remained with the Rays, the top pitcher on the staff is no longer in question. David Price has earned the label of “Ace”.
In each of the past three seasons, Price has shown considerable growth as a pitcher. As a rookie in 2010, Price showed off a power fastball without much command. He wasn’t necessarily wild, but he certainly did not command the strikezone. He was a one trick pony that featured games where he would throw 85-90% fastballs. It is easy to forget this version of David Price, as today’s version bears little resemblance to the aforementioned one.
In Price’s 2012 Cy Young season, he featured a fastball that, on average, was the best of any starter in the MLB at 95.5mph. Not only did he improve his walk rate by 26% compared to his rookie season, but he significantly improved the command of his fastball. Remember, “control” is typically associated with walk rate, while “command” is associated with control within the strikezone. Price showed the ability to nibble at the corners of the strikezone with one of the best fastballs in the game. Not only did his fastball improve, but he began throwing his changeup quite a bit more, while mixing in a mediocre curveball. His changeup is his best secondary offering, which is average by MLB standards. His curveball is below average, and it it more of a “show me” pitch at this point. A big addition for Price in 2012 was the implementation of a cutter. He threw this pitch about 16% of the time, and showed strong command of it. Typically, Price would try to “backdoor” righthanded batters with this pitch, many times going for a strikeout looking.
The improvements in his command and secondary pitches paid immediate dividends. He lowered his walk, increased his strikeout rate and generated pour hitter contact (better location on pitches). Another area of improvement was the increase in groundballs he generated. Price went from a 44% groundball rate in his first two seasons to 53% in 2012. Getting groundballs will increase the amount of hits a pitcher gives up, but it will significantly reduce the extra base hits. What is exciting about David Price, and his prospects for 2013, is that he has shown immense improvement already, yet has more room to develop. If he can improve his breaking ball (it appears he has scrapped his slider entirely), the results will be even more devastating. In fact, each of his secondary pitches could, and should, improve. The expectation for Price this season should be to duplicate his performance from last season. While that may seem like an aggressive target, it is entirely reasonable.
How do the Rays rank at this position compared to the rest of the American League East?
- David Price
- C.C. Sabathia
- R.A. Dickey
- Jon Lester
- Jason Hammel
Rays Rank: Number 1 Sabathia has been a workhorse throughout his career, and is very underrated by the average fan. But with Price trending upward, while Sabathia is plateauing, the nod goes to Price. While I would imagine some Blue Jays fans would cry foul over Dickey’s placement on the list, one strong season is not enough. Price has been very good in each of his three seasons, showing improvement in each, culminating with the Cy Young award. It would not be a shock if Dickey has another great season, although doing it in the AL East will make it more difficult. Jon Lester will have a bounce back season because, quite simply, he’s too good not to.
My prediction for David Price in 2013: 20-6 2.90 ERA 220 IP 210K 55BB
Tomorrow, I will take a look at the Rays #2 pitcher.