A peek at David Price

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David Price pitches to Jacoby Ellsbury in Game 1 of the ALCS (Icon/SMI)

After carving up the Southeastern Conference, David Price was the No. 1 overall selection by the Rays in 2007. Price didn’t sign until the deadline, so he didn’t pitch in the minors until this year. Price started out at high Single-A ball in the Florida State League but he quickly moved up to Double-A before a few innings at the end of the year at Triple-A. Price pitched so well in the minors that he earned a September call-up. After 14 innings and an ERA under 2.00, Price found himself on the playoff roster.

After not pitching in the opening series against the White Sox, Price has pitched in both games of the ALCS against the Red Sox and he picked up the win in Game 2. Rays manager Joe Maddon obviously has a lot of confidence in Price and is willing to use him in important situations. Because he pitched sparingly in the regular season, few people are familiar with his stuff, especially as a reliever. So here is a quick look at what Price throws.

Since he is such a highly regarded prospect, there is a ton of information about David Price on the web. Here are a couple of nice scouting reports, an excellent interview this year by our own Brandon Isleib and a mechanics breakdown by Carlos Gomez.

David Price’s stuff

Because Price has worked out of the bullpen for all but one of his appearances this year, he has been basically a two-pitch pitcher: fastball and hard slider. He apparently also has a slurvy slider which he hasn’t thrown in the big leagues and an improving change-up which he has used very sparingly. Here is a look at his movement chart.

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Price’s fastball is his bread and butter right now. Previous scouting reports put this pitch in the low 90s, but working out of the bullpen Price has dialed this pitch up to 95.5 mph on average. There are a scant few lefties in the league who can touch 95 mph, much less work there, so this is a huge weapon for Price. And as if 95 mph wasn’t enough, he is showing excellent movement, generating 5.5 inches of horizontal break away from a right-handed batter compared to a ball thrown without spin. If he threw nothing but fastballs out of the bullpen. he likely could have a long, productive career—his fastball is that good.

The difference between a solid pitcher and truly dominant pitcher, though, is in his off-speed offerings. Right now, Price’s off-speed pitches aren’t exactly at that level. The slider he is using is a hard one that offers no horizontal movement to speak of and little vertical difference from his fastball. Price has been using his slider nearly equally to left- and right-handed batters and mostly later in the count. For this pitch to become an effective strikeout pitch, he is going to have to get more swings and misses with it, but it doesn’t offer the kind of movement it takes to consistently fool big league hitters.

Price threw his change-up only three times in the 201 pitches that PITCHf/x tracked in the regular season. He has been used as a situational lefty, and since it is uncommon to see a lefty/lefty change-up it isn’t too surprising that he hasn’t used this pitch more. What we can see even from this small sample is that Price throws a straight change-up; it has similar movement to his fastball compared to the down and away movement that we see from a circle change.

Price generates about a nine mph differential between his fastball and his change-up. which is good, but scouting reports say he has trouble locating the pitch and indeed all three of his tracked change-ups were out of the zone. On the positive side, he did throw all three change-ups early in the count, so he is aware that when he does throw that pitch he is looking for strikes with it.

Comparison to Sabathia and Kazmir

I think the best potential comparisons when projecting David Price are to fellow lefties CC Sabathia and Scott Kazmir. For starters, all three throw a fastball, slider and straight change-up. While there are obviously some current differences in the way they pitch, these are two potential outcomes for Price.

Kazmir is shorter and not as big as Price or Sabathia, but he still gets his fastball up near 93 mph with a slider that is eerily similar to Price’s. The difference here is Kazmir doesn’t rely on his slider and uses it much less in strikeout situations.

Kazmir doesn’t need a dominant slider because he has a dominant change-up and he is mostly facing right-handed batters. Kazmir gets a ridiculous 13 mph differential between his fastball and his change-up, which gives gravity plenty of time to naturally drop it, fooling batters with the similar spin to his fastball. It will be interesting to see if Price can pick Kazmir’s brain and develop a nasty change-up of his own. It seems like Kazmir should be able to help, since they both appear to throw from nearly the same arm slot and both are using the straight change.

Like Sabathia, Price is a tall lefty with some bulk. Both have very live fastballs in terms of movement and velocity. Sabathia’s change-up is a little more polished than Price’s, but the tools are very similar. What differentiates Price from Sabathia now is Sabathia’s crazy-good slider.

While Price and Kazmir both feature hard sliders without much movement, Sabathia takes a little more off his and generates more than five inches of horizontal slide with it. That is a truly dominant strikeout pitch, so with hitters frightened of getting to two strikes on Sabathia, you see them swinging at a lot of fastballs early in the count. That seems like a good thing, but actually hitting a 95 mph fastball with good horizontal movement the other direction well is not easy. Price has that kind of fastball too, so if he can develop a Sabtahia-esque slider he can put the same pressure on hitters.

Conclusions

At just 22, David Price still has a lot of room to grow as a pitcher. If either his change-up or his slider develops into a plus pitch, look out, because he has a fastball that already can make hitters look foolish. As is, he can be an overpowering reliever with a fastball that by itself will be hard to catch up with. While he can mix in a slider on occasion, it isn’t a pitch that is going to consistently get major league hitters out.

I think the role as a situational lefty is a good one for Price right now, as he doesn’t have to worry about throwing his change-up, which clearly is his third best pitch. Just go out and throw strikes with the fastball and see if lefties can hit it.

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