Today marks, basically, the beginning of the postseason, as it’s now that good teams begin being eliminated. There are fewer games each day than before, with every game being more and more important, and there will be a corresponding level of daily analysis. People are going to try to find keys to individual baseball games, because this is how it’s always been, and it’s with that in mind that I’d like to issue you a quick reminder. Last year, MLB debuted the one-game wild-card playoffs. People tried to analyze Orioles vs. Rangers. They tried to analyze Cardinals vs. Braves. In the former game, Joe Saunders bested Yu Darvish. In the latter, the hosts were undone in large part due to errors by Chipper Jones, Dan Uggla, and Andrelton Simmons. The point of the lead-up is to try to know; the magic of the game is that there is no knowing. This is forever going to be the truth.
But it’s still fun to try, to pretend like we could figure things out, and tonight the Rangers host the Rays as the teams battle in a one-game playoff for the right to make another one-game playoff. The starters are going to be Martin Perez and David Price, and there’s something about Price people have honed in on. Price, see, has an ugly history against Texas, and this information is presented to make people think he could struggle again in another big game.
I’ll just grab it from David Schoenfield:
OK, so what about Monday’s game? While Price is understandably the guy Maddon wants to give the ball to, it’s also true that the Rangers sort of have the whammy on him. Price is 1-4 with a 5.98 ERA in eight regular-season starts against Texas and is 0-3 with a 4.66 ERA in three postseason starts.
We’ve all been trained not to worry too much about matchups, but here we are talking about 11 starts, and Price isn’t that old. The numbers aren’t sharp, suggesting Price hasn’t been sharp, suggesting Price won’t be sharp, again. The possibility is introduced that the Rangers kind of have David Price’s number.
So, of course, this ought to be investigated. Over those 11 starts against the Rangers, Price has thrown 63 innings, and he’s allowed a Volquez-ian 40 runs, or 5.7 per nine. With that kind of support tonight, Perez and the Rangers’ pitchers ought to be able to celebrate a victory. But we can skip right past the runs column to some of the other columns:
- IP: 63
- BB: 20
- K: 58
- HR: 8
Nearly a strikeout an inning, and nearly three strikeouts per walk. Despite all the runs, this would be good for an FIP right around 4. Still elevated, but not too elevated, considering the identity of the opponent. And we can go further, on account of something we observe about Price’s career. Price started in 2009, and he was all right. All of his run numbers were in the mid-4s, with his walks being too high and his strikeouts not being high enough. But, not to worry — Price was just gaining experience, and some young players take a little while to really get going. Price turned it up in 2010, and he turned it up again in 2011. Price has been a pretty great pitcher for about four years, and watch what happens when you look at his numbers against the Rangers over only that span:
- IP: 49.2
- BB: 10
- K: 47
- HR: 6
Price started three games against the Rangers in 2009, and they were not good, but 2013 David Price doesn’t have a lot in common with 2009 David Price, so long as you ignore the genetics. Here, we’re still looking at nearly five runs per nine innings, but we’re also looking at an FIP in the mid-3s, and a BABIP of .351. There’s a strikeout an inning and nearly five strikeouts per walk. As much as you’d like to think this might have to do with an opponent just being able to hit the ball harder against a guy, we know how to feel when an ERA doesn’t align with peripherals. The peripherals tend to win out, and Price’s important numbers have been solid.
Not to mention that the Rangers have changed, of course. Many of the players are still the same — the Rangers have had a fairly consistent core — but the Rangers Price faced in 2010 were a different ballclub. Looking at a player’s results against a team tends to be less analytical and more lazy. There are better ways to study what you’re trying to get to.
Here’s what we have: David Price has a certain track record against Texas. He also has a certain recent track record, overall. Probably, the latter is a lot more important, since the biggest factor ought to be Price, and not Price’s opponent. Here’s where Price ranks among 68 American League starters since the All-Star break:
- ERA-: 16
- FIP-: 8
- xFIP-: 9
All of those numbers are outstanding. For the curious, here’s Perez:
- ERA-: 29
- FIP-: 31
- xFIP-: 39
All of those numbers are fine. But they don’t match up with Price, and his last time out, Price dominated the Yankees. Since coming off the disabled list, Price has generated 12 walks and 98 strikeouts. Opponents have gotten on base a quarter of the time. At the end of the day, no matter what Price has done against the Rangers in the past, he’s still David Price, and Price now is as good as he’s ever been.
It’ll help the Rangers to have Nelson Cruz back. Their lineup isn’t going to have many lefties. It’ll help the Rangers that Desmond Jennings is limited by an injury. It’ll help the Rangers to have guys like Alexi Ogando and Matt Garza available in the bullpen. And it’ll help the Rangers to be facing David Price in Texas instead of Tampa. In six more career road innings, Price has allowed 53 more runs, and 17 more dingers. The ball goes different in Texas, and one ball in play can change a ballgame.
But among the things we know, here are the big ones: the Rangers and the Rays are both good, and while the Rangers will be starting a fine pitcher, the Rays will be starting an ace. Something else could easily determine the outcome, but if Price were to dominate, it wouldn’t at all be out of character. Over a small sample, Price has been vulnerable. Over a more meaningful sample, he’s been David Price.
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