David Price, Cliff Lee, and the Others

David Price had one of the best starts of his career on Tuesday. With any start, you always have to consider the opponent, since it’s the opponent who’s responsible for doing anything with the pitches that get thrown, but at least by the numbers, Price was absolutely outstanding in Seattle, turning in a walk-free complete game with a dozen strikeouts. He was sufficiently dominant that he was allowed to handle the ninth inning of a one-run game, and he closed the deal with a 96 mile-per-hour swinging strikeout. Not that it was the swinging strikeouts for which people will remember the effort.

Closing the bottom of the first, Price froze Corey Hart with an inside running fastball. That was the first of eight called strikeouts Price would record, giving him twice as many called strikeouts as whiffs. It was tied for the highest called-strikeout start of the 2014 season, and while most called third strikes are the result of a hitter being caught off guard, in the end Price’s called strikeouts were pretty similar.

From Baseball Savant, here are Price’s called third strikes, against both lefties and righties:

price0513mariners

Eight of ’em, all on fastballs, all either around the inside edge or the outside edge. So Price was succeeding with front-door fastballs and back-door fastballs, and what’s important isn’t that some of them might’ve been out of the zone — Price was commanding those pitches, allowing him to get the calls, and this isn’t anything new for him. Less attention gets paid to called strikeouts than swinging strikeouts, but as far as the former are concerned, Price has proven himself to be among baseball’s elite.

Last July, David Price came off the disabled list after having been sidelined with an arm injury. The David Price after the injury is very good, just like the David Price before the injury, but this Price is newly efficient. As a part of that, here’s the MLB leaderboard for called strikeouts since Price returned on July 2, 2013:

Yeah, it’s a counting stat, which generally isn’t preferred. Yeah, it’s selective for a David Price endpoint, which might make him look a little better. But the point isn’t just that Price is at No. 1 — the point is that Price and Lee are separated from the rest of the pack by more than 20 called strike threes. There might be more deceptive pitchers in baseball, but no one else is on their level when it comes to getting third strikes unchallenged.

And that isn’t where the Price and Lee comparison ends. When Price returned from the DL, he started pitching in the Cliff Lee style, and he’s held that much up. Since his return, Price has made 27 regular-season starts. Here’s a table comparing Price over that span to Lee over his own most recent 27 starts.

Pitcher FIP- PA/start K% BB% F-Strike% Zone% Contact% Swing% Strike%
Lee 77 28 26% 3% 68% 56% 81% 48% 70%
Price 74 28 23% 3% 70% 54% 82% 48% 70%

By expected runs, they’ve been the same. By batters per start, they’ve been the same. Lee has an edge in strikeout rate, but he’s also pitched in the National League in a considerably weaker division, and Price has a slight edge in walk rate, of less than one percentage point. Both pitchers have been very aggressive with first-pitch strikes, and they’ve been aggressive in the zone in general, even though they possess the command to nibble. Price and Lee have managed those above-average strikeout rates with worse-than-average contact rates, and they get the same number of swings. They’ve each thrown seven of ten pitches for strikes, overall, which is quite a ways above the league average.

Cliff Lee might not be the best pitcher in baseball, but he’s the perfect blend of success and efficiency, and he’s apparently serving as David Price’s role model. Even in terms of pitch mix, Price is like Lee with a few extra ticks, which gives him a greater margin of error since he presumably has slightly inferior command. By far the greatest difference between the two pitchers is that Lee has taken six fewer seconds between each pitch. Lee has been one of baseball’s fastest workers; Price has been one of baseball’s slowest. But while Lee’s pace makes him that much more watchable, in terms of the numbers that really matter, he and Price are basically twins.

So at this point, it’s probably not worth worrying about Price — the arm injury seems to be behind him, and he’s made himself more efficient, which could help preserve his health. Any pitcher could get hurt at any moment, Price included, but now he’s got zero other red flags aside from his chosen position, and once Price’s ERA matches up with the rest of his numbers everyone else should realize what the Rays have at the front of their rotation. This trade deadline, one Cliff Lee might become available. This offseason, the same could be said of another.

Quickly, going back to those called strikeouts, here’s Price against righties since July 2:

pricerhb

Front-door fastballs and a good number of back-door cutters. Here’s Price against lefties:

pricelhb

Pretty much all back-door fastballs. Against righties with two strikes, Price has shifted more to pitching away since coming off the DL, but he hasn’t changed much of his approach against lefties. Truth be told, he was already good at all this, but he’s taken it up a level to become the dominant command pitcher he is today. I don’t know if this is part of a conscious response to getting hurt, and if so I don’t know if this is going to work in the long run, but you can see the sense in it, and you can certainly see the success in it.

Cliff Lee with velocity. Such a thing can exist. It’s about as pleasant to face as you’d expect. One might wish that Price would work a little faster, but a slow pace feels faster when you don’t have to throw many pitches.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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Roy Halladay (& Oswalt)
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Roy Halladay (& Oswalt)
2 years 1 month ago

Baby where’s the love?

Za
Guest
Za
2 years 1 month ago

How many innings have y’all pitched since July 2nd, 2013?

Roy Halladay (& Oswalt)
Guest
Roy Halladay (& Oswalt)
2 years 1 month ago

I still think all the attention that’s focused on Cliff Lee’s command as though he has been alone since Maddux in the strike throwing with decent stuff department.

joser
Guest
joser
2 years 1 month ago

I think you’re reading into this things that aren’t there. Za’s comment is dead on: this is about pitchers pitching today. Nobody said anything about the best at anything since anybody, Maddux or otherwise. Your objection is irrelevant to the obvious context, and requires us to invent a different and entirely arbitrary context for it to even make sense.

LG
Guest
LG
2 years 1 month ago

You should have called yourself “Roys Halladay and Oswalt”

Michael H
Guest
Michael H
2 years 1 month ago

Yeah, I read that this isn’t about “some pitches are off the plate,” but holy cow those charts just insist that umpires are crap. ROBOTS!

TangoAlphaLima
Guest
TangoAlphaLima
2 years 1 month ago

It’s called pitch-framing, and Jose Molina is very good at it.

SimonSays
Member
SimonSays
2 years 1 month ago

There’s also a superstar effect somewhere in there, I’m sure. I have a hard time believing that MLB umps are completely un-starstruck. Molina helps, but there has to be something else there.

Ned
Guest
Ned
2 years 1 month ago

That one on the 2 line farthest left was to cano. Next!

angelo
Guest
angelo
2 years 1 month ago

Watching that game against Seattle, they were calling that strike on the gloveside all night. At some point they should have stayed swung at two strike fastballs.

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
2 years 1 month ago

Yeah, Jeff, where are the kudos for Jose Molina, who was the catcher for virtually all of Price’s pitching.

joser
Guest
joser
2 years 1 month ago

Because Jeff Sullivan never writes about pitch framing on Frangraphs.

Mike Schmidt
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Mike Schmidt
2 years 1 month ago

IT IS TIME TO IMPLEMENT THE FORCE FIELDS!

Ben
Guest
Ben
2 years 1 month ago

SAVE IT NERDS

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
2 years 1 month ago

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO sick burn, bro!!

Za
Guest
Za
2 years 1 month ago

I find it interesting that the top 4 are all lefties. Ubaldo is the other surprise – he’s the only one who’s below average in BB% – the rest are elite to very good.

Baron Samedi
Member
Baron Samedi
2 years 1 month ago

Robot umpires now.

Yan Fucking Gomes
Guest
Yan Fucking Gomes
2 years 1 month ago

Every time a ball is called a strike, it gets the hose again.

DavidKB
Guest
DavidKB
2 years 1 month ago

Can we get these numbers normalized to the number of pitches thrown in a 2-strike count? It may be that Price and Lee get to 2 strike counts abnormally much.

novaether
Member
novaether
2 years 1 month ago

I think it’d be a better question to ask how many 2-strike strikes have been thrown. Price ranks first at 588 and Lee ranks 9th at 506.

The number of all pitches thrown in a 2-strike count: Price 3rd at 845 and Lee 24th at 691.

Either way, Lee comes out ahead.

gareth
Guest
gareth
2 years 1 month ago

I’m actually very torn with a trade offer that involves price in my fantasy league. I’ve been offered Justin Verlander and Pedro Alvarez for my David Price and Victor Martinez. Thoughts?

Costanza
Guest
Costanza
2 years 1 month ago

I like Price more than Verlander at this point. V-Mart seems like a reasonable sell high, although he has had a lot of sustained success. I’d try to get Alvarez for Victor + something in the mid range value (like a Torii Hunter, if he’s got a weak OF).

Swfcdan
Guest
Swfcdan
2 years 1 month ago

Similar to Gareth’s offer above, who would people rather have from here on out: Verlander or Price. Is it even close?

Costanza
Guest
Costanza
2 years 1 month ago

Price for me, call it 55/45? Verlander’s 4 seamer has been around 93-94 so far, and his Ks have been down. I bought low on him to start the year, and while there’s a solid chance he’s still valuable to really good, I’m a little concerned.

I’d take Price over Verlander, straight up. The difference in value is an average OF to me (in terms of trade).

Phantom Stranger
Guest
Phantom Stranger
2 years 1 month ago

I’d take Verlander for the next season over Price. Verlander is definitely pacing himself these days to prepare for pitching deep into October. Anyone that watched his 2013 knows that pretty well. Verlander has made a conscious decision to save his arm for a long season.

Stan Gable
Guest
Stan Gable
2 years 1 month ago

David Price

yetigonecrazy
Guest
yetigonecrazy
2 years 1 month ago

This may have been answered somewhere, if that is the case, does someone have a link they would be willing to share?

My question is this: do Umpires become more “generous” with x pitcher’s zone , or do called strikes (ones that are obviously not strikes but still get called that way) become more plentiful later in games where a pitcher gets on a good run? Are umpires prone to “rallying” behind someone who is having a great game?

Just a thought I was having while reading this. Great stuff. Thanks.

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