Where are David Price’s Grounders?

Last week R.J. looked at David Price‘s improving K/BB ratio. Another important part of the Price story I wanted to look at is ground balls. Coming up through the minors one of the things that made Price so exciting was his combination of strikeouts and ground balls. Below are his GB/BIP numbers by year and level. The major league numbers are Baseball Info Solutions data from here at FanGraphs. The minor league batted ball data was taken from StatCorner, which gets it from Major League Baseball Advanced Media.

n is number of balls in play
+------+-------+-----+--------+
| Year | Level |   n | GB/BIP |
+------+-------+-----+--------+
| 2008 |    A+ |  90 |   0.50 | 
| 2008 |    AA | 149 |   0.58 | 
| 2008 |   AAA |  56 |   0.54 | 
| 2008 |   MLB*|  40 |   0.50 | 
| 2009 |   AAA |  93 |   0.41 | 
| 2009 |   MLB | 219 |   0.36 | 
+------+-------+-----+--------+
* includes time as starter and reliever

At all levels in 2008 he had great ground ball numbers, even in his brief exposure to the Majors. But in 2009, in AAA and the majors, his ground ball rate has plummeted.

For the most part Price throws two pitches, a slider and a fastball (as a starter he also throws a changeup and very rarely a curveball, but over 90% of his pitches are fastballs or sliders). Here are the ground ball rates on those two pitches during his major league career. Pitch-by-pitch data is not available for the minor leagues.

+----------+------+--------+
| Pitch    | Year | GB/BIP |
+----------+------+--------+
| Slider   | 2008 |   0.62 | 
| Fastball | 2008 |   0.49 |
| Slider   | 2009 |   0.50 |
| Fastball | 2009 |   0.31 |
+----------+------+--------+

I am not 100% sure why we see the big drop in ground balls from both of his pitches. He is locating them roughly in the same part of the zone this year as last. One possible reason is that his fastball has about an inch and a half more ‘rise’ this year compared to last year (9.6 in versus 8 in). This could result in fewer grounders. He throws both pitches slower since he is starting this year, which could have something to do with it.

Another interesting aspect is that he throws both a four- and two-seam fastball. I think almost all of his fastballs out of the pen last year were four-seamers, although I am not 100% sure. This year he started off throwing mostly four-seam fastballs, over 90% of his fastballs were four-seamers. But recently he has been throwing the two-seam fastball more often. In his last two starts, last night and August 5th, about 30% of his fastballs were two-seamers.

Maybe the Rays have noticed the lack of ground balls and are looking for him to throw more two-seamers, which generally are more of a ground ball pitch than four-seamers. I am not sure what his breakdown was in the minors, although at Vanderbilt he said 80% of his fastballs were four-seamers.

It is an interesting trend to keep an eye on.



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Dave Allen's other baseball work can be found at Baseball Analysts.


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Matt B.
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Matt B.

I thought I was the only one to notice! A bit of a worry going forward. I am hoping he can turn into an Erik Bedard (but not a total wimp) type. Good GB & K rate. He needs to keep developing his change, it will likely never be above average, but he needs to change in speed… When I watched him pitch against the Jays (a start he had absolutely no stuff) his fastball sat around 89-91, wonder if this was the start of throwing the 2-seamer? I thought he was labouring, didn’t really notice the grip or much down and away movement from righties. He normally has a bit of arm-side run to his fastball as is though.

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