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Although the winter of 2015 will be marked by the release of the acclaimed, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the MLB 2015 winter free agency class will be marked by the quantity of starting pitching available. Most notably, the Boston Red Soxs' signing of David Price marked the domino effect of free agents signing their respective deals. With the Red Soxs' signing David Price at 7 years, $217 million, big-name starting pitchers in free agency began to make significant decisions such as Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardizja, and many others.

On the surface, the David Price contract looks questionable at a ~$30 million AAV over a long 7 year deal. However, a key emphasis and advantage of the contract is the opt-out clause after 3 years. In a similar way to Zack Greinke's opt-out clause, which allowed Greinke to enter this year's free agency crop, the opt-out clause is a great addition to the contract for the Red Soxs and David Price. As I have stressed continuously in my previous articles, long-term deals hurt teams because the negative performance against expectations add up towards the end of contracts (shirk, Krautmann). Yet, the opt-out clause gives David Price an incentive to pitch to the best of his ability and have the option to head back into free agency at the age of 33 to get another big contract before retirement like Zack Greinke. Thus, the Red Soxs' hope for David Price is to meet high expectations throughout the first three years of the deal and possibly avoid the high risk towards the later half of the deal. With a close diagnosis of the contract, the contract looks like a win-win for the Boston Red Soxs and David Price.

There are many positives towards David Price's current value based on his current performance. In 2015, Price had an xFIP of 3.24 and an ERPA of -1.34 (Top 25% of all starting pitchers). The reason for his exemplar performance values is the fact he has consistently put up great strikeout numbers (9.19 K/9) and low walk rate numbers (5.3%). Specifically, as shown by the graphic below, his command of his fastball, changeup, and cutter are terrific. An important point to note from the graphic below is that his changeup is easily one of the best pitches in MLB because of the fading action and utmost similarity to his 92-94 MPH fastball (in terms of break). Hence, the deceptiveness of his changeup with a use of a great fastball plays a huge role in his big strikeout numbers. Yet, for his accolades and due praise, David Price does come with slight weaknesses in his game.

Image 1

As quoted in "Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back," “a Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.” In some ways, this quote from Yoda illustrates David Price's strengths and weaknesses as a pitcher. David Price will compile strikeouts and have low walks, which will compliment great analytic numbers (xFIP and ERPA). However, as the big game came up, David Price consistently gave up a big hit in a key situation, where he needed an out (Strikeout, Groundball, or Flyball). These timely hits and hard hits are easily clear in his statistics and his pitching data points.

First of all, in the past three seasons, Price has had a groundball percentage varying between 41% and 44%, which is relatively low for overall run prevention. A big reason for his low groundball percentages is his pitch types. Although he used a curveball 15.9% of the time in 2015, the vertical break of his curveball was inconsistent with some vertical break being positive and some being negative. A consistent slider or curveball (consistent break) would pay huge dividends for his future value. For example, in Game 1 of the ALCS, David Price rolled through the first six innings with ease and, once, the 7th inning came up, the Royals were able to come back to win the game with timely hits. Most notably, in the 7th inning against Eric Hosmer, after throwing a 95 MPH fastball that missed his target, he threw a decent 86 MPH changeup that Hosmer impressively rocketed for a timely to open the floodgates for a big inning for the Royals (gif below). Consistently, throughout Price's starts, he will pile up those flashy numbers, but occasionally those big hits would pop up because of his inability to get groundballs from different pitch types like a slider or curveball.

Image 2

For all the criticism for David Price, one cannot discount the value that David Price can bring to a team. Without David Price, the Blue Jays would have not made a push towards the playoffs. This is not only attributable to his performance as a ballplayer, but also a compliment as a teammate. In the world of analytics, the "team player" aspect is somewhat overlooked because of its certain immeasurability. However, on logic and business-management sense, a team of full "team players" with ability will always triumph over a team of players that have ability but are evidently selfish. From the reports around baseball, there was no question towards David Price's leadership. Hence, this should bode well to a young Boston Red Soxs' team in need of an anchor to a relatively weak starting rotation. Again, I am a firm believer that David Price's 7 year, $217 million contract with an opt-out after 3 years is a fantastic, incentive-laden deal that will provide two ideal qualities: extra motivation for David Price to perform to the best of his ability and low risk for the Boston Red Soxs (compared to previous long-term contracts).

1. "Baseball Statistics and Analysis | FanGraphs Baseball." Baseball Statistics and Analysis | FanGraphs Baseball. Fangraphs, n.d. Web. 17 DEC. 2015.
2. Pothula, Sanjay. "A New Form of SIERA: Pitcher Performance through the First Half of the Season." Ariball News. AriBall, n.d. Web. 17 DEC. 2015. .
3. Star Wars. Dir. George Lucas. Twentieth-Century Fox Corp., 1977. DVD.
NOTE: All statistics accurate as of 12/17/15

By Sanjay Pothula