May 18, 2016
Most folks were too busy lambasting the last-place Red Sox for their dumpster fire of a 2015 season to notice that the team quietly played well in the second half of the season. After a dreadful start, they almost played .500-ball (36-37) after the All-Star break. Winning half one’s games sounds ordinary, but their run-differential in that span (+38) suggested that they played much better than their record indicated.
They finished on a high note, going 17-13 over their final 30 games. The year was certainly a failure, but there was a silver lining:” there was reason to be hopeful for 2016.
And here we are in 2016 and the team has basically the same roster as last year, with the addition of high-priced stars David Price and Craig Kimbrel. And the early results have been encouraging.
As of Wednesday noon, the Red Six were sitting at 24-15 and sporting the best run-differential in the American League. But surprisingly, the Sox are winning in spite of David Price, not because of him.
Other arms have anchored the rotation. Rick Porcello (6-1, 3.11 ERA) and Steven Wright (3-3, 2.36 ERA) have been revelations, but are their strong performances sustainable?
So we circle back to Price and the key question of the season to date: What’s up with him?
The team needs David Price to be David Price if they’re going to be contenders down the stretch. We know this. We always suspected the offense would be solid, and it has exceeded expectations – Boston’s 6.0 runs-per-game is the best in baseball so far, even ahead of the big, bad Chicago Cubs (5.9).
The Red Sox inked Price to the richest contract for any pitcher in baseball history, so naturally, fans would get nervous if he even had a hang nail. That he’s rocking a 6.00 ERA right now with a noticeable decline in velocity is starting DEFCON-levels of panic in New England.
Is this reaction well founded? I say no.
Price is a notoriously slow-starter: He carries a career ERA of 4.08 in April, compared to a 3.01 career ERA in all other months. You can point to both his unlucky strand-rate and BABIP so far in 2016 as other reasons to remain optimistic, and he’s still striking out hitters in bunches – his 12.2 K/9 is the best rate among AL starting pitchers.
Advanced ERA estimators like FIP (2.51), xFIP (2.67), and SIERA (2.78) are right in line with his career norm and suggest he’s pitching much better than his surface stats would indicate. He’s already started to right the ship.
It’s been much publicized that teammate Dustin Pedroia recently pointed out a mechanical flaw in Price’s delivery. He then made an adjustment, and the positive results were immediate. His most recent start, on May 12, was his best of the season: 6.2 IP, 1 ER, 6 H, 1 BB, 12 K. Perhaps most encouraging, his velocity was the best it has been all year. Price has been one of the top pitchers in baseball the past five seasons, so if anyone deserves the benefit of the doubt, he does.
But the sky isn’t falling. He will turn the corner sooner rather than later. He likely already has. Step away from that ledge, Sox fans.