When David Price struggled through his first five starts of the season, there was a lot of focus on his fastball velocity which was slower than what we are used to seeing from the Rays’ ace. But if we take a closer look, it wasn’t just the fastball, and in his last start we saw some promising signs.
First, let’s take a look at the velocity of Price’s four main pitches for every start throughout his career.
The colored lines are the game-by-game velocities. The black lines represent a running average. That is, each point on the black line is the average velocity of that game and the four games just before that game. This gives us a better sense of how Price is trending at any given point. Finally, Price threw a slider early in his career and then replaced it with a cutter. Those are plotted on the same line, but you can see the cutter is about 3 mph faster….
The big take-home with this chart is just how remarkably consistent Price’s fastball velocity has been since the middle of the 2010 season (compare that to this chart of Jeff Niemann’s fastball which has not been consistent). Remember, Price struggled in 2009, his first full season. But in 2010 his fastball velocity jumped and his career took off.
Now let’s zoom in a bit and look at just his fastball and changeup velocities from 2012 and 2013…
Here we can see the dip in fastball velocity early in the 2013 season and the subsequent jump in his last start. But notice that his changeup velocity was also down in his first few starts.
Unless Price had a mechanical flaw common to both his fastball and his changeup, this suggests that Price was battling a bit of a “dead arm.” And when his fastball velocity returned in his last start, it was a great sign that his changeup velocity also returned.
Sometimes when a pitcher is battling a dead arm, they will overthrow the fastball to try to find a few extra miles per hour. But they won’t overthrow the changeup, which uses the same arm motion. What happens is that the fastball velocity goes up, but the changeup velocity does not. This is not what we saw with Price.
We will have to keep an eye on this moving forward, but it looks like we are closer to seeing the 2012 David Price. And that is huge for the 2013 Rays.
PitchF/X data via Fangraphs and Brooks Baseball.