In his "Stock Watch" article yesterday, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman wrote that a rival GM predicted David Price would be traded to the Rangers or the Cubs this season. I found this interesting because they are two clubs that are in vastly different situations. The Rangers have been contenders and, at times, the favorite in the American League while the Cubs have made it known that they are in a rebuilding mode. The Rangers do have a need for pitching, however, with losing several starters to injury and the Cubs have made starting pitching a priority in their rebuilding process. Both teams seem to make sense in that they would be able to take on Price's arbitration salary and would have the possibility of signing him to a long term/high salary deal, a luxury the Rays don't have. After winning the AL Cy Young Award last year, Price's stock could not have been higher coming into 2013. He's scuffling out of the gate so far this year, so let's take a look at David Price going forward.
Price earned his first win of the season this past weekend against the White Sox giving up three runs over seven innings while striking out nine. Two of the three runs he gave up came on a Paul Konerko home run making Sunday's game the fifth start (out of six) this year in which Price has allowed a home run. Price's starts have come against some of the league's best offenses in Baltimore, Boston, New York and Cleveland but three of those four are in the AL East so Price will be facing them a number of times. And, if we were to take out the eight earned runs Price gave up against the Indians, his ERA would be a run and a half lower.
If we look at some of Price's numbers it may appear as though he's been a little unlucky so far this year. His BABIP sits at a remarkably high .343 and his LOB% is 68.8%, 7% lower than his career mark. Price is walking fewer hitters and striking them out at almost the exact same rate as his career average. In addition, almost half of the balls put into play off Price are groundballs. His xFIP is 3.02 and his SIERA is 3.31. But is Price really just a victim of bad luck or is there more to it?
Last year Price's average fastball velocity was 95.5 mph. So far this year, he's throwing his fastball at an average of 93.2 mph. Price has shown that he likes to throw his two seamer up in the zone to right handed hitters but isn't able to get outs with the reduced velocity. Righties are hitting .395 off Price this year and he needs that pitch to be effective. Since Price generates swings-and-misses at a league average rate, it wouldn't surprise me if his total Ks were down this year. Opponents are swinging at more pitches but are also making more contact off of Price than they have in the past. And they are making better contact than they have in the past evidenced by a 22.8% LD%. This LD% helps to explain some of the reason for the high BABIP and, while ground balls are less likely to become extra base hits, they are more likely than fly balls to be hits.
I'm not giving up on Price but to say that I'm not a little worried would be untrue. We've seen what reduced velocity can do to a pitcher (Tim Lincecum), so I think there is at least some slight cause for concern there. Price is throwing fewer pitches in the strike zone this year than he normally does so I'm keeping an eye on his walk rate. Price is the type of pitcher that relies on control and needs to command his pitches (especially with the reduced fastball velo). I'm not saying to hit the panic button, especially coming off of his best start this year, but it's definitely something to monitor.
As for the teams that are alleged landing places if Price does get traded, I thought I would give a brief overview of their staffs and where Price would fit.
Texas Rangers: Yu Darvish has been the best pitcher in baseball during the month of April and I fully expect that he will keep it going. Darvish commands a ridiculous arsenal, has shown stamina and poise and has broken the mold for Japanese pitching imports. Derek Holland is looking like the pitcher we all believed he could be with a 3.11 K:BB ratio and is actually pitching better at home than on the road so far this season. If Holland can continue his success in Arlington, he'll be a top 40 starting pitcher this year. Alexi Ogando continues to be a valuable asset for the Rangers in a swing role and also for fantasy owners when he's starting. He's a decent source of strikeouts and should have better than average rate stats. He's not likely to blossom into a Cy Young candidate at age 29 but he doesn't give up home runs and keeps the Rangers in games and himself in line for wins. Nick Tepesch and Justin Grimm round out the Rangers rotation and, while I think both have some potential, I'm more of a believer in Grimm having this to say about him earlier this season:
Grimm throws a low 90s fastball that he's run up to 96 and complements it with a slow 12-to-6 curve that has potential to be a plus pitch. He also throws a changeup that has come a long way since he became a pro and it has shown to be a valuable pitch against left-handed hitters. He has the potential to be a mid-rotation starter.
Price would be a very welcomed No. 2 in the Rangers rotation.
Chicago Cubs: Matt Garza is expected to be back within the next month and should slot in behind Jeff Samardzija to give the Cubs a formidable 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation. When Garza is healthy, you can pretty much put him in the books for an ERA in the high 3.00s with a K/9 rate around 8.5. I don't see any reason why he wouldn't continue with those numbers in 2013. Jeff Samardzija burst onto the scene as a starter last year and has caught lighter fluid once again. Samardzija is striking out 30% of the batters he is facing and opposing hitters are hitting .213 against him. He is a rare case of a relief pitcher who didn't lose any velocity moving to the rotation and his slider is filthy. Samardzija is the real deal. Edwin Jackson remains one of the most frustrating pitchers in the game. He had the best year of his career last year and finally seemed to have turned the corner on his control issues while retaining his excellent strikeout potential. He was second in the league in SwSt% but this year that percentage has fallen from 12.2% to 9.5% and the walks have come back. He's keeping the ball in the yard but is getting hit like crazy. I still like Jackson because of the strikeout potential but it's probably best to stash him for a little while until he figures it out. I don't think you want anything to do with Scott Feldman except in the deepest of NL only leagues and Carlos Villanueva is an interesting matchup play. Villanueva is a good source of strikeouts is an excellent spot start against lefty heavy lineups or even some weaker right handed ones at home.
David Price would be the ace of the staff but this rotation would have the potential to be one of the league's best if he joined.