Fact or Fiction examines the 2010 performance of a player, good or bad, and determines whether he'll duplicate his numbers in 2011 or it was just a fluke. Today's Fact or Fiction looks at Tampa Bay Rays' starting pitcher David Price
With a resume consisting of three successful seasons at Vanderbilt University, a role on the United States National Team in the summers of 2005 and 2006, and a place as the number one overall pick in the 2007 amateur draft, many folks were not surprised by David Price's successful 2010 season, when he won 19 games and struck out 188 batters.
After a cup of coffee in 2008 during the Rays' playoff run, Price's 2009 rookie year was mediocre, even for an American League East pitcher. In a restricted workload of 128.1 innings, Price had a 4.42 ERA, walked 3.79 batters-per-nine innings (BB/9), allowed 17 home runs, and struck out 7.15 batters-per-nine innings (K/9). His 2010 numbers were better across the board: a 2.72 ERA, 3.41 walks-per-nine, and only 15 home runs allowed, with a K/9 of 8.11 over 208.2 innings pitched. With considerable improvement in ERA but only a marginal improvement in the other categories, asking if he can duplicate his 2010 season is a legit question.
Analyzing Price's advanced statistics, there are some numbers that indicate 2011 maybe a rough ride for Rays fans and fantasy owners. Price stranded 79 percent (strand rate/LOB%) of the runners that reached base against him last year. This could mean that he is a great pitcher out of the stretch, but a more likely deduction is that he was helped by a very good defense and had "luck" on his side when runners got on base. The major league average strand rate sits near 70 percent, and Price's rate being almost 10 percent higher helped keep that ERA below 3.00. It's safe to assume some regression in this area- not just because of "luck", but also because Rays 2011 defense will be inferior to what it was in 2010.
Two other statistics that point to an overall performance drop for Price in 2011 are batting average on balls put into play (BAbip) and the increasing percent of fly balls (FB%) he allows. The major league average BAbip is around .300 and the average BAbip for American League starters in 2010 was roughly .292, but Price's 2010 BAbip of .280 was considerably lower than both of those numbers. His 2010 fly ball rate, another worry for potential fantasy owners, was 39.6 percent and has been consistently risen during his three years of major league play. If the amount of home runs he allows per fly ball bounces back to his 2009 rate of 11.1 percent or even his career average of 8.3 percent (instead of his 2010 rate of 6.5 percent), it will certainly have a negative effect on his ERA and win total this season.
Two more factors that haven't been mentioned are that the Rays have a worse offense and a worse bullpen this season when compared to last year. Losing Carl Crawford
and Carlos Pena
may hurt more defensively overall, but their absence from the Tampa Bay lineup will lead to fewer runs scored, even though the team has added veteran hitters Johnny Damon
and Manny Ramirez
Furthermore, the turnover in the Rays bullpen may have an even bigger impact on Price's fantasy value. The free agent losses of end-gamers Rafael Soriano
and Joaquin Benoit
hurt the bullpen, but the losses of setup men Grant Balfour
and Chad Qualls
, who safely got the ball to the end-gamers, will have an impact on win totals and the previously mentioned strand rate. This season's younger, more inexperienced bullpen may surprise, but it is highly unlikely that they will be able to duplicate the performance of the 2010 hurlers.
Young pitchers get better as they mature, but they typically do not improve steadily. Their improvement, in numbers and performance, usually comes in peaks and valleys until they reach the point in their careers where they become consistent. Last season was a peak in David Price's young career, but after setting the bar so high, it is almost certain that 2011 will be a valley.