This past offseason, the Boston Red Sox made several headline-grabbing transactions, none more notable than the signing of David Price to a seven-year, $217 million deal. The lefty was signed to fill the much-publicized ace-shaped hole in Boston's starting rotation, but unfortunately, the first six starts of the season have not produced results commensurate with his and the team's lofty expectations.
In 36.2 innings pitched, Price has an ugly 6.14 ERA to go with a similarly unattractive .362 BABIP, 41.8 percent hard-hit rate, and an abnormally high home run rate. These kinds of results are bad, but contradicted by other information at our disposal. For instance, Price's 40.0 percent groundball rate, 5.3 percent walk rate, and 2.88 FIP are pretty consistent with his prior career trajectory, and, his 30.5 percent strikeout and 15.5 percent swing-and-miss rates would each be career bests by a significant margin.
For his part, Price (and manager John Farrell) attribute the negative performance thus far to inconsistent pitch location. As for the added strikeouts, Brooks Baseball helps here - the whiff rate on Price's changeup has jumped to 32.2 percent, unlike anything he's shown before. Something about that pitch is fooling batters within the strikezone in ways that it hasn't previously, as FanGraphs reports a minuscule 55.4 percent contact rate on the pitch in 2016 (a bit lower than the pitch's career 79.8 percent rate).
The changeup is Price's most used pitch outside of the fourseam fastball, but there's not a clear reason for the observed improvement. Movement on it, and every other one of Price's offerings, is basically the same as in recent seasons (in both directions). Aside from using the curveball slightly less frequently, his usage patterns have been basically unchanged. In terms of location, the pitch's zone profile against right-handed hitters is similar to last year's as well. The same goes for the curveball and the cutter.
Price's fastball command is where the location problems have been most noticeable, and here we're still talking about a fairly small sample size. All four of the home runs he's allowed have come on either a four-seam fastball or sinker to right-handed hitters, and it is clear that early in the season, the location of his fastball has been a little more scattered (including more pitches middle-in to righties) than it was last season.
His secondary pitches also have some BABIP problems, but the fastballs are the only pitches that have been hit for power. It looks like David Price has been a little bit unlucky, but has had problems with fastball command against some good lineups early on. A related area that's marginally more concerning is his velocity.
All of his offerings have dropped an average of at least 1 mph, and to this point in the season, his hardest thrown fastball is over 2.5 mph slower than his hardest thrown fastball of 2015. That said, Price is still throwing at a harder rate than the average starting pitcher, so it isn't even too much of an immediate problem. Some have cited the cold temperatures Price has pitched as a possible explanation, but either way, he is in his age-30 season and velocity decline is expected. It is something to keep an eye on if the location problem problems persist.
David Price is a perennial All-Star and Cy Young contender for reason - he has one of the best repertoires in baseball. His secondary pitches are performing as well or better than they always have, and and his fastball still features standard movement and above average velocity. He has had fastball command issues during his first six starts, but this atypical blip seems to have a lot to do with bad luck, and chances are that everyone will have forgotten it by the end of the 2016 season.