The Dodgers, David Price, and the Alternatives

Buyer Beware

Buyer Beware

Writer’s note: I know the formatting of the numbers in the tables looks weird for some readers. I’m working on it. I wanted to get this post up during the winter meetings in case something happens.

The Dodgers’ potential interest in David Price has been rumored since the offseason began. I’ve always thought that the interest was more speculation than reality. Price would probably make the team better in the short term, since he’d knock Beckett out of the rotation. However, trading for Price would require the Dodgers to give up Corey Seager for sure, and probably two out of three of the group of Joc Pederson, Zach Lee, and Julio Urias. That may even be underselling the return. The Dodgers’ minor league system is top-heavy, and a trade of that nature would strip it of most of its upside.

The reason Price demands such a premium is that he is very consistent. Since 2010, he’s 8th in fWAR (17.4, tied with Max Scherzer) and 7th in RA9 WAR (19.9). Here’s a year-by-year breakdown of some key stats:

Year

IP

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

BABIP

ERA

ERA-

RA9 WAR

FIP

FIP-

fWAR

2010

208.2

8.11

3.41

0.65

.270

2.72

69

5.7

3.42

86

3.9

2011

224.1

8.75

2.53

0.88

.281

3.49

90

4.1

3.32

86

4.3

2012

211.0

8.74

2.52

0.68

.285

2.56

66

7.0

3.05

77

4.8

2013

186.2

7.28

1.30

0.77

.298

3.33

88

3.1

3.03

80

4.4

While the only dominant year he had was in 2012, he’s had four consecutive very good years. He eclipsed 200 innings in 2010, 2011, and 2012, and almost got there again in 2013. However, some of the issues that caused him to fall short of 200 innings this year are why I would not give Tampa a huge return for him.

Price’s 2013 started out pretty poorly. On May 15th, he was forced to leave his start after three innings and was placed on the DL with a left triceps strain. Prior to hitting the DL, Price allowed a 5.24 ERA in 55 innings, striking out 49 and walking 14.

After returning to Tampa on July 2nd, he was a completely different pitcher:

Date

G

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

ERA

BA

OBP

SLG

BABIP

LD

Apr 2 to May 15, 2013

9

55.0

65

39

32

14

49

5.24

.294

.340

.471

.345

24%

Jul 2 to Sep 30, 2013

18

131.2

113

39

37

13

102

2.53

.233

.253

.337

.279

24%

While part of the change seems to be due to a simple BABIP regression, a 24% LD rate is still higher than anything he has allowed in his career. It seems possible that his BABIP before the injury was too high and his BABIP after the injury was too low.

More important, though, is the fact that he stopped walking batters. Before he went to the disabled list, Price walked 5.89% of the batters that he faced. After returning from the disabled list, he walked an incredibly low 2.59% (a BB/9 rate of 0.89). His strikeout rate stayed constant before and after the injury, resulting in a strikeout rate of 20.4%. While this is the lowest he’s had since his first full season in 2009, when paired with the decrease in walks, it resulted in a FIP in line with the rest of his career.

So far, things look pretty good. Price managed to strike out as many batters while dramatically reducing his walk rate after returning from the disabled list. So, why was his 2013 a potential warning sign?

PriceVelocity

The above graph from Brooks Baseball shows Price’s pitch velocity month-by-month since 2010.  Other than some minor differences (Price phased out his slider completely after 2010), the only year that sticks out is 2013. After averaging 96.55mph in 2012, his fastball velocity dropped all the way to 94.27mph this year. His sinker (which he throws more than any other pitch) dropped from 96.23mph to 94.24mph. While the velocity came back a little bit after returning from the DL, it never really got back up to his career levels and began to tail off again at the end of the year.

Corresponding to his loss in velocity was a reduction in swinging strikes:

SwingRateComparison

This chart shows the overall percentage of swings and misses on all of David Price’s pitches in 2012 and 2013. His swinging strike percentage went from 9.34% in 2012 to 8.56% in 2013. Returning from injury didn’t help, either. His swinging strike percentage was 9.06% before he went to the DL in May, and 8.32% after.

Then there’s the factors that are beyond Price’s control. This Sky Kalkman piece goes into some of these factors. While the Dodger Stadium and Tropicana field are similarly pitcher-friendly, the defensive differences between the Dodgers and Rays are interesting. The Dodgers have a higher Defensive Runs Saved, while the Rays have a higher team Ultimate Zone Rating. However, the Dodgers do not save as many runs by using defensive shifts as the Rays do (source).

Additionally, he notes that the Rays have a pretty significant advantage in pitch framing. The Rays’ two primary catchers last year were Jose Molina and Jose Lobaton. According to statcorner.com (the only place where I could find a readily available source of framing statistics), Jose Molina had 18.1 framing runs above average and Jose Lobaton had 0.3 framing runs above average in 2013. The Dodgers’ primary catchers, AJ Ellis and Tim Federowicz, had -7.4 and -3.9 framing runs above average, respectively. Research into the value of pitch framing is still relatively new, and the magnitude of the impact is still not fully known. But David Price gained some statistical advantage from Jose Molina’s pitch framing that the Dodgers’ backstops cannot match.

And, simply put, there’s the fact that he got injured in the first place. From 2010 to 2012, Price was pretty much bullet-proof. However, in 2013, he showed that he might be invincible after all. If he were to get injured following a trade, it would be a disaster for the Dodgers. The Dodgers would be trading for two years of Price, and if something bad were to happen to his arm, they would be giving up a significant portion of their future for the right to put a man on the disabled list.

So, I’ve established that I would not trade for David Price right now. What are the alternatives?

1. Sign Masahiro Tanaka

This has probably been the most attractive option for most of the offseason, but recently the feasibility of this approach has become questionable. Tanaka is 25 and has thrown 611-1/3 innings in his last three seasons in Japan. In those innings, he’s posted a ludicrous ERA of 1.44. While scouts don’t think he’ll be that amazing in the MLB (0.3 HR/9 seems especially unlikely to hold up here), most scouts have him pegged as a number two starter.

On paper, this is a perfect fit for the Dodgers (though recent reports have shown that the Dodgers may be lukewarm on signing him). That might just be posturing, but it’s still risky to commit over 100 million dollars to a pitcher who has never thrown in America before. Signing Tanaka wouldn’t require giving up any top prospects (or a draft pick), so that could potentially make him an attractive option.

Throughout the year, it seemed almost certain that Tanaka’s team, the Rakuten Eagles, would post him. However, the rumored changes to the NPB posting system have lowered their incentive to do so. Under the old season, the team that posted the highest bid for Tanaka would win exclusive bidding rights for him. Under the old system, the Texas Rangers paid a posting fee of 51.7 million dollars for Yu Darvish. Since several large market teams (Dodgers, Yankees, among others) need starting pitching, and since the stateside starting pitching market is weak, it seemed probable that the posting fee would be larger than the old record.

Under the new agreement, the maximum posting fee will be 20 million dollars, and any team that posts the maximum would be able to compete to sign the posted player. This would shift a big portion of the money committed from the posted player’s team to the player himself. Tanaka has two years left before free agency, so it will still be possible for Rakuten to post Tanaka next year. As long as he doesn’t blow out his arm, they’ll get the value of an additional year of a really good pitcher and still get the 20 million posting fee next year.

There have been lots of conflicting reports on whether or not Rakuten will post Tanaka this year despite changes to the posting agreement. The “will they/won’t they” should be resolved over the next few days, so it seems like we won’t have to wait much longer to see if this option is off the table or not.

2. Trade for Cliff Lee

Speaking of “will they/won’t they”, Cliff Lee has been the subject of trade rumors for years. Lee’s contract is huge, and the media loves connecting huge contracts to the Dodgers. They have shown some actual interest in him in the past, claiming him on waivers in August 2012. They couldn’t match up on a deal then, and the Phillies ended up pulling him back.

Lee is owed 25 million in 2014 and 2015, with a 27.5 million club option (or a 12.5 million buyout) for 2016. He turned 35 in July, and his numbers have slowly been declining from his hall-of-fame caliber peak a few years ago. The Phillies are also terrible, so there’s not a lot of incentive to keep him while they rebuild. Philadelphia apparently has let teams know that he is available.

Despite the big contract, Lee has been pretty valuable over the past few years. Since I talked about Price’s effectiveness in 2010-2013, let’s compare Lee and Price over the same interval:

2010

2011

2012

2013

Price

Lee

Price

Lee

Price

Lee

Price

Lee

IP

208.2

212.1

224.1

232.2

211.0

211.0

186.2

222.2

ERA-

69

75

90

62

66

79

88

76

FIP-

86

61

86

67

77

80

80

74

fWAR

3.9

7.0

4.3

6.5

4.8

4.9

4.4

5.1

RA9 WAR

5.7

5.2

4.1

7.8

7.0

5.0

3.1

5.3

So, Lee and Price have been comparable over the last four years, with Lee a bit better in most aspects. Lee’s 2011 and 2013 were better than Price’s in all aspects on the table. Lee was slightly better in 2010, and Price was slightly better in 2012. Overall, Lee had 23.5 fWAR and 23.2 RA9 WAR in 878.2 innings during that time period, all higher than what Price managed.

Of course, Lee and Price are on different points of their ageing curve. Lee is 35, and Price is 28. If both Lee and Price required the same prospect cost, I’d probably take Price (though my preference would be neither, and seek other options).

The part that makes a trade for Lee attractive is that Lee’s actual trade value is much lower than Price’s, given the contracts and age. If the Phillies recognize this, and the Dodgers are truly made of money, then there could be a fit here. If the Dodgers took Lee’s entire contract, then there’d be some potential to get Cliff Lee without decapitating the farm system. The Phillies’ front office has been pretty unpredictable, so what they actually do remains to be seen.

3. Stand pat.

If the season was starting today, the Dodgers rotation would most likely be this:

  1. Kershaw
  2. Greinke
  3. Ryu
  4. Haren
  5. Beckett

The top two spots are great, of course. Ryu had a pretty good season last year and the team should be happy to have him as a number three starter. Dan Haren is coming off of two down years, but was able to provide some value even in the down years and could rebound in 2014.

The number five spot is where things start to look pretty questionable, and is why we’re talking about upgrades in the first place. Beckett is coming off of surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, and nobody really knows how he’ll respond. The Dodgers do have some depth behind Beckett, too. Zach Lee just finished a good season at AA and is nearly MLB ready. The Dodgers also have minor leaguers Stephen Fife and Matt Magill, though they should probably only be used in an emergency. Chad Billingsley is coming off of Tommy John surgery, but most likely won’t be ready until the middle of the year.

Well, that post ended up much longer than I intended. Wintertime in baseball can be fun, but maddening. In my opinion, the most likely thing that the Dodgers do at this point is to stand pat, but I’ll still hold out hope for Tanaka or Lee on a reasonable deal.

218 comments
DINGERS!
DINGERS!

Yes, coughing up 3 Top 100 prospects for two years of team control is bad business.  But it was also the return for James Shields and Wade Davis. Kasten would do well to veto a Price trade that strips the cream of the crop as well as the next potential core.

Professor Towel
Professor Towel

where am I?


and what is this "Edit" thing all about?


I feel like I'm in some sort of parallel universe.


I must be high.

BlueMarvin
BlueMarvin

Can I get a #1 with large fries and a Japanese translator, please?

Vin_Skully
Vin_Skully

I think I am going to start a blog, but without all the useless posts.

Batted Bob
Batted Bob

Did Brim create this blog to prove to DK that he has original thoughts and opinions?

DiamondDirtbag
DiamondDirtbag

But seriously, Daniel the sites looking really nice. Good job man

ABSmileBunch
ABSmileBunch

Sorry Boss, can't talk now, I'm commenting on 2 blogs at once.

DBrim
DBrim moderator

At least Mike can't make fun of my comment count now.

ABSmileBunch
ABSmileBunch

I did notice that over the past couple of days there would be gaps between new comments of up to 4-5 minutes, I thought it was a problem with livefyre, but now I'm wondering if all this multitasking is lowering everyone's MSTI productivity.

Batted Bob
Batted Bob

I am talking about handjobs by myself over here. Pretty standard I guess. 

DBrim
DBrim moderator

Brim doesn't pay for dedicated hosting.

ABSmileBunch
ABSmileBunch

then wouldn't Brim's site crash instead?

BIah
BIah

@Batted Bob No, Bob.  He created it because he really likes baseball, and he needed a place to jot down his thoughts every once in a while.One of his goals is to get better at writing, but he's not great at it right now. Hopefully, writing content for this blog will help him get better while writing about things that he highly enjoys.

DBrim
DBrim moderator

Thanks!

DBrim
DBrim moderator

Been toying with the idea for a while. I had a lot of fun doing the Withrow review for MSTI, so I decided to move forward with it.

ABSmileBunch
ABSmileBunch

son of a bitch, I knew that racist thing would catch up with me.

Batted Bob
Batted Bob

@DBrim its gonna be tough to blog without any original opinions or thoughts though. Good luck.

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