Red Sox ace David Price is a thinking man's pitcher. Of course, that's probably a prerequisite for pitchers who want to be drafted #1 overall, win a Cy Young, and sign a $217 million contract. In December, Owen Watson at Fangraphs detailed the improvement of Price's changeup, which has allowed him to remain dominant in the age of information.
Recently, Price dished on his changeup to Jason Mastrodonato at the Boston Herald, and had this to say:
I feel like at this level, velocity is not a huge factor like it used to be. Everybody in the big leagues at this level, they can hit a fastball and they've proven they can hit a fastball. So it's just about giving them different looks, different pitches, speeding them up, slowing them down, pitching them off the pitch before and paying attention to the swings the hitters are doing.
While his changeup has definitely morphed into a true weapon, he may have shown off his newest toy early in the season. When the Yankees faced the Red Sox in spring training, here's how his first matchup with Alex Rodriguez ended:
Here, Price threw a front door two-seamer to freeze A-Rod for a called third strike. But A-Rod is as much of a student of the game as anyone. Surely he wouldn't be beaten by the same pitch twice, right? Here's how his second at bat ended:
It turns out that Price is growing quite fond of freezing right-handed hitters with his two-seam fastball. According to Baseball Savant, he has gotten seven called third strikes with his two-seam fastball, which led the entire league entering Wednesday's games. Despite diminished velocity this season (probably due to the unforgiving northeast weather), he has 27 strikeouts in 18 innings, good for a 13.5 K/9 ratio.
This development could be important for a few reasons. First, the Yankees will inevitably run into David Price on more than a few occasions in the future. Right-handed hitters should be ready to see this pitch with two strikes. Second, making use of the front door two-seam might help some of the pitchers on the Yankees staff. Someone like Nathan Eovaldi, who has two-seam like movement on his fastball as it is, could try to freeze left-handed hitters and put them away without throwing too many pitches. Even if the pitch is taken for a ball or fouled off, it could help set up an offspeed pitch down and away.
Most importantly, what David Price is doing sets an important precedent. Even with some significant mileage on his arm, he could still probably gas hitters away if he wanted to. Price is innovating before he needs to, not after the fact. Even after two consecutive seasons of 200+ innings and more than one strikeout per inning, Price is still refining a new put away pitch. As Watson's article shows, this is the same pitcher who didn't really start ramping up the use of his changeup until after 2012, the year he won the Cy Young Award.
How David Price performs throughout the life of his contract remains to be seen. In fact, despite tremendous peripherals, he currently has a 4.50 ERA in three starts as a member of the Red Sox. But when teams consider signing pitchers to long-term deals in the future, they should look to see whether prospective signees have shown Price's proactive attitude towards their evolution as a pitcher. When committing to a long-term contract, seeing a player's willingness to make adjustments can make the deal a lot less stressful.
Data is courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Savant.