Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com (Sept. 25, 2018 – Source: Getty Images North America)
In case you somehow didn’t know, David Price has struggled in the playoffs throughout his career. The lefty has never won a postseason match as a starter and has a career 5.03 ERA in the postseason. These unfortunate numbers have led several to doubt Prices’ ability to pitch in a big game. However, while the overall numbers aren’t good, there are reasons to believe in playoff David Price.
Believe in Playoff David Price
While the postseason ERA is concerning, the underlying peripherals tell a different story. Price has a 4.16 FIP and a 3.61 xFIP. FIP takes out batted ball luck, and xFIP normalizes home run rate. Basically, while ERA tells the story of what happened in the past, FIP and xFIP tell what would happen if you took luck out of the equation.
Basically, Price has been historically unlucky in the playoffs. Depending on if you like FIP or xFIP better, his ERA should be 1.14 to 1.69 points lower than it currently is. If his career ERA was at his FIP or xFIP numbers, nobody would have any issue trusting him in the postseason.
Additionally, Price has been fantastic during his regular season career, which is a much larger sample size. Price has pitched 1,922.1 postseason innings, compared to just 73.1 postseason innings. In those 1,922.1 innings, Price owns a collective 3.25 ERA. With a sample size that large, it’s only logical to assume that Price will eventually find his regular season form in the postseason.
He’s Done It Before
While the theory above works well on paper, it doesn’t account for the fact that Price’s postseason struggles might be mental. If Price just didn’t have the mental capacity to pitch in the playoffs, then there would be serious cause for concern.
That said, Price has shown the ability to pitch well in big games before. While his playoff ERA is high, that’s mostly due to the fact that when things go bad for Price, they go horribly. In the 2015 and 2016 postseasons, Price pitched 26.2 innings while allowing a 7.09 ERA. He was bad in just about every appearance, and these performances helped write the narrative that he cannot pitch in the postseason.
Last season, however, was a different story. Pitching through an elbow injury, Price tossed 6.2 scoreless innings of relief against the Houston Astros. Even though he was coming out of the bullpen, only Chris Sale saw more innings than Price in the 2017 ALDS.
If you’re looking for success as a starting pitcher, Price has had several starts where he’s pitched well enough to earn a win. Price had a masterful start in the 2014 ALDS, tossing eight innings of two-run ball against the Baltimore Orioles. While Detroit lost that game, Price did everything possible to give Detroit the win.
Including that masterful 2014 start, Price has started nine playoff games. In four of those starts, Price has gone at least six innings while allowing three or fewer runs. While this isn’t perfect by any means, it shows that the narrative that Price can’t pitch in big games is completely overblown. In almost half of his postseason starts, Price has put his team in position to win. This suggests that his bad outings aren’t due to mental struggles, but instead just cases of having a bad day at a bad time.
While it technically wasn’t a postseason game, Price had one of the best games of his career in a win-or-go-home game back in 2013. After finishing tied for the Wild Card spot, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Texas Rangers had a one-game battle for the right to go to the postseason.
The Rays sent Price to the mound for the all-important start, and he responded with a masterful outing. Price pitched a complete game, allowing just two runs while throwing 118 pitches. Even though this wasn’t a playoff game by rule, this had the same stakes as an official playoff game. Had Price struggled, the Rays season was over. Instead, Price overcame the pressure and pitched the game of his life. And yes, he earned the win.
While Prices’ postseason ERA and record don’t offer much hope for the 2018 season, a deeper look at the data suggests that Price has been unlucky more than he’s been bad. His FIP and xFIP are both a full point below his ERA. FIP is usually a better indicator of future success than ERA, so Price should be better than his ERA in 2018.
Contrary to popular belief, Price has a fairly strong history of postseason success. While some of his starts have gone horribly wrong, just as many have been quality outings. Price was dominant last October and saw more innings than everyone but Chris Sale. As a starter, Price has thrown a quality start in four of his nine starts. This number jumps to five quality starts in ten postseason appearances when including his dominant play-in performance in 2013.
None of this is to say David Price is the best postseason pitcher in baseball. Far from it. However, the notion that Price is a constant trainwreck in the postseason is ultimately false. Price has been unlucky overall in the postseason, and there’s a 50/50 shot he’ll pitch well as a starter.