Friday, June 6, 2008

The (David) Price is Right

Disclaimer: The following analysis of David Price is not based off of a deep and revealing study of college pitchers making the transition to professional ball. I don't get paid enough to do that kind of stuff -- in fact I don't get paid at all, so what you see is what you get.

When David Price was drafted with the #1 pick last year, I felt fairly confident that I knew what to expect from him in statistical terms, even if projecting college players can be a bit problematic at times. With the recent rise of other college pitchers like Tim Lincecum and Luke Hochevar, there are a large number of players to compare with Price, so basic early estimations of his K/9 and BB/9 stats seemed pretty straight forward. However, no matter how hard I tried, and no matter where I looked, I couldn't find a single source that could provide me with a ground ball rate for Price, or any other college pitcher for that matter.

Without knowing Price's ground ball tendencies, it was hard to say how dominant he would be, so it was with much anticipation that I waited for his first few starts at A+ ball. And though we still only have a total of 18 innings to go by, the sample size is finally large enough to allow us to begin to make some solid projections for the young left hander.

With only 18 innings to go by, I'm really only interested in the GB%. The K/9 and BB/9 stats are subject to fluctuation, and if you go by trends we've seen with other college pitchers, those two stats probably won't become constant until about the 50 inning mark. However, the GB% stat can be established fairly quickly with little variation in its value. Before I get too far into discussing Price's stats, I'd like to validate the trend in establishing early GB% values.

Of course, there's always a chance that Price is an exception to the rule, but I'm going to conservatively base my analysis of him on a GB% that sits somewhere in the mid-50% range.

Now that we have a legitimate GB% to go by, what about the K/9 and BB/9 stats? Judging by the success (or lack of success) of other college pitchers, Price's BB/9 stat is likely to match his college rate, while the K/9 stat will most likely approach his college rate until he reaches AAA. At that point, it's difficult to say what will happen, as some pitchers see a significant drop while others experience very little change at all, so the real question becomes how can we determine what will happen to Price once he reaches AAA.

The following pitchers all averaged a K/9 rate higher than 12.0 in their final year of college.

As you can see, determining which pitchers will excel at AAA and which ones will struggle is hard to determine based solely on their college K/9 rates. However, we know that Price has the type of stuff to get major league hitters out, as evidenced by his two strike out performance against Alex Rodriguez in March during an extended Spring Training start. Also, in terms of velocity and pure stuff, Price compares well to Lincecum and Weaver, which leads me to believe that a drop of 10-20% in his K/9 rate seems probable. I don't think it will exceed 20% and will most likely end up in the high 9.0 range or the low 10.0 range given the fact that his college stats were posted in a highly competitive conference.

So, with a bit of projection, we end up with a probable AAA stat line for David Price that includes a GB% between 55-60%, a K/9 of about 10.0, and a BB/9 of 2.0-2.5. If we compare that stat line to Weaver and Lincecum, it seems that Price will fall somewhere in between the two pitchers.

My gut instinct tells me that Price is capable of posting a K/9 rate closer to 12.0, but I can't really justify it, so I'll stick with the above stat line. Given that stat line and the success of Lincecum and Weaver, it seems that if Price gets called up later this season, an ERA of 3.5o at the major league level isn't out of the question, and he certainly shouldn't have a problem maintaining the Rays current team average of 3.77.

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