Frank Wren and Staff Ponder An Ace; Is the (David) Price Right?
No one believes or perhaps I ought to say no one should believe, that just adding one pitcher – an Ace – would have propelled the Braves to the NLCS. But it could have made things a lot more interesting.
Horses for Courses
In a 162 game season you can get by and even win a post season spot with a rotation made up of number two, three and four starters. We’ve seen this happen a lot and even more frequently since the introduction of the Bud Selig annual death match one game play-in. The Orioles this year and last are perfect examples of this and so my friends are the Braves. As we’ve seen in this year’s playoffs however, Ace’s with power arms are required to advance in the post season.
Improving Your Hand (Roster)
As I’m putting this together Wren and company are meeting in Orlando to review the organization from top to bottom as explained in a long and definitive Q&A on David O’Brien’s blog yesterday. During that interview the GM was asked if they could have used an Ace down the stretch. The GM answered this way.
“Yeah I just think that, unfortunately, aces or top-of-the-rotation starting pitching is the most rare commodity, whether it’s the trade market or free agent market. And you look at this year’s free agent market, there really isn’t one of those guys in the free agent market. And whether there’s going to be one in the trade market, I don’t know. But we recognize that that’s an area of need and whether we can acquire that, prior to our young guys arriving here, I’m not sure because it’s very difficult to acquire.”
He’s absolutely correct. There’s a long list of free agents but not an Ace on the list. The only way to draw an Ace is to trade for one. I know there are rumors that the Tigers might trade Max Scherzer but I don’t believe that. Nor do I think the Red Sox will trade Jon Lester who’s numbers don’t look like an Ace but on the mound he’s seemed every bit one. The only Ace likely with relative certainty to be traded is David Price.
The Rays M.O.
The Rays have a plan and that plan has kept their starting pitching in the top five for the last 5 years or so. Here’s how the plan works. Stock the minor leagues with good arms through the draft or through trades. When a player become too expensive for the team’s payroll trade that player to fill existing voids at the major league level but not starting pitching. Established starters have more value and there fore you get fewer pieces in return. Have a starter you’ve groomed in your organization and know the capabilities ready if the player to be traded to a starter. For example last off season the Rays traded James Shields to Kansas City along with Wade Davis and Elliot Johnson. They had Matt Moore ready to step in and depth in the minors. When injury forced them to sign an arm it was a low cost arm – Roberto Hernandez formerly Fausto Carmona – that slid nicely into their fifth starter spot without upsetting the flow of young arms with a long expensive contract.
In return the Rays got the outfield bat they needed – Wil Myers (BA #4 prospect) – pitching prospects Mike Montgomery (BA #23 Prospect in 2012), Jake Odorizzi (BA # 92 prospect 2013), and third baseman Patrick Leonard. It’s impossible to know the exact pairing of who for whom but Myers, Odorizzi and Leonard for Shields and Montgomery for Davis is a pretty fair bet. EJ had been designated for assignment by the Rays and as such I doubt he was a factor in either but it you want to put him somewhere put him with Montgomery for Davis. So three rated prospects – one near major league ready – for Shields. They signed James Loney on a small contract for first base and that settled their roster. This year they have Alex Cobb ready to step into Price’s spot so they will likely move him but for what?
Everywhere I look I see people saying the Braves would have to give up Julio Teheran, Alex Wood or Mike Minor to get Price but that doesn’t seem to fit their needs. The Rays have two holes in their roster that seem pretty obvious; catching and left field. If they don’t sign Loney again they would need a first baseman as well but there seems to be a good chance they will so I’ll leave that one mostly out of this.
The Braves can offer a major league ready (in some folks opinion) catcher to replace 38 year old Jose Molina. No not Christian Bethancourt, Evan Gattis. Gattis is a perfect match and available, not because the Braves don’t like him but because with Bethancourt ready to step up they have no place for him every day. Bethancourt is a better defender that El Oso Blanco and his hitting is finally showing up too. He’s the better long term option.
The Braves have a left fielder or two they could offer up but most likely Joey Terdoslavich is the guy to go. Joey is a man without a position in Atlanta and can play left or first if they don’t sign Loney. In Atlanta Joey is relegated to the bench and he’s far too valuable for that. To fill out the trade the Braves would have to offer up a pretty good pitching prospect like Cody Martin and/or Aaron Northcraft. Martin is unrated but has come along pretty well and had a good year at Gwinnett while Northcraft did pretty well at Pearl. Other options for inclusion might be Cory Gearring and Juan Jaime to shore up the Rays bullpen, Stefan Gartrell who seems to be stuck our system or first baseman Ernesto Mejia. If a major league ready arm is required David Hale is the guy.
Is Price Worth The Price?
David Price is a stud. Over the last three years playing in the toughest division in the AL and on a team that was always under powered he’s 42-26 with a 3.13 ERA, an ERA+ of 122 and a 1.13 WHIP in 622 inning pitched. Only 10 starting pitchers have numbers close to his and only three won more games; Verlander, Kershaw and Shields. Here are those pitchers and all are studs sorted on ERA+.
|Matt Cain||28||625 1/3||109||3.18||1.089|
|Madison Bumgarner||23||614 1/3||111||3.12||1.120|
|Cole Hamels||29||651 1/3||124||3.15||1.090|
|James Shields||31||705 2/3||124||3.15||1.146|
|Cliff Lee||34||666 1/3||139||2.80||1.049|
|Justin Verlander||30||707 2/3||149||2.81||1.088|
|Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used|
|Seasons/Careers found: 10.|
If you’re fan of more advanced stats I have those too. Here from Fangraphs is how Price ranked amongst all starters who threw over 600 innings from 2011 through 2013:
rWar from baseball-reference.com
One of the other posts on Price I read said that he was losing velocity and not throwing his fastball as much. The raw numbers do show he reduced his fastball percentage, Baseball Info Solutions via Fangraphs shows he threw 54% fastballs down from 60% in 2102 and 70% in 2011. Sliding to the right a bit however you’ll see that in 2012 he began using a cut fastball and dropped his slider completely. That year he used the cutter 15.7% and this season it was 17.8%. As Jeff Sullivan says in his post about his performance against the Rangers “…it depends what you make of cutters. Some might consider them fastballs, while others might consider them offspeed pitches.”
Further along in the post he hit what I thought was an important point. . . so I’ll steal it .
“ He didn’t dominate with a particular pitch. He didn’t have the Rangers swinging blind, as evidenced by the modest four swinging strikes. Price succeeded in the way that he does now: he threw hard, he got in the zone, and he seldom left it. . .You can think of Price more as turning into Cliff Lee.”
I think that’s also a sign of maturity. Only a few rare pitchers throw 95 until they retire and Price is learning what the durable Lee has showcased for a long time. The ability to strike out hitters is essential and a good fastball is necessary to do that. But but pitches are only as good as the location, lots of high velocity pitches have found their way into the stands because they ended up somewhere in a hitters happy zone. Besides a starters job is to go deep into a game – not six and out but deep – and it’s a rare man who is throwing 95+ in the ninth like Justin Verlander. Strike outs are great but easy outs are better. Price can still run his fastball up there in a hurry when needed but now he’s simply learned to pitch. Price would be under control for two years so he’s not a rental and he has the experience in pennant races and post season play that Tim Hudson would bring. Ad those all together and my friends means he’s worth it, he is most definitely worth it.
That’s A Wrap
Every now and then I get something right – not often I know so even more reason to smile. Right after the Braves exit I commented on a post suggesting that the Braves should take a shot at Price. Then on the 8th Jim Bowden’s ESPN Blog suggested:
:… that Price would be the perfect fit …The Braves could offer an enticing package of pitching prospects — such as J.R. Graham and Lucas Sims — and maybe one of their two young catchers, such as Bethancourt. “
Right idea wrong catcher Jim, nice try though. Then Mark Bowman followed suit and now Price is the hot rumor. Nice to be a trend setter at last ….
In any event even the oft oddly thinking Bowden can see that one major hole for the Braves is their lack of an Ace arm. The Rays will trade him and I think the Price is right. (You knew I’d say that eventually didn’t you?) I believe as well that the GM knows he has to do something to improve the team and there are few places to do that offensively and the Price deal can be done. The question is, can he do it?