Rays lefty David Price has made marked progress since he was a 23-year-old rookie flinging mid-90s heat and hoping for the best. Price has gradually punched out more batters, honed his control and in 2012, he has kept the ball on the ground like never before. Price has increased his ground ball rate from 44.4% last season to 53.4%, which ranks in the top 20 among qualified MLB starters. He's waging a ground war by keeping his fastball at hitters' knees.
Last year, Price lived mostly in the upper and middle portions of the zone with his fastball:
Price's fastball location, 2011
Price threw 35% of his fastballs in the upper third of the strike zone last season, slightly above the 34% average for starting pitchers, and placed 26.6% of his pitches in the bottom third (30.9% average). Climbing the ladder a little more than most and rarely pounding the bottom third, Price's 41.1% fastball ground ball rate was below the 43% average for starters.
But this season, Price is keeping the ball down much more often:
Price's fastball location, 2012
He has thrown just 28.3% of his pitches to the upper third of the zone, trading high heat for more low gas (33.4% of his pitches have been thrown down). The result? A big boost in Price's fastball grounder rate:
Price's fastball ground ball rate by pitch location, 2011
Price's fastball ground ball rate by pitch location, 2012
Price has induced a ground ball 55.2% of the time hitters have put his fastball in play this season. That's the seventh-highest mark among qualified starters:
Highest ground ball rate on fastballs among SP, 2012
|Pitcher||Ground Ball Pct.|
Keeping his fastball low has allowed Price to serve up fewer home runs with the pitch (eight so far in 2012, compared to 15 last year) and fewer extra-base hits overall (a .312 slugging percentage, down from .364 last season).
Now that he's got the holy trinity of pitcher skills -- Ks, control and grounders -- Price has a career-low 3.18 xFIP that's bested by only Stephen Strasburg, Zack Greinke, Adam Wainwright and R.A. Dickey among starters. It's hard to see how Price can get much better on the mound at this point. Maybe he can work on ways to fill the Trop or find a hard-hitting catcher in between innings.