David Price’s ERA Hangs in the Balance

David Price works pretty hard to make sure his teammates don’t have to. Price struck out 11 Pirates and walked just one yesterday afternoon, and he barely improved a strikeout-to-walk rate that was already north of 10-to-1. But even with 11 strikeouts, Price still allowed nearly two thirds of his opposing batters to put the ball in play. Every pitcher needs help from his defense, even Price.

Very soon, Price may have new teammates behind him. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reported that the Blue Jays, Cardinals, Giants, Indians, and Yankees were heavily scouting Price in his previous start. One thing those teams have in common is that they’re in the playoff hunt this season, which the Rays decidedly are not. At the very least, Price’s 6-7 record can stand to improve no matter where he lands. However, those teams also have several major differences that will likely have an impact on Price’s numbers for the rest of the season. Price is an ace, and there is not a situation in baseball bad enough to make him not so. But the team that Price ends up on could mean the difference between him being a top five starter and a top 15 one.

In terms of ballpark, you really want Price to avoid New York and Toronto. Tropicana Field has always been an underrated pitcher’s park, but San Francisco, Cleveland, and St. Louis would likely not have too much of an impact on Price’s rates. San Francisco is death to flyballs, and both Cleveland and St. Louis have lower home run park effects for right-handed hitters than left-handed hitters, which should be beneficial to the left-handed Price.

Park Factors – 2013
Team Park Runs HR HR as L HR as R
Yankees 103 110 114 106
Blue Jays 102 107 103 108
Cardinals 97 92 94 90
Indians 96 97 105 89
Rays 95 96 98 93
Giants 94 89 85 91

Price’s handedness would stop Yankee Stadium short of being a total disaster. Rogers Centre in Toronto is actually more favorable for right-handed power than Yankee Stadium. In Toronto, the decline in park would be at least somewhat offset by the schedule, as Price would trade facing the No. 1 team in offensive WAR, the Blue Jays, for the below average Rays offense.

As dramatic as the difference between Toronto and New York and the other three rumored new home parks would be, the differences in his defensive support on those new teams may be even more dramatic.

Since their rebirth as the Rays in 2008 and in their subsequent run of 90 or more wins in five of six seasons, the Rays have consistently been among the best defensive team in baseball. In their worst defensive season in those six years, the Rays were 14 runs better than an average defense.

Ray Defensive Runs Saved by Season
Season Runs Saved Rank
2008 14 11
2009 40 5
2010 21 11
2011 65 1
2012 49 5
2013 44 6
2014 -18 24

This season, the Rays have been 18 runs worse than an average defense. Meanwhile Price, who had never allowed a BABIP higher than .298 in his career, has allowed a .317 BABIP so far this season. His 3.63 ERA is more than half a run higher than his 2.99 FIP.

As bad as the Rays have been defensively, a couple of his potential destinations do not provide an upgrade. In fact, the Yankees and Indians have respectively been seven and 23 runs worse than the Rays so far this year. The Indians have actually been the worst defensive team in baseball this season, a reality Corey Kluber can attest to. Like Price, Kluber has a FIP more than half a run lower than his ERA.

Defensive Runs Saved, 2014
Team Runs Saved Rank
Cardinals 50 1
Giants 8 13
Blue Jays -4 19
Rays -18 24
Yankees -25 26
Indians -41 30

The Blue Jays, Giants, and Cardinals would likely all provide a defensive boost behind Price, especially the Cardinals, who lead all of baseball in Runs Saved by 21 runs.

The conclusion is one you might have guessed. Fantasy owners want Price on one of the two NL teams. However, the 0.25 ERA advantage all NL starters have enjoyed over AL starters this season undersells the potential differences in Price’s production on his likely NL and AL destinations. If Price lands on the Cardinals or Giants, he should join the short list of most valuable pitchers in fantasy with the likes of Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, and Adam Wainwright. If instead Price joins the Yankees, Blue Jays, or Indians, whatever Price gains in his chances to win his starts will likely be offset by an unfavorable park or defensive limitations behind him.

We hoped you liked reading David Price’s ERA Hangs in the Balance by Scott Spratt!

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Scott Spratt is a fantasy sports writer for FanGraphs and Pro Football Focus. He is a Sloan Sports Conference Research Paper Competition and FSWA award winner. Feel free to ask him questions on Twitter – @Scott_Spratt

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It’s Topskin, not Tompkin