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St. Louis Cardinals trade rumors: Buyer beware on David Price

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Over the last five seasons, David Price has been one of the league's best pitchers. His 23.4 fWAR from 2010 through 2014 ranks fifth in all of baseball behind Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, and Cliff Lee. However, is one-year of his services worth the projected asking price?

Leon Halip/Getty Images

As discussed by Craig yesterday, the Cardinals are reportedly interested in three of the game's biggest starting pitchers—David Price (trade), Cole Hamels (trade), and Max Scherzer (free agent). Eric followed by asking whether or not it makes sense for the Cardinals to deal prospects for Price (or Hamels). His conclusion? "If the Price is right," of course. After reviewing the trade involving Price before the non-waiver deadline last summer, Eric projected that a package including Carlos Martinez and Peter Bourjos could land Price—overall, a seemingly reasonable value.

After speaking with some of the staff over at Bless You Boys (The Tigers SB Nation site), it doesn't seem like they are all that interested in Bourjos (or Jon Jay for that matter) given the current configuration of their outfield, even if Eric provided logical reasoning behind why they might be interested in Bourjos. The two staff members had repeated interest in prospects as a return for Price, so it would likely require Martinez/Marco Gonzales plus another prospect (whether that's as high as Randal Grichuk/Stephen Piscotty or it will involve a "lower ceiling" guy like Tim Cooney, I don't know).

I'm not here to speculate on what Price may or may not cost. Instead, I will take a look at his PITCHF/x data (mainly velocity), courtesy of BrooksBaseball, and see what type of pitcher to expect in 2015. If there is an area of concern, I plan to address it.

Year Pitch Frequency Velocity (MPH) H. mov. (inches) V. release (feet)
2014 Fourseam 17.22% 94.23 7.77 6.08
Sinker 39.89% 94.19 10.21 6.03
2013 Fourseam 15.07% 94.51 7.69 5.88
Sinker 39.43% 94.47 10.87 5.86
2012 Fourseam 12.56% 96.49 7.73 6.06
Sinker 48.39% 96.17 10.67 6.05
2011 Fourseam 19.93% 95.94 7.04 6.19
Sinker 50.61% 95.58 10.37 6.15

As you can see, Price has experienced a drop in his fastball velocity over the last two seasons. His 2014 velocity was just a shade slower than what it was in 2013, but it was over two MPH slower than it was in 2012. The more concerning thing cannot be seen when looking at the year-by-year data provided in the table above, but instead is illustrated when looking at fastball velocities on a month-by-month basis:

Price Velo

It is not uncommon for a workhorse (200+ innings per season) to lose fastball velocity as the season grinds along. What is concerning, however, is that Price didn't really deal with this issue in 20132012, or 2011. Is this a sign of what's to come with Price's fastball? Are we simply dealing with a small sample size issue (that just so happens to correlate with the last three months of a long season)? Did Price make a conscious adjustment to his fastball knowing that he was now in pitcher-friendly Comerica Park? Was Price particularly fatigued considering he threw almost 250 regular-season innings in 2014? Unfortunately, I do not have the answer to any of these questions. However, it is something to keep a particularly close eye on when weighing the pro's and con's of a potentially franchise-changing transaction.

Fortunately for Price, his sinker velocity held relatively steady throughout 2014 (around 94 MPH or so). In terms of usage, Price goes to his sinker (~40%) more often than his fourseamer (20%), but his fourseamer has been one of his main put-away pitches over the course of his career. One could make a reasonable argument that the success of his sinker is somewhat reliant on appearing identical to his fourseamer for 90% of its flight from his hand to the catcher's mitt. Arm-side tail on his two-seamer occurring just before the ball reaches home plate is what makes this pitch particularly successful. Well, his vertical release points (see the first graph) on his fastballs have been in nearly perfect unison, but any noticeable difference in velocity (as we saw toward the end of 2014) will have a negative impact on both of his fastballs' effectiveness, especially over a 162-game season. This is not ideal for a pitcher who uses these two pitches 60% of the time.

Bottom line

ZiPS projects Price to throw ~210 innings in 2015. This would obviously be a very welcome addition to the top of any starting rotation. With a projected 23.1 K% and 4.5 BB%, along with a an ERA of 3.67 and a FIP of 3.57, Price's overall value arrives at 4.3 zWAR. ZiPS projects Martinez to be worth 2.2 zWAR over 150 innings pitched. If both projections hold true, is a 2.1 win improvement for one season worth it for the Cardinals? I have already made my opinion known on the matter. If I had to pick a pitcher for the Cardinals to acquire, Price would probably be the guy, but I just would not feel comfortable including Carlos Martinez (and his years of team control) in such deal, especially with the question marks surrounding Price's fastball velocity. Frankly, I just want to see what El Gallo can do when he throws more sinkers.

Editor's addition (8:27 AM CST): Price has thrown the fifth most innings (1,079) in all of baseball since 2010. That's a whole lot of innings on an arm that has not had any shoulder or elbow related issues since 2008.