Overall track record towers over small postseason sample
By Mike Bauman
There has been some debate about how much David Price's postseason performances might diminish his value as a free agent.
Let's look at it this way: How much should Price's eight postseason starts count against the 213 regular-season starts he has made in his career? If those postseason starts are a mark against him, they are a mere smudge. Wite-Out might work.
Price is at the top of the current free-agent pitching class, along with Zack Greinke. The plus marks for Price are numerous and readily available for inspection.
There is the totality of Price's career, containing both remarkable consistency and admirable durability. He has had one stay on the disabled list, in 2013. Price won the American League Cy Young Award in 2012. He is a finalist for that award again this year, with the announcement of the winner to be made Wednesday night on MLB Network.
Price is coming off another terrific season, leading the AL in ERA with a 2.45 mark, going 18-5 and posting a WHIP of 1.08 for the Tigers and the Blue Jays combined.
At 30, Price is two years younger than Greinke, meaning that he has a greater opportunity for a longer contract, even if Greinke emerges with a deal that has a greater average annual value.
And Price is widely regarded as an extremely positive presence on a team. Cubs skipper Joe Maddon managed Price with the Rays. As Maddon told the Chicago Sun-Times: "He's probably one of the best teammates I've ever been around. ... He does a really good job of making sure everybody in the clubhouse is comfortable and loose and relaxed. If you have young guys, that's really what you need."
This gets us squarely into what should be the reality of the bidding on Price. The clubs most likely to be bidding for his services are in need of front-line pitching, are willing and able to pay top dollar for that pitching, and are unlikely to be put off by a handful of unsuccessful postseason performances.
These clubs would likely include the Cubs, where Maddon's relationship with Price would presumably be a recruiting tool. The Red Sox, having fortified their bullpen with the addition of closer Craig Kimbrel, still need a genuine top-of-the-rotation pitcher. Paying a heavy price in prospects to obtain Kimbrel, Boston might prefer the next move to be made at the cost of money, rather than talent.
The Dodgers, in the absence of re-signing Greinke, would have a logical interest in Price, along with the demonstrated ability to pay. And his most recent employers, the Blue Jays, would have a significant interest in retaining a pitcher who went 9-1 with a 2.30 ERA in 11 starts for them, becoming an important part of the Jays' second-half surge and the renewal of Toronto as a postseason destination.
Of course, there may be more suitors, because a starting pitcher with Price's ability and proven performance level is a rare and precious commodity. But what about those postseason problems?
OK, Price is 2-7 with a 5.12 ERA for his postseason career, covering 14 appearances, six in relief. (As a rookie, he helped the Rays into the 2008 World Series with three scoreless relief appearances in the AL Championship Series.) In 63 1/3 postseason innings, he has walked 12 and struck out 59, so those numbers keep up with his overall career. But Price has given up 11 home runs. This is a completely atypical number for a man who, in the regular season over his entire career, gives up only one home run per 11.18 innings.
What is the explanation? If we choose to focus on these performances rather than Price's whole career, we are opting for a painfully small sample size. You can believe that these postseason shortcomings make Price something less, but we would be just as well be served by this explanation:
This sort of thing can happen to the best of them.
Consider the case of another left-hander, the great Randy Johnson, now in the Hall of Fame. From the 1995 AL Championship Series through the 2001 National League Division Series, he lost seven straight postseason decisions. Some of the same sorts of criticism hit him -- a great pitcher, but he doesn't win in October.
But in the 2001 NLCS, Johnson went 2-0. And in the '01 World Series, he went 3-0. Johnson and the Arizona Diamondbacks were World Series champions. Johnson's greatness no longer had any postseason "buts" attached to it.
I don't mean to equate Price or anybody else with Johnson, a singular sort of talent. But by the same token, a few substandard starts in October should not diminish the remarkable work that Price has done, and by all logic, will continue to do.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.