Saturday, January 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays' Price believes he can be even better

PORT CHARLOTTE

Given the year behind him, you might expect David Price to display the award that proclaimed him to be the finest pitcher in the American League in a certain place in his home. • And he does. • It's over there. On the couch. • Another pitcher, perhaps, would have it centered on the wall. Perhaps there would be a spotlight focused upon it. Perhaps there would be theme music. After all, this is the Cy Young Award. • Price's? It might as well be a throw pillow. • "It's my award," Price says, grinning. "I can keep it where I want."

Who is to argue? Price won 20 games last year, and he led the American League in ERA, and he was 12-1 down the stretch. He had 23 starts of at least seven innings, most in the majors. He allowed two runs or fewer in 23 starts, most in the majors. Opponents hit only .226 against him.

All in all, yeah, it was a pretty good year for Price.

Now, all he has to do is do it again.

That's the challenge, after all. Price simply has to improve on last year's masterpiece. He has to polish greatness, to refine excellence. He has to stack success all over again. Not much pressure there.

"I can get better with everything I did last year," Price said. "Me and (pitching coach Jim) Hickey know that. There is always room for improvement. Pitching with runners in scoring position. Pitching better with two out. Being able to shut down innings. Being more efficient.

"I want to pitch 220-230 innings. That's what the best guys in the game are doing. That's what I want to be."

When you start on the mountaintop, however, it is hard to climb. Over the past decade, a lot of American League Cy Young winners have struggled to maintain their success.

Consider Zack Greinke, who was 16-8 with a 2.16 ERA when he won the award in 2009. The next year, he slipped to 10-14 and a 4.17 ERA. There was Cliff Lee, who was 22-3 in '08 but slipped to 14-13 the next year. Roy Halladay, in 2003, was 22-7. He was 8-8 the next year. And Bartolo Colon was 21-8 in '05 but only 1-5 the next year. Yes, injury was a factor, but Colon is only 32-40 since his Cy Young.

In other words, it's hard to be the best two years in a row. Over the previous 10 seasons, not counting Price, Cy Young winners have averaged 19.9 wins in their award-winning seasons. The following year, they have averaged only 12.6.

So what's to make you think that Price can better?

"It's hard to imagine him getting better, but I think he will," Hickey said. "There is room for improvement. He's determined to get better. A lot of people say they want to be the best. He wants to be the best, but he's willing to do what it takes to be the best. I see him at his peak right now. We could be in the middle of several seasons of him being one of the elite, if not the elite, pitchers in the game."

So add an elevated fastball as a knockout pitch. Try a cutter that wraps around the back foot of right-handed hitters. Price is 27, and he thinks he is still ascending.

"I'm a year older," Price said. "My body feels different, but not in a bad way. I feel like I'm wiser in the game of baseball. I have a year more of knowledge, a year more of experience. It all benefits you.

"I don't feel any pressure. It's the same game I've always played. Sixty feet, six inches. There is no added pressure because I won a Cy Young or because we lost James Shields. The way I go about my business isn't going to change."

In other words, yeah, you can still expect him to blow the biggest bubbles in the dugout. You can expect him to be on the top step, assistant managing, on the days he doesn't pitch. And yeah, you can expect him to compete.

"It takes a special cat to do it after you've been successful," manager Joe Maddon said. "I totally believe he's that guy. He's got a different desire meter. He doesn't want to be good, he wants to be great. Less than that is not acceptable."

For Price, that starts with fastball location. If that is on target, then his other pitches are more effective, and hitters are off-balance, and the game falls into Price's hands.

"To me, it's about David understanding all of his weapons and knowing when to use them," Maddon said. "Some pitchers have all of these weapons, but they don't know when to use them. If David can work that into his pitching IQ, I think he can get better."

For the Rays, there isn't a lot of choice. The starting rotation still has talent, but it needs an anchor.

Can Price be better? It depends. Last year, there were times when Price didn't get a lot of run support, because he often went against the other team's best pitcher. He pitched in losses of 2-0, 1-0 and 1-0.

Still, Price should be entering his prime. There is no reason for him not to be successful.

After all, there is plenty of room on the couch for more awards.

Entering his prime

David Price's career numbers show a steady improvement in the newfangled Wins Above Replacement stat:

SeasonWLGSIPBB/9K/9BabipERAWAR
200910723128.13.797.15.2684.421.3
201019631208.23.418.11.2702.724.1
2011121334224.12.538.75.2813.494.7
201220531211.02.528.74.2852.565.1

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