It's Not Too Late for David Price to Be a 2017 Red Sox Hero

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterSeptember 15, 2017

Boston Red Sox's David Price walks to the dug out after pitching during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels, Saturday, June 24, 2017, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

The $217 million that the Boston Red Sox invested in David Price two winters ago has thus far paid for a goat.

But all will be forgiven if he plays the hero in October. Even if he has to do it in an unusual role.

Due to persistent problems with his left elbow, Price didn't make his 2017 debut until May 29 and hasn't pitched since July 22. But the former Cy Young winner is finally ready to return to the mound for the home stretch. The word on Thursday is that the Red Sox are happy to welcome him back.

...As a relief pitcher. Here's Ian Browne of MLB.com:

The oh-so-tempting kneejerk reaction would posit that the Red Sox are demoting Price. And not a moment too soon, given he stumbled with a 3.99 ERA in his debut season in Boston last year before being too hurt to pitch (and awfully cranky) for much of this year.

But, nah. This actually makes sense.

As much as Boston might prefer to have Price back alongside Chris Sale and Drew Pomeranz in its starting rotation, neither the time nor the means are available to build up his pitch count. It's too late for him to go on a minor league rehab assignment, and the major league regular season ends in a little over two weeks.

The Red Sox also don't need to risk further damage to his elbow by forcing the 32-year-old back into a starting role. They may not have the AL East locked up yet, but they do have a three-game lead over the New York Yankees and, according to Baseball Prospectus, a 99.9 percent chance of making the playoffs.

So, it's to the bullpen Price goes.

Although there is a full-circle thing going on in light of how his first pennant race experience was as a reliever with the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays, the game has changed. The plan to use him for multiple innings at a time is decidedly modern. 

Before anyone can even say, "Hey, that sounds like Andrew Miller," along comes Boston manager John Farrell to imply it.

"It was on full display last October the way things have evolved with more aggressive use of the bullpen," he told reporters on Thursday, per ESPN's Scott Lauber. "Feel like David getting healthy, getting game activity under his belt is a prime candidate to be that type of guy."

In theory, the Red Sox sure could use a clone of a guy who put up a 1.40 ERA over 19.1 innings in 10 postseason appearances for the Cleveland Indians last year.

They need a guy like that for the sake of their bullpen. It has a solid 3.19 ERA overall but only a 3.46 ERA outside of unhittable closer Craig Kimbrel.

Two big issues are the lack of a truly reliable left-hander and a lack of a truly reliable eighth-inning setup man. Price could be the stone that kills both birds.

If he can handle pitching more than one inning at a time while doing so, he could also take some of the burden off the hands of Boston's starters come October. There's little reason to worry about Sale, but Pomeranz should only be allowed to face a lineup twice. Rick Porcello, Doug Fister and Eduardo Rodriguez can't be relied on even that much.

BOSTON, MA - JULY 16:  David Price #24 of the Boston Red Sox delivers in the first inning of game two of a doubleheader against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park on July  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

If all this is giving off the impression that the Red Sox's pitching staff isn't the sturdiest thing around, well, that's because that's true.

But the same was true of Cleveland's staff going into last October. To everyone's surprise, Miller's multi-inning dominance ended up holding it together long enough to bring a World Series title within reach.

A hard feat to duplicate, indeed, but it's at least a blueprint for the Red Sox to follow with Price.

Having only made 11 starts and pitched just 66 innings, Price's body of work in 2017 isn't a deep pond in which to go fishing for positives to suggest he's equal to the task. But the most notable one is that he found some of the fastball velocity he'd lost in 2016.

Via Baseball Savant, his averages over the last three seasons are:

  • 2015: 93.7 mph
  • 2016: 92.1 mph
  • 2017: 92.8 mph

He wasn't all the way back to his 2015 form this year, but he was a lot closer than he was in 2016. And this is for all fastballs. On four-seamers alone, he averaged 94.1 mph.

If he can only muster so much as that velocity out of the bullpen, he'll be throwing hard enough for the job. But there might even be a little more in his tank. Just this season, he's topped 96 mph 42 times and climbed as high as 97.1 mph.

All Price would need is a putaway pitch. His best option there would be learning—or, perhaps via some kind of dark ritual, outright stealingMiller's slider.

But failing that, he could choose between a changeup and a cutter that have both been getting better at missing bats:

It's possible Price will be too rusty or simply unable to fulfill the Red Sox's wildest dreams for him as a relief pitcher. If so, he'll be reduced to a non-factor going into October.

A non-factor is what he's been for most of the season, yet it hasn't stopped the Red Sox from getting within range of their second straight division title. If they could do that, going into October sans a functioning Price shouldn't be a kiss of death.

If a functioning Price is something they do have, however, he could make a difference after all. 

           

All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.

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