David Price Gives Red Sox the Ace They Have Desperately Missed

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterApril 5, 2016

Boston Red Sox starting pitcher David Price delivers in the first inning of a baseball game against the Cleveland Indians, Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Tony Dejak/Associated Press

When you spend $217 million on a pitcher you expect to be an ace, you want him to at least make a strong first impression.

And Tuesday, that's exactly what David Price gave the Boston Red Sox.

The Red Sox have plenty of positives to take out of their season-opening 6-2 win over the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. Mookie Betts and David Ortiz went yard. Junichi Tazawa, Koji Uehara and Craig Kimbrel wrapped it up with three hitless innings and five strikeouts.

But for the most part, it was the Price show. The 30-year-old's first start in a Red Sox uniform resulted in six innings in which he allowed two earned runs on five hits and two walks. He struck out 10.

With Price's debut in the books, Boston is already one-eighth of the way to the number of double-digit strikeout games it got out of its starters in 2015. For that matter, Tuesday was a good first step toward improving on the ugly 4.39 ERA it got out of its starters last season.

The performance taught the Red Sox they were wrong to think their rotation could thrive without an ace. Thanks to Price, their troubles in that department should be over.

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Before Price made his strong first impression, he had his track record. In compiling a 2.45 ERA for the Detroit Tigers and Toronto Blue Jays last season, he earned his second American League ERA title in four years. Since 2012, he has a 2.90 ERA in 866.1 innings.

The left-hander's pinpoint command has been a huge part of his dominance, as only six qualified pitchers have thrown strikes at a higher rate than he has over the last four years. And so the story went in his Red Sox debut. Price threw 71 of his 103 pitches for strikes and succeeded in working both sides of the zone.

And as Alex Speier of the Boston Globe observed, Price made things tough on Cleveland hitters by keeping them off-balance:

"He was able to mix his complete complement of pitches for strikeouts, getting swings and misses with his fastball, curveball and changeup and employing a backdoor cutter to get called third strikes."

There is one aspect of Price's outing that's not quite as awesome. After sitting in the 94-95 mph range with his fastball in 2015, the raw data at Brooks Baseball put Price in the 90-92 range Tuesday. He topped out at 93.9.

But when a pitcher commands the ball like Price did, it's that much easier to get away with uncharacteristic velocity. He further helped his cause by using his changeup. The 24 he threw yielded five whiffs and not a single hit.

No surprise there. Batters hit Price's changeup at just a .226 clip last season. And if he continues to draw whiffs on it, he may be able to improve a chart that already catches the eye:

Courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net.

The increasing whiffability of Price's changeup hasn't come by accident. As noted by Owen Watson of FanGraphs, the pitch has gained arm-side run almost every year. And with an average of 11.8 inches of horizontal break Tuesday, Price may keep the trend alive this season.

His fastball velocity, meanwhile, isn't worth panicking over just yet.

With the temperature at Progressive Field hovering in the mid-30s, the cold may be to blame for Price's radar gun readings. And in light of how his velocity progressed last year, he should be expected to heat up with the weather anyway.

An optimist would say this makes Price's debut a win for Boston on two fronts. He gave the Red Sox precisely what they wanted and yet still has room to improve.

CLEVELAND, OH - APRIL 5:  Pitcher David Price #24  of the Boston Red Sox walks back to the dugout after getting out of a jam against the Cleveland Indians in the second inning on April  5, 2016 at Progressive Field in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Michael Iv
Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

That'll do for a promise that Price will be the ace Boston has been missing since it traded Jon Lester in 2014. It wanted him so bad, in fact, that Red Sox owner John Henry was willing to disregard his typically stingy approach to free-agent pitchers by wowing Price with a seven-year, $217 million offer.

"The one place we really had a need for was at the top of the rotation," Henry said in December, per Ian Browne of MLB.com. "You have exceptions to any rule, and certainly this is one of them."

Simply finding a missing part isn't the only reason Boston had to target Price. It's trying to get back to the postseason after a second straight last-place finish in the AL East. It'd be hard to do that without good starting pitching. In the last five seasons, only four teamsthe Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals in 2015, the Tigers in 2014 and the Baltimore Orioles in 2012—made it to October with a starting staff that ranked in the bottom 10 in the majors in ERA.

Between asking Price to fit comfortably in a pair of ace shoes that had been unoccupied and asking him to spearhead a return trip to October, the Red Sox are certainly demanding a lot. It's a good thing, then, that he's as confident in himself as they are.

"I think everybody wants to be 'The Guy,'" Price told Scott Lauber of ESPN.com. "Whatever team it is, you want to be that No. 1."

This, of course, was just talk before Price took the mound Tuesday. Had he fumbled his chance at a strong first impression, it surely would have been noted that talk is considerably cheaper than $217 million.

Instead, he did his thing, allowing Boston to feel confident the guy it paid for will indeed be "The Guy."

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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