“Bruno’s Gold:” Examining the David Price Trade
Yesterday, fellow Major League Fantasy Sports contributor, Joe Iannone, wrote a piece on traded players, focusing on the Jon Lester deal. Sticking with the same theme, I’m going to discuss the David Price trade and its fantasy implications. Price was a player I mentioned two weeks ago as a potential trade candidate, so check out what I had to say about him prior to the trade here. Any statistics I reference are via FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted. Onto the Price trade.
After much speculation about where Price would end up, he was sent to the Detroit Tigers in a three-team deal. The Tampa Bay Rays received middle infielder Nick Franklin, lefty pitcher Drew Smyly, and shortstop minor-leaguer Willy Adames, while the Seattle Mariners received center fielder Austin Jackson. This trade surprised many, as the players included in the deal for Price were not “big name” guys, yet there are still fantasy implications. Let’s start with how Price is affected.
David Price: I won’t go in-depth with Price’s stats, as they haven’t changed much since I covered him two weeks ago, but just to give you an update, his Fielder Independent Pitching (FIP) is 2.94 and his strikeout to walk ratio (K/BB) is 8.22. Long story short, there was a reason why several teams expressed interest in acquiring him. While pitching for the Rays, Price received 3.70 run support per nine innings (RS/9), which is good for just 76th best in baseball, according to sportingcharts.com. The four other pitchers on Detroit’s starting staff have all received at least 5.20 RS/9, which is 54 spots better than what Price was receiving, or 22nd overall. In other words, Price was pitching for an offense that was largely anemic for much of the season (the Rays are currently 19th in runs scored) and will now be pitching for one of the better offenses in baseball. The Tigers are 5th in runs scored, 1st in batting average, and 2nd in both on base percentage and slugging percentage. The switch in teams for Price is a massive upgrade offensively, potentially allowing him to win more games, even on nights when he may not have his best stuff. But how has he fared away from Tropicana Field, the only stadium he has called “home” in the majors?
This season, Price has pitched just under 20 less innings on the road than at home, and basically all of his road splits are better. He has a lower earned run average (ERA) and opponents have worse lines (batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage) against Price on the road. He also has a significantly higher K/BB ratio on the road, while his WHIP and FIP are both lower on the road as well. Pitching away from Tropicana has not been an issue for Price, and he’s actually performed better in opposing teams’ stadiums. However, looking at his career home/road splits, these numbers show that Price pitches much better at home. Perhaps most telling is the difference in his home versus road FIP, which is 2.75 at home, compared to 3.51 on the road. While 2014 shows a preference for pitching on the road, for his career, Price has been a better pitcher at home. Will going to Detroit and Comerica Park continue the 2014 trend of pitching better away from the Trop?
According to ESPN, Comerica Park has the 6th highest Park Factor at 1.091, which favors the hitter. Price’s old home stadium of Tropicana Field has a Park Factor of 1.022, which still favors the hitter and is good for 11th highest. Judging by this statistic, Price’s new home park is friendlier to hitters than the park he had been pitching in, although the difference will likely be offset by pitching in front of a superior offense. Besides an improved offense, Price is now on a team that is competing for a pennant, as the Tigers are in first place in the AL Central, whereas the Rays just recently moved out of last place in the AL East. Pitching for a more competitive team may also cause Price to elevate his game, as each game becomes more important with the season starting to wind down. Wrapping up Price before moving onto the smaller pieces of this trade, I expect his fantasy value to increase now pitching for the Tigers. Price was already a top fantasy pitcher this season, and that’s with a record of 11-8. His win/loss record should improve, even if his ERA and WHIP go up slightly. He’s been a dominant strikeout pitcher this season and this won’t change just because his division did. We’ll see how he pitches tonight, but look for his already high fantasy value to increase as the season continues.
Austin Jackson: Jackson has taken over center field and the leadoff spot for the Mariners. In Detroit, Jackson didn’t offer much fantasy value and is currently hitting .270/.331/.392, with four home runs, 54 runs scored, 33 runs batted in, nine stolen bases and a runs created plus (wRC+) of just 99. He went from one of baseball’s better offenses, playing in one of baseball’s more hitter friendly parks, to one of baseball’s worst offenses, playing in one of the most consistently pitcher friendly parks. If Jackson was barely fantasy relevant on the Tigers, I don’t see his value rising now playing for the Mariners. Sell…if you can.
Nick Franklin: Franklin offers no current fantasy value as the Rays sent him to their Triple-A affiliate after the trade. He only played in 17 games for the Mariners this season, hitting a measly .128/.192/.170, although his numbers in the minors are much better (.294/.392/.455). At just 23 years old, Franklin is still very young and has tons of talent, but the jury is still out on him as he has struggled with big league pitching – he hit just .225/.303/.382 in 102 games with the Mariners last season. He might be a “4A” player who never fully breaks through at the major league level, but he’s got tons of potential, making him an interesting dynasty pick. I believe in his talent, but it’s a risky gamble as Franklin’s future in the MLB might be as simply a utility player.
Drew Smyly: Smyly is just the kind of player the Rays love. He’s young (just 25 years old) and under team control for multiple seasons (the next four). While he’s been off the fantasy radar this season, he has decent numbers and has shown signs of promise. After posting a 2.37 ERA in 63 games as a reliever last season for the Tigers, he has posted a 3.93 ERA while making 18 starts on the mound this year. He has 7.60 strikeouts per nine innings pitched and his current 1.3 fWAR puts him on pace to finish with a fWAR of about 2.3, which would be a career high. Besides a spot start here or there against a weak opponent, Smyly doesn’t offer much value this season, but is a name to keep an eye on in a very young Rays’ rotation.
Willy Adames: Adames offers no fantasy value this season or for seasons to come as he is just 18 years old and hasn’t played above Single-A. He is not close to making his MLB debut. He hit .269/.346/.428 with six home runs, 40 runs scored, 50 runs batted in, three stolen bases, and a wRC+ of 121 in 98 games for the Tigers’ Single-A affiliate this season, grabbing the attention of Rays’ GM Andrew Freidman. Based on scouting reports, Adames is a “boom or bust” type player whose power would be above average if he stays at shortstop, but below average if he is forced to move to third or even the outfield. It’s too early to pay attention to him even in dynasty formats, but again, is a player to watch.
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