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Boston Red Sox

In the wake of a bullpen meltdown, try to remember that the original idea was to have Chris Sale and David Price together, side by side, with the hope of ending losing streaks and extending winning streaks. In 2017, the Red Sox never really got to implement that plan.

Beginning tonight in Tampa, they will.

Or at least they should.

So here’s the question: in 2018, which David Price are we going to get? And by asking that question, we’re not asking about the Price of 2017 who battled with Dennis Eckersley versus the Price who, this spring, seemed a little more eager to turn the page. We’re asking about the Price of late 2017 who pitched aggressively, with power, or the Price of 2016 who tugged and nibbled as if he were a master of finesse.

Let’s try to illustrate what we’re talking about.

All things considered, Price in 2016 had a good year, going 17-9 with a 3.99 ERA. But he never really pitched like we or the Red Sox thought he would, and he often seemed to pitch tentatively. Price often seemed more interested in fooling hitters than in attacking them, which speaks to a passive approach versus an aggressive one.

Let’s take a quick look at Price’s pitch selection and velocity in 2016 versus 2017, acknowledging that there are a million variables that could affect this data. Who’s charting the pitches? Did they get it right? Can they distinguish between a four-seam fastball and a two-seam fastball? But if you think of fastballs and cutters as power pitches, changeups and curveballs as finesse pitches, you can get an idea as to Price’s overall mentality on the mound.

By percentage, here’s what Price threw in terms of pitch selection in his first two years with the Red Sox. Pay particular attention to the areas outlined in red, which show the highest (in 2016) and lowest (in 2017) percentages of off-speed pitches Price has thrown. (Data is courtesy of the pitchfx tool on Brooksbaseball.net.)

Again, there are a lots of variables here. At the end of 2017, Price was dealing with the remnants of a season-long elbow injury, which might have affected his willingness to snap curveballs. (He was also pitching out the bullpen.) But you get the idea. In July 2016, more than 36 percent of Price’s offerings were off-speed. By October of last year, that number was nearly cut in half – to 20 percent. I don’t know about you, but I thought the Price at the end of last season looked better than Price at any other time during his Red Sox career, at least in terms of his mentality and aggressiveness.

And he pitched better as a result.

Now, before anyone suggests Price was simply throwing harder out of the bullpen – and that would be normal, giving he was pitching in short bursts – let’s not go too far with that. Here is a look at Price’s average velocity by month during his time with the Red Sox, with the highest (in October 2017) and lowest (in April 2016) again noted in red. For sure, a couple of miles per hour can make a difference at the major league level. But it’s not as if Price was throwing 90-91 mph with his fastball at the start of his Red Sox career.

Was Price throwing harder last year? Sure. And he was doing so even as a starter in May, June and July. But there was one start in particular than should emphasize what Price threw was as important (or more so) than how hard he threw it, which brings us to July 16, 2017 against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park – an ESPN Sunday night game.

If you ask me, that New York games was Price’s absolute best as a member of the Red Sox – 8 innings, seven hits (six singles, one double), no runs, no walks, eight strikeouts. The Red Sox won, 3-0. Price threw 107 pitches and a whopping 75 strikes, pounding the strike zone over and over again – and with power.

Here’s a look at Price’s pitch selection from that game. Pay particular attention to the numbers in red – the power pitches – and the number that sits in between them.

If you’re not good at math, I’m going to do it for you: of Price’s 107 pitches in that game, 103 were fastballs or cutters – more than 96 percent. According to Brooksbaseball.net, he threw just four off-speed pitches in the entire game (and no changeups). And while pure logic suggests these numbers might be a little off, go back and watch the game (or at least the highlights). Price was aggressive, forceful, nasty. He owned the mound and plate. The Yankees were overmatched.

Now look, nobody is saying Price should take the same approach in every game and against every opponent. Every lineup and opponent is different. But there is a fine line between pitching to your strengths versus pitching to an opponent’s weaknesses – aggressively versus passively – and Price has too often done the latter during his Red Sox career.

The real problem isn’t with his elbow, folks. It’s with his mindset and mentality.

And it’s something to watch in 2018.

— By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub

You can hear Mazz weekdays from 2-6 p.m. EST on the Felger & Massarotti program, and from 6-7 p.m. on The Baseball Reporters. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti.