Jon Lester-Versus-David Price: Extend Or Rent At The MLB Trade Deadline?
Jon Lester is in the midst of a career season. With 4.6 WAR, the left-hander is a top target at the MLB trade deadline for a handful of teams. David Price has been worth 3.7 WAR, good for eighth best in baseball to date. If asked who’s the better pitcher, my answer would have been David Price up until last week when Baseball Prospectus’ Harry Pavlidis (@HarryPav) suggested the opposite. Turns out the Brooks Baseball maven was right and ROTOscouting’s piece idea of Price to the Cubs for a bounty of young positional talent made little sense given the ability for Chicago to sign Lester as a free agent and keep its young talent.
However, yesterday’s piece by Ben Flajole on Felix Hernandez and his pitch selection forced me to take a second look at Lester-versus-Price through the lens of longevity and which pitcher is the best long term investment. This is due to both pitchers are similar on the surface after accounting for the difference in career innings pitched.
Player Name Jon Lester David Price Career WAR 33.8 22.4 Age 30.6 28.11 Career IP 1519.1 1136.2 Career K/9 8.21 8.39 Career BB/9 3.13 2.43 Career GB% 47.1 45.1
At the MLB trade deadline, it’s obvious David Price will receive more in return than Jon Lester due to the extra year of team control. The next two off-seasons will see both pitchers enter free agency unless extensions happen first. For an acquiring team, being willing to part with talent to secure the services of either pitcher has a chance to elevate the organization in the mind of both pitchers and their representation. For a Dodgers or Cubs team with the money and talent to acquire and extend either left-hander, assessing future value is part of the due diligence process.
MLB Trade Deadline: Where David Price Shines
This is where Price becomes the clear leader in terms of MLB trade deadline value. Why? A Ben pointed out using “King Felix”, the Mariners ace has developed into more of a pitcher, throwing fastballs (with slower velocity) and change-ups more frequently as the years have passed (75% of pitches in 2014). At present, Price’s fastball has dropped more than two MPH from a high of 95.5 in 2012. Additionally, the left-handed pitcher has thrown more change-ups than ever, accounting for 17.2% of pitches thrown. Overall, David Price throws a fastball or change-up — the two pitches least stressful on the arm nearly 75% of the time – matching Hernandez
Meanwhile, Lester has essentially shelved the change-up to rack up the strikeouts while throwing more cutters than ever. In fact, his 29.6% cutter percentage is good for sixth most in all of MLB. Combine this with 14% curveball usage and Lester throws “straight stuff” less than 57% of the time. Over the course of a full season, Jon Lester will throw 400 or more additional cutters and curveballs than David Price. Does the cumulative effect of stress on the arm leave the Red Sox left-hander a higher injury risk? Just the thought will force teams to think twice.
So while Price projects for success with his current arsenal, Lester and his future organization has a choice to make — burn the bullets in his left arm by throwing more cutters/curveballs, resulting in greater success, but shorter shelf life. Or, revert to the pitch selection of old which will lead to regression. Either way, it’s difficult to envision a Lester who produces at an elite level through the life of his free agent contract.
If forced to invest 6-8 years in a pitcher for well in excess of 100-million dollars after trading assets at the MLB trade deadline, a career altering surgery can cripple an organization for years. Because of pitcher injuries in baseball, organizations will work to dissect the playbook of successful pitchers like Felix Hernandez. Between David Price and Jon Lester, the Rays left-hander more closely resembles the durable Mariners ace than Lester.
29 Jul 2014 / Mike Newman / 1
Categories: MLB Analysis
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