The case against going all-in for David Price


LOS ANGELES – The minute the Los Angeles Dodgers were reported to be deep into talks with two teams to acquire young pitchers Alex Wood and Mat Latos as well as two relievers and a prospect, many people presumed it was part of their master plan to land David Price.

So, it wasn’t just a three-team, 12-player trade, but a four-team, 14-plus player trade?

Some had even begun conjecturing what it would take to land Price – perhaps Wood and another pitching prospect, Grant Holmes, whom the Detroit Tigers were said to be high on? It doesn’t matter now, because it didn’t happen. Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski struck a deal with the Toronto Blue Jays, and Price is headed north of the border.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing for the Dodgers? It depends how closely you’re paying attention. It depends how long your time horizon is. Certainly, Dodgers fans can be forgiven for being a little disappointed. Few people have heard of Wood. Price is a celebrity, a funny tweeter and a really dominant pitcher.

But the numbers paint a little more nuanced picture. Keeping Wood has a huge upside for the Dodgers. He’ll be here next year, too, while Price will be a free agent. Theoretically, the Dodgers could have both Price and Wood next year if they come up with the money to sign Price, who is two years younger than Zack Greinke, who also figures to be on the market.

Since the start of 2013, Wood’s first season, he has pitched pretty darn close to as well as Price has. In fact, both pitchers have a 3.10 ERA over that span. Price has a lot more strikeouts (560 to 337), but he also has faced nearly 800 more batters. If you delve a little deeper into advanced numbers like xFIP and FIP, the story is similar.

Judging by a .316 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), Woods’ luck has been a little worse than Price’s, too.

The Dodgers are taking on some health risk, as they’ve shown themselves perfectly willing to do. Wood has already had Tommy John surgery once and missed time with forearm tightness this season. Many people think his unusual delivery could lead to further injuries. Some people also think it affects his command. A strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2.5 is not fantastic. Price is a workhorse with scant history of injuries who doesn’t walk people.

But the real reason the Dodgers would have considered parting with prospects to land Price on a rental basis is October. He pitched a very strong eight innings against the Baltimore Orioles in the playoffs last season and has made five postseason starts, giving him a bankable resume. Wood’s entire postseason history is two relief appearances against the Dodgers in 2013. He gave up a two-run home run to Juan Uribe, among the four unearned runs he yielded.

Some of it sheer perception, too. Let’s face it. A playoff rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Greinke and Price just sounds more unbeatable than one in which the third name is Wood, Brett Anderson or Latos. Then again, what did Price, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander get the Tigers last season in October? Not a single victory. In 2011, the Philadelphia Phillies had Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. They lost in the first round to the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Dodgers' front office doesn’t seem to be overly enamored of big names.

Fangraphs put together a nice study of the 21 teams who traded for elite starting pitchers in June or July over the past 20 years. None of those teams won a World Series. Most of them, 81 percent, reached the playoffs, but as usual, the most that can be said about the playoffs is it’s one big roll of the dice. So, the Dodgers, it would seem, played the percentages once again.