David Price had often displayed his incredible ability on the mound, racking up wins and strikeouts throughout his young career and even finishing as the runner-up for the 2010 American League Cy Young Award. But he put it all together last season, harnessing his talents and transforming into one of the game’s most consistently dominant starters.
The Rays’ 27-year-old left-hander was a far more steady and complete pitcher in 2012 than he was two years ago, and with that improvement came due recognition. Price was honored Wednesday night with the 2012 AL Cy Young Award, as voted on by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. The other finalists included Tigers ace Justin Verlander and Angels star Jered Weaver. Price is the first Tampa Bay player to earn either the AL MVP Award or the AL Cy Young Award, joining former AL Rookie of the Year Award winners Evan Longoria and Jeremy Hellickson as the only Rays to bring home the BBWAA hardware.
As good as Price was in 2010, when he finished behind Mariners ace Felix Hernandez in the voting, he was even better in his age-26 season. Price posted a 2.56 ERA, the lowest in the AL and second lowest in the Majors. He continued a trend he began in 2011 by cutting down his walks to just 2.5 per nine innings while striking out 205 batters (8.7 per nine innings, tying a career high). Price threw 211 innings over 31 starts, posting a 1.10 WHIP and an adjusted ERA of 1.49.
Price set a career high with 20 wins, becoming the first Tampa Bay pitcher to reach that mark and tying with Weaver for the AL lead. Ten of those victories came against AL East opponents.
Numbers have never been Price’s greatest concern, however, and he meant even more to his team than those spectacular figures suggest. Price proved to be a reliable presence in the Rays’ rotation, a much-needed presence throughout an injury-plagued, offensively meager season in Tampa Bay.
But Price became the sure thing the Rays needed. He pitched seven innings or more in 23 of his 31 starts and allowed two earned runs or fewer in 23 as well. Had Tampa Bay fielded an average offense, Price’s league-leading win total would have been even higher; he exited two games in August with a no-decision after eight shutout innings. He tied Verlander for the league lead in quality starts with 25, and he pitched more games of seven innings and three or fewer earned runs than anyone in the AL.
Rays manager Joe Maddon said throughout the 2012 season that Price had truly come into his own as a pitcher, not just a thrower who relied on his velocity and raw stuff to overwhelm hitters. Price is every bit the fun-loving jokester he’s always been off the field and every bit the talented, focused pitcher he’s always been every fifth day. But the Price who took the mound this season was just a bit different — more mature, more complete.
And if 2012 was only the beginning of this stage in Price’s career, suffice it to say, he’ll be in the AL Cy Young Award conversation for years to come.