David Price said he was better last year than the year before. Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon called Price's 2011 season "pretty darn good."
James Shields went a step or two farther.
"I thought he had a phenomenal year," Shields said.
Price was 12-13 in 2011 with a 3.49 ERA. Not horrible, but not quite the 19-6, 2.72 he turned in during 2010 when the left-hander started the All-Star Game and finished second in the American League Cy Young voting.
Price dominated in September of 2010, going 4-0 with a 1.64 ERA in six starts.
Last year he was 0-2 with a 4.01 ERA in six September starts, including a four-inning, five-earned run outing on the final night of the season that left the Rays in a hole they were fortunate to escape.
"You really break his year down it was pretty darn good if you put it up against everybody else in baseball," Maddon said. "We hold him to such a high standard and the way it ended, people are just focusing on that moment, but he had a really good year last year."
Wins and losses are no longer the standard for measuring a pitcher's success. Just look at Seattle's Felix Hernandez, who beat out Price for the 2010 Cy Young with a 13-12 record. The voters who favored Hernandez looked past the Ws and the Ls, and so does Price when he looks back at last season.
"I was a better pitcher in 2011 than I was in 2010," Price said. "The areas I feel I can control and improve on I did, walks, strikeouts, innings, everything other than the wins, losses and ERA."
Price threw 224 1/3 innings and struck out 218 in 34 starts, all career highs. He walked 16 fewer batters than he did in 2010 and lowered his WHIP (walks/hits per inning) from 1.193 to 1.137.
He held opposing batters to a .230 average, the eighth-best in the American League, and held left-handed hitters to a league-best .171 average.
He turned in 21 quality starts – at least six innings pitched and three or fewer earned runs allowed. He had 23 quality starts in 2010. Four of those six starts last September were quality starts as was his Game 3 start in the American League Division Series.
Price pitched eight or more innings nine times in 2010.
He received just 3.93 runs per start.
The Rays were held to a run or less in nine of his starts. They also won 18 times when Price started.
Shields noticed a better four-seem fastball and a better cut fastball from Price. He thought Price had a better change-up than in 2010 and threw it more last season.
"Believe it or not, I thought he got better," Shields said. "I thought he improved a lot last year, to be honest with you."
There were several occasions last season when Price mentioned a lack of fortune when on the mound, meaning the breaks he received in 2010 – a poorly located pitch that resulted in an out – fell for hits in 2011, especially with runners in scoring position.
"That's the way things go," Shields said. "That's baseball."
Take away the sub-.500 record and Shields said there really wasn't much not to like about the 2011 David Price.
"If you told me my ERA from pitching in the American League East would be a 3.49 at the end of the year, I think I'd be OK with it," Shields said.
Maddon said Price is at the point of his development where the physical part of his game is nearly maximized. What's left is how Price negotiates his way through a ball game.
"I'm talking game-planning as an example, pitch-selection as an example," Maddon said. "Those are the kind of things that will get him farther along."
Price said his to-do list is longer than that.
"Controlling the running game, pitching with runners in scoring position, just constantly getting better at everything I do," Price said. "I have yet to master anything in my craft, nor will I ever master everything in pitching. I constantly work on getting better."