Bryan Price got his first gig on a big-league coaching staff in 2001 with the Seattle Mariners. Eighteen years later, he has been a pitching coach with three organizations and a manager with one.
Know this, though: Price, hired Thursday to coach the Phillies’ pitching coach, isn’t taking this latest opportunity for granted.
“I think there’s a lot of really good, qualified baseball people that aren’t even candidates [for pitching coach jobs] at this time because of maybe their lack of experience with new technology and analytics,” Price said by phone from Mexico, where he will coach Team USA in a pre-Olympic qualifying tournament that opens Saturday. “I knew going in that organizations looking at me would be wanting to know what my background was in both those areas.”
In answering that question, Price sounds a lot like the manager for whom he will work with the Phillies. Joe Girardi often talks about striking a balance between going with your eyes and gut and diving deep into new technology and analytics. He values both ends of the spectrum and preaches the importance of not going too far in either direction.
Price, 57, is probably more closely aligned in terms of philosophy with former Phillies pitching coach Rick Kranitz, who was let go last November in favor of data-driven former scout Chris Young, let go a few weeks ago after the Phillies ranked in the bottom half of the 15-team National League in most pitching categories, including 11th in earned-run average (4.53), 13th in fielding independent pitching (4.88), and 14th in home runs allowed (258).
But Price also isn't at all dismissive of the value of analytics in helping a pitcher maximize his potential.
"What we know about our opponents, what we know about ourselves as pitchers has grown exponentially in the last 20 years since I started in Seattle," Price said. "Being able to merge the benefits of baseball experience with the benefits of having some analytical data to either support what you feel or refute what you feel, as a coach, I think it's a good thing. But you have to temper all of it."
Price, fired from his managerial post with the Cincinnati Reds early in the 2018 season, accepted a job in August to coach Team USA’s pitchers. Girardi had been slated to manage that club but stepped down last month to pursue manager openings with the Phillies, Chicago Cubs, and New York Mets.
A few weeks ago, Price turned down an offer to be the Arizona Diamondbacks’ pitching coach, perhaps because he believed Girardi would land a managerial job and bring him aboard. Price said he “wasn’t totally surprised to hear from” Girardi after the Phillies hired him last week, although they aren’t longstanding friends and hadn’t worked together before their connection with Team USA.
The Phillies will focus on pitching in the offseason. They must add to a starting rotation that includes ace Aaron Nola and a bunch of questions. The bullpen, meanwhile, needs to be almost entirely remade after being deluged by injuries.
But before the Phillies could overhaul their pitching staff, they needed a coach to lead it. Price will provide a contrast in style and voice from Young, who had a scouting background and proved to be better at identifying helpful trends in the game (elevating fastballs at the top of the strike zone, for example) than aiding pitchers in implementing them.
In particular, Price believes in the need to individualize data to suit each specific pitcher rather than applying a one-size-fits-all approach.
“We can’t teach everybody to do things exactly the same way,” Price said. “We can’t look at a spreadsheet to find if our pitchers are talented or not, or what they need to work on. It’s a blending of all these different things. I’m hoping that’s what I bring to the organization, the ability to blend what we know from our technologies with really good common-sense baseball style.”