5-20-2010: Is Papelbon a concern?

I have been a staunch defender of Jonathan Papelbon here on this blog, even through the shaky times last season. He has simply gotten the job done, but his blown save against the Yankees a couple of games ago gave me some pause. Sure, it was his first blown save in 22 chances, dating back to last season, but what a blow it was. Papelbon allowed two home runs in the same game for the first time in his career, but what concerned me more was the two first-pitch meatballs he threw up there to Alex Rodriguez and then strikeout machine Marcus Thames.

Since Papelbon likes to compare him self to Mariano Rivera, let’s ask the question: how many times has Rivera allowed two HRs in the same game (as a closer)? The answer is twice – once on July 18th, 1998 against the Jays (a non-save situation) and once on May 7, 2009 against the Rays (allowed two runs to break a tie and assigned the loss). Rivera had pitched 13 years as a closer before suffering that kind of an outing as a closer in a high-leverage situation. Blown saves with 2 HRs allowed is not uncommon though – it’s happened 8 other times this year alone (twice to Trevor Hoffman). But let’s take a closer look.

Paps blamed the outing on a “flat fastball”. Looking over the PITCHf/x data, we see that both the velocity and movement were rather normal for both his four-seam (FF) and two-seam (FT) fastballs:

FF N Velocity Vert mov Horiz mov
17-May 17 93.4 7.36 -9.04
Season 255 93.7 8.92 -8.39
17-May 2 89.2 3.97 -11.54
Season 36 90.6 4.90 -10.69

So he got about 1.5 inches more drop on his four-seamer than usual, and 1 inch more on his two-seamer (which is not the one which was pounded). The horizontal movement on his heaters was actually more than usual. This means to the hitter, the fastball doesn’t look like it’s “rising” as much as it normally does, which should make it easier to hit. But here’s my next question: if you’re thinking you don’t have your best fastball anyway on that day, why on earth would you serve up first-pitch fastballs middle-in? And then, after seeing how A-Rod was aggressive on the first pitch, how could you do it again to Thames?

Paps came back the next night and saved game 2 of the series , but not without some trouble, and getting Juan Miranda and Randy Winn to end it is not exactly any great shakes.

This outing, when put together with Papelbon’s trend towards more walks and fewer strikeouts, is troubling as he approaches free agency. Is he the greatest closer Boston’s ever had? Probably. But that doesn’t mean we should pay him what he wants to be paid. This ought to be an interesting situation to monitor.


One Response to 5-20-2010: Is Papelbon a concern?

  1. Pingback: Links 5-21-2010: Ellsbury back Sat, Ortiz vs the press, offense fine, injury updates, prospect news « Red Sox Talk

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