Papelbon’s Velocity Cause for Concern

Jonathan Papelbon earned his fifth blown save of the season for the Phillies yesterday. After saving 38 of 42 last season, Papelbon has saved 20 of 25 this year. If the Phillies were to become sellers, it was believed that he would be among the first to be moved. Now, with five blown saves in the last 30 days, would anybody want him?

The problem goes a bit further than that: the mechanics of what generated saves for Papelbon, velocity and strikeouts, are in major jeopardy. By tallying a career low 7.91 K/9 IP in 2013, Papelbon ranks 84th among MLB relievers. The strikeouts may be disappearing with his velocity. Click chart below to enlarge.


Papelbon has lost over 2 MPH on his fastball since 2009. Papelbon was a bit in denial in this in an interview with Bob Brookover earlier in the season, stating that he could still thrown 95 MPH if “he needs it”. Brooks Baseball took a look at this topic a few months back and found some interesting results. Papelbon does usually improve as the season goes on, last year averaging 95+ MPH in September and October. However, his velocity to start seasons is lower and his peaks are also lower. And check out that slider: he’s lost 7.3 MPH on it since 2009.

Is this really, really bad? Papelbon’s K/9 IP has dipped below 9 for the first time in his career and hitters are hitting pitches in the zone off of Papelbon at an 86.5% clip according to FanGraphs. After looking at these numbers, Ruben Amaro will have a tough time trading Papelbon for a top-tier prospect – you can earn a save by accident but it is a lot tougher to accidentally regain 2 MPH on all of your pitches.

If there is a silver lining, at least the velocity lost wasn’t lost at the same pace Brad Lidge lost his or else we may be seeing more 2009 Lidge-type results from Papelbon:




  1. Lefty

    July 15, 2013 at 11:39 am

    Ian, I’ve been advocating for months now that they should trade him ASAP to a contending team in need(like the TIgers) . I keep getting asked – Who then would fill the closer role? The answer is – ANYONE! Just do it before he completely falls off the cliff while value can be obtained in return.

    Another fact, and you can watch this and count for yourselves. He is only hitting his target about 70% of the time, meaning it’s quite possible that he is trying to overthrow to make up for the loss in velocity and losing his command as a result. Father time can’t be predicted, he may have many good years left in him, or, like Doc prior to knowing what was wrong, it may go suddenly.

    • Bob in Bucks

      July 15, 2013 at 7:09 pm

      Totally agree. He has lost location which is more impt than speed. Dump him ASAP.

  2. Double Trouble Del

    July 15, 2013 at 11:41 am

    I have been spouting off about Papelbon’s decreasing effectiveness since he was signed in 2011, in part because I watched his performance with the Red Sox during the collapse of 2011. That having been said, the fact that he has experience in the post-season as well as post-season success could prompt a contender to move a higher level prospect if the Phillies were to eat some salary. I know its not my money, but if I was RAJ I would strongly consider doing so.

  3. Pamikedc

    July 15, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    Bad sign. The Phils have bad luck w signing bullpen players. Well, a few…Adams, Pap, and that disaster from last season- forget his name right now(Qu- something?).. And wasted 2.5 mil on Contreras on a year he sat too.

  4. Bart Shart

    July 15, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    It’s not that big of a deal. He can work on another pitch and offset his minor loss in velocity.

  5. George

    July 15, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    Just about every team has trouble with BP signings. Releasing or otherwise losing money and/or games seems to be one of the costs of doing business. Even the Braves, with their great pen from last year have had injuries that have ruined them this year.

    I find it odd that Lidge had his best season after his velocity started downward. It hadn’t gone down much in 2008, but maybe he’d learned something that year. Maybe, if Papelbon isn’t too stubborn, he can still make an adjustment or two. But I think it’s a big if.

    Papelbon, to me, has never been a very good trade candidate because of his high salary. The return might not be very high in any case, but it looks as though to get anything, more money will have to be sent the other team’s way. No one seems inclined these days to spend a lot on closers.

    I would think the Phils will have little choice than to just keep him around and hope not so much for more velocity, but for an added pitch or a different approach. I wish it were otherwise.

    • Double Trouble Del

      July 15, 2013 at 3:29 pm

      George, I don’t think you can underestimate the experience level that Papelbon brings to the position. If you are the Tigers and your weakest slot is the backend of your bullpen you have to look at Papelbon, not a John Axford or a KRod because they have no post-season track record of note. If you’re getting a high level prospect back what difference does it make if you kick in some money.

      • George

        July 15, 2013 at 3:52 pm

        I never said teams won’t look. But it’s been pretty clear lately that closers are no longer being given such gigantic contracts, so Papelbon’s value in my opinion is not goind to be what we’d all like to think. Add the fact that he’s losing velocity and has blown several saves lately, and his value goes further down. Teams will look, of course, but the only way to get a really high level prospect is to eat nearly all of the money owed to Papelbon, and despite the experience level some teams are going to prefer keeping their trade chips.

        And by the way, KRod has had quite a bit of post season experience; just none lately.

  6. bacardipr

    July 15, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    Probably wise to try and unload him at the end of the season. That is before he goes Lidge on us.

    • schmenkman

      July 15, 2013 at 2:11 pm

      I’d rather unload him AFTER he has a perfect season.

      • George

        July 15, 2013 at 3:58 pm

        Wouldn’t anybody? The problem is, Papelbon isn’t likely to have one.

        It’s also unlikely he “goes Lidge” on us. Even with lesser stuff, he’s mostly done pretty well, just not as well as anyone would like, that “anyone” probably including potential trade partners.

      • schmenkman

        July 15, 2013 at 4:22 pm

        I agree, he’s not likely to have a perfect season — I was just pulling bacardi’s leg there, since he didn’t make clear what he meant by “going Lidge”, and I prefer to have Lidge’s name associated with a perfect season than with his shaky 2009-10.

      • George

        July 16, 2013 at 2:00 pm

        I figured you were doing some leg pulling, Schmenk. I thought I’d do a little teasing myself with my remark about doubting a perfect season. I, too, was a little bothered by the “going Lidge” remark. I think his legacy should indeed be that perfect season; I don’t think a pennant would have happened, let alone a World Championship, without that remarkable performance.

        Also, while Papelbon definitely won’t have that perfect season this year, there is always next. Looking at the stats, Lidge had lost some velocity in his perfect year, so there’s always a chance, even if very slender, that Papelbon could do something similar. Lidge also regained some of his abilty after that abysmal 2009 by making some adjustments.

  7. bacardipr

    July 15, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    I suspect Rube will try and unload him at some point in the near future. He was part of the win now at all costs regime. Which has run its course apparently.

  8. Bruce

    July 15, 2013 at 6:30 pm

    Oh..didn’t you hear or read that Amaro decided to be a “buyer” and will be looking for a experienced centerfielder to replace Ben Revere who will undergo surgery Tuesday to repair his broken right foot. The Phillies announced that the center fielder is expected to miss 6-8 weeks (not countng rehab game assignment in the minors). Whatever centerfielder(s) may be available out there will likely be view as a stopgap measure.

    Without Halladay, Adams, Howard and now the loss of Revere which is hugh can impact on their slim hope for a playoff spot. Amaro knows that the team still believe in themselves and would be insulted if he decides to signal a “white flag” in going the “seller”route. The team had a successful homestand (7-3) and have recently won important series against Pirates, Braves and Nats (thanks to upsurge in offense lead by Brown and Revere). My best guess, Amaro is looking for that centerfielder and bullpen help and will withhold the decision to sell so long as the Phillies can continue their momentum for July. Oh..and forget the idea of selling Papelbon especially when there is NO replacement for him The All Star break is a godsend for him in getting the needed rest and be revitalized for the last half of the season.

  9. "Big Ed" Delahanty

    July 15, 2013 at 7:01 pm

    Anyone know the status of Brian Wilson? He always pitched well against the Phils, and has post season experience. I know he is recovering fromTommy John surgery deuce, but he might be worth a look, if not to fill in for Adams. Worth a look.

    • Ken Bland

      July 17, 2013 at 11:51 am

      What I’ve read on Brian Wilson, and you can be the judge on how much you can believe what you read, let alone that you be hearing it 2nd hand is that he’s been working out in Hawaii. He should be ready to roll by early August, at which time the plan is to throw for clubs. During the spring, it was easy to get the impression that he was more geared toward getting himself 100% than trying to force things. I have no clue how long a deal he’d want, and maybe of greater importance, if he’d go short term as a setup guy to prove anything. And I’ve never seen anything that makes me think the Phils would be appealing other than for financial reasons, but that’s not to say they don’t exist.

      Within that really uneducated framework, my guess is he’s a long shot. My guess means nothing toward what he does, if he is indeed getting back to health. But the thought of him with the Phils is pretty fascinating.

    • Lefty

      July 17, 2013 at 12:02 pm

      I haven’t read them yet Big Ed, but go to MLBTR and go to the search box about half way down. I was just about to type in Brian Wilson when I was surprised to see his name in big letters underneath the box. Apparently he is the most searched name on the site lately.

  10. DavidE

    July 15, 2013 at 8:08 pm

    I don’t think Papelbon has been that bad or ineffective this year. He has 34 strikeouts in 38 innings. His ERA is 2.33. In at least 2 of the games, bad defense contributed to the blown save. He has given up 29 hits and 6 walks in those 38 innings.

    That was a great sequence he threw to get Adam Dunn on Sunday. He had recorded 7 straight saves before the blown save on Sunday. Sometimes ground balls get hit where they go through the infield. Anyway, even where Papelbon has blown the save, he hasn’t gotten lit up. The Phillies have won 3 of those games. I think he struggled more last year during the first part of the season. Remember the 3-run homer he gave up to Valdespin and the other blown save which turned into a loss against the Mets.

    • Hogey's Role

      July 16, 2013 at 9:40 am

      I agree,I don’t think he’s been as bad as everybody thinks…

      He could go 25 for 25 in the second half of the season and everyone will have praising him…

    • Lefty

      July 16, 2013 at 12:07 pm

      I agree and said so above. His performance has been fine and may continue to be for a quite a while, no one can predict when these guys will fall off the cliff. But if you have
      A)- Signs that point to a possible decline
      B)- Teams in contention that are in desperate need of an experienced closer
      C)- A ridiculous contract that you probably can only rid yourself of right now

      IMO- You should move him, and do it quickly.

      P.S.- Roy Halladay started last season 3-0. Some of us were warning of an impending decline when looking at his velocity drop off and loss of command, but most would not believe because his “performance” was fine, meaning he was 3-0, winning games. No one knew what would ensue, but IMO- we have to treat the information we are getting about Papelbon with more urgency, because he has a longer contract.

  11. DavidE

    July 15, 2013 at 8:21 pm

    I think the concern a club might have about Papelbon is he has 2 more years on his contract. Last year for the full year, Papelbon had a 2.44 ERA and gave up 18 walks and 56 base hits in 70 innings. His record was 5-6. It’s possible that his strikeouts are down because he is throwing more strikes and not trying to get the hitters to chase the ball out of the strike zone. He had 38 saves and 4 blown saves. But consider the fact that he had 6 losses last year and has none this year. I think you are finding things to worry about.

  12. Double Trouble Del

    July 15, 2013 at 9:54 pm

    The question with Papelbon is the same as it is for most of the starters on this team, namely is this last month or so a chimera or is it bona fide. The Phillies are an average team hence their .500 record. The problem is that they’re way above average in cost. (Papelbon in particular.) If your ultimate goal is to win the World Series then you must look at this team realistically and ask whether they have the horses to do it. I think the answer is no. The question then becomes a question of why, why would you carry 13 million in salary (albeit on a pro-rated basis for this year) when you can spend 6 million on a high up-side prospect when you agree to pay a portion of Papelbon’s salary in a trade scenario?

    • schmenkman

      July 15, 2013 at 10:46 pm

      I think the question is whether they can make the playoffs, and the answer there is maybe. The division is looking weak (Phils have the best record since April 19th), the wildcard is within reach (5.5 back).

      It’s often quoted that they’ve been a .500 team for the last year and half, which is one way to look at it, but they’ve also won 87 of their last 162.

      In any case, if they make the playoffs (esp. as the division winner), they have as good a chance as anyone of winning the WS.

      Which is why I don’t think Papelbon is going anywhere. Or Lee, or Utley, or Ruiz. And unfortunately probably not Michael Young either.

  13. Bruce

    July 16, 2013 at 1:11 am

    I know that several here are critical of Pabelbon ‘s salary. Here is a question for those ‘critics”; The closer has 20 saves with a most respectable 2.33 ERA. Where do you think the Phillies would be without his TWENTY saves so far this season? Conceivably, The Phillies would be looking up from the basement and trying to catch the Marlins and the Mets (smile).

    Pabelbon is looking to finish this season with another 30 plus saves. This would stretch his current streak of 30 or more saves to EIGHT years. That would be remarkable for his consistency and endurance if we not think of the great Mo Riveria (smile). Furthermore, the five time All-Star, Pabelbon’ career stats are enviable by all standards with 277 saves and a 2.34 ERA. So I think his $13 million salary is justified. And his teammates, manager, general manager and a majority of fans would think so. Especially when reliable closers are hard to come by.

    • hk

      July 16, 2013 at 6:26 am

      The answer to your hypothetical question about where the Phillies would be without Papelbon’s 20 saves depends upon what they had done with the money they are paying him. For instance, if they had signed Joe Nathan instead of Papelbon when both were free agents after the 2011 season, they would likely have the same number of saves and maybe they would have employed the extra $5M+ that they would have saved to improve another spot (like RF). Or, if they had gone the cheap veteran closer route like the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Tampa Rays, they would have the same number of saves and would have employed the extra $10M+ to improve two other spots. It’s impossible to know whether the Phillies closer would have saved 20 out of 25 if they had looked for another Jason Grilli or Edward Mujica.

      Papelbon has been very good this year, so any criticism that I have has to do with the Phillies being one of the last teams in MLB to pay big money and multiple years to a closer. The reason that I think the Phillies should trade him now if they can is that, with his velocity declining, there’s a good chance that in the next three years, they’ll pay ~$38M to by far the highest paid closer in baseball and only get mediocre results from him.

      • Phillies fan from Germany

        July 16, 2013 at 8:32 am

        Absolutely agree. Problem ist not Pap’s performance but that he is way overpaid. If you can find anybody to take on that contract it would be trade the Phillies would have to make. But then again, I don’t believe it is happening with RAJ at the helm. He just believes in statements like “proven closer” or “proven run producer” (who cares about that below .300 OBP)…

      • George

        July 16, 2013 at 2:12 pm

        Some team had to be the last to make a huge payout for a closer. There were some other bad contracts at only slightly earlier times; Soriano with the Yanks, for instance.

        I do have a problem with Amaro’s slowness to catch on at times, though, and I mostly agree with your reasons for trading him now. I still think that even with his lower speeds, he’s still been quite effective, and that he may continue to be with some tweaks to his pitch selection and repertoire. It might be best, though, to see if he can make those adjustments somewhere in another division or another league.

      • George

        July 16, 2013 at 2:21 pm

        I may have gotten the name wrong on that closer signed by the Yanks. He wasn’t even signed to close games, but he got something like $12 million anyway.

        The Marlins also signed a washed up closer when it was blatantly obvious to everybody that he’s fallen off the ladder. I think it was a two year deal, but he proved to be absolutely worthless, was traded for garbage, and continued to be absolutely worthless for his new team. He didn’t get Papelbon money, but it was still plenty, and anyone with any smarts could have foretold that he wouldn’t even be worth what Lenny Dykstra used to spit all over the astroturf at the Vet.

  14. The Original Chuck P

    July 16, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    I still think Papelbon is one of the most dependable closers in baseball… a shut down closer is almost a necessary commodity for teams that know they’ll be in it. The Tigers bullpen blew two saves in the playoffs last season… the Giants blew none and were one of the best teams in baseball in not blowing saves all season. The Rangers blew four saves in the postseason the year before… not saying you can’t win without a lock down closer but blown saves in the postseason will kill you. If you’re a team in “go for it” mode, you can’t afford to not have a closer. I’d trade Papelbon but only if we got a decent “groomable” bullpen piece in return (Bruce Rendon). We have to have a plan for savings games this season and next.

    I hate how our media sells our guys short… this guy can and SHOULD return a top tier prospect. We give away our top prospects without thinking in deals but then we say, “Well, Papelbon’s velocity is down” or “Utley;s knee” like we should be ok with getting a smaller haul… Hell no. We should get Zack Wheeler for Carlos Beltran type deals… Jon Singleton, Jarrod Cosart for Hunter Pence deals.

  15. Joe a

    July 16, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    Just heard a rumor that we’ve traded Pap to the Tigers for a top pitching prospect and a Cf. Anyone else hear this?

    • Hogey's Role

      July 16, 2013 at 12:55 pm

      Where’d you hear that

    • George

      July 16, 2013 at 2:26 pm

      Maybe my ears need to be checked, because I’ve heard absolutely nothing. And maybe my eyes need work, because I’ve seen absolutely nothing.

      If I see or hear anything like this, though, I’ll have to have my brain checked because I won’t believe it until my sanity is verified.

    • The Original Chuck P

      July 17, 2013 at 9:18 am

      Papelbon for Castellanos and Rendon would be the haul you’d hope to see for Papelbon… Rendon could take Papelbon’s spot and Castellanos could fill in the outfield.

      • Lefty

        July 17, 2013 at 10:24 am

        It’s possible that they are in negotiations for something like that as we write. I’m guessing of course,have no idea. But they could be stuck on the Phils demanding both players in return for Paps, and the Tigers offering something less. It could be a “who breaks first” type of thing. If I were the Phils, I’d accept something slightly less, but not Avasail Garcia as has been rumored. Looking at Garcia’s numbers, meh is what I see. As I’ve said a thousand times, I’m no expert on prospects and young players I haven’t seen. So maybe there are physical things/tools that I don’t know about this kid that give him great potential, but I can’t see that on paper.

      • Ken Bland

        July 17, 2013 at 11:24 am

        Physics reveals that I may look foolish on this belief within 2 weeks, but it is what it is, and jimmy crack corn, and I don’t give a flying bleep.

        It is AMAZING how several times, people have talked about getting Castellanos for Papelbon on this blog.

        It’s so sexy how people think other ballclubs are in business to make the Phillies better. Detroit is NOT run by stupid people. I’d almost go so far as to say there is no way they will acquire Papelbon no matter how frequerntly he is mentioned a fit. Let alone give up a semi stud.

        Two hours and 20 minutes is the O/U on the next message mentioning the romantic quality of a Papelbon for Castellanos trade.

        Papelbon is about 26.7% as tradable as Mike Young.

      • Hogey's Role

        July 17, 2013 at 11:31 am

        Idk how likely the trade is to happen.. I’ve said before I don’t want to trade papelbon, however if that is what we decide to do, then I hold out for rondon and castellanos… if it happens great but if not that’s fine to, I’d even throw in some money if we had to…

      • George

        July 17, 2013 at 2:58 pm

        I agree fully with Ken Bland. There’s no way Detroit gives up even one high end prospect for Papelbon without the Phils eating a ton or two of money. And there’s absolutely no way they’d give up TWO high end prospects. Sure, they need a closer, but not a really, really expensive one carrying possible risk with him.

        Anyone who thinks the Tigers don’t look at those falling K totals and slowing stuff isn’t thinking clearly. If a blog writer can see declining stats, isn’t it likely that a scouting department will see it, too?

      • Hogey's Role

        July 17, 2013 at 7:10 pm

        Teams get stupid all the time and overspend for somebody at the deadline, it happens every single year.. never say never, the tigers are in win now mode and if they want papelbon bad enough they might get stupid… I said Idk if it will happen but if I were the phils I would hold out to get what they want and if they don’t oh well they still have a shut down closer…

  16. Lefty

    July 17, 2013 at 6:21 pm

    George, They signed Fielder in January 2012 to a huge lengthy contract, and didn’t seem to notice the trending then, or take in consideration that he was playing in a home run friendly park in Milwaukee.

    Dombrowski is one of the smartest GM’s around, but his owner the Pizza magnate, stepped in and dealt with Boras, reportedly over riding his GM. Stuff can happen.

    • George

      July 17, 2013 at 8:19 pm

      Fielder is a completey stupid example. I said teams aren’t spending big for CLOSERS. Last I looked, Fielder played first base.

      I’m not ruling out what an insane baseball owner might do. But I still say it’s not conducive to my own or anyone else’s sanity to hope for some Pizza owner to go nuts. The guy might throw away some money, but he didn’t get rich by that means. I’ll go on saying it’s a longshot, on the order of about 1000 to 1 that the Phils get anything much back if they try to trade Papelbon without pitching in about 80 or 90% of his remaining salary.

      Of course, we may never know, because Amaro might just choose not to sell any major pieces this year.

      • Lefty

        July 17, 2013 at 9:18 pm

        No, no, no- Sir, you concluded your comment with-
        “If a blog writer can see declining stats, isn’t it likely that a scouting department will see it, too?”

        And I gave you a fairly good example of a team that did not. Stuff can, and sometimes does happen. You were right about one thing, that wasn’t even a great example, there are better. Dan Haren being picked up by the Nats when they could have had Lannan for quite a bit less. Apparently, everyone but Mike Rizzo knew Haren was rapidly declining in LA. You sound as if you really believe that bad deals/ terrible mistakes have never been made in MLB because everyone is so on top of their jobs.

        And I love this-
        “I’ll go on saying it’s a longshot, on the order of about 1000 to 1 that the Phils get anything much back if they try to trade Papelbon without pitching in about 80 or 90% of his remaining salary.”

        I’ll hold you to those words, 80 to 90%, and 1000 to 1
        Game on, I’ll bet a dollar. Your $1000 will be fun to pay bills with, ‘er , I mean, spend.
        If I lose are quarters okay?

    • hk

      July 17, 2013 at 11:04 pm


      I dispute your point that Fielder was declining when Detroit signed him. Fielder raised his OPS from .871 in 2010 to .981 in 2011, his final season in Milwaukee.

      • Hogey's Role

        July 18, 2013 at 6:59 am

        no chance the Phillies absorb 80-90% of his salary… that’s insane

      • Lefty

        July 18, 2013 at 8:32 am

        hk, no need to dispute on this one. Last evening I was on call and in the course of responding to George, I got called in, and had to finish a half thought quickly. A few hours later we had the situation settled and I had more time. Check my second response to him above in the 2nd paragraph. I already admitted it wasn’t a great example, and gave a better one. Sometimes the rush to get back to work produces poor examples like that, where I don’t have time think it through. I love this site, and enjoy the back and forth with all of you, but gotta feed the family first and foremost you know.

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