Analysis

Papelbon Decries Velocity Concerns

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After years and years of the abnormal act of throwing a baseball, eventually it takes a toll. For pitchers, it means velocity is decreased and numbers tend to suffer. But don’t tell Jonathan Papelbon that. He’s not buying it.

Following a 1-2-3 ninth inning against the Braves on Thursday afternoon in which he routinely hit 92-93 mph on the radar, Papelbon was asked about pitching at that velocity rather than around 89-90, where he has been for the better part of the last two seasons.

“Why do you guys care about “velo” so much, man? Does that matter? Does that really matter? I don’t understand that. If a ball has life on it at the plate and you’re throwing 88 miles an hour versus 98 miles an hour, it don’t matter. It doesn’t make one damn bit of difference whether you throw 93 or 94 or 84.”

I don’t get it man. You all killed Roy [Halladay] about velo; it’s not a big deal.”

To a degree, Papelbon is correct. If you throw 98 miles per hour down the middle with no discernible movement, chances are big leagues hitters will catch up to it. You certainly can get by as a pitcher who throws in the high-80’s if you’re able to locate with pinpoint accuracy, although it’s a rare occurrence that a reliever could do so. We might be finding out soon with Mike Adams.

Pap certainly is wrong with the crux is his statement. Velocity clearly matters and is clearly a concern, especially in pitchers who happen to be the highest paid at their respective position – like Papelbon is.

(As for the Halladay stuff, it’s pretty evident that once Doc’s velocity sunk like a brick, his career was over. The media certainly didn’t kill him for it; rather we wondered if something was wrong. Something was wrong.)

Looking at Pitch F/X, Papelbon’s fastball velocity has decreased in each of the past three seasons. In 2011, Papelbon was average 94.8 mph on his fastball. In 2012, he lose a mile per hour, down to 93.8. One year later, 2013, Papelbon was pitching with an average fastball of 92 mph. And early on this season, his velocity sits at 90.8 mph.

Today, and during his previous four outings, Papelbon has succeeded. But all you have to do is look at the numbers to see that it hasn’t always been as easy.

In 2011, his last season with the Red Sox, Papelbon was striking out 12.17 batters per nine innings. That dropped a bit the following season, his first in Philly, to 11.83. Still good enough to place him in the Top 15 of all relievers in the majors in that category.

Then came the cliff.

In 2013, Papelbon finished with a 8.3 K/9 rate and this year’s number heading into Thursday’s game was much the same – 8.4.

Exceptional relief pitchers, especially closers, rely on the strikeout. It’s what has set Craig Kimbrel apart from the rest in recent years. Papelbon can complain all he wants about those complaining about his velocity. But it’s easy to see why it’s an issue. The numbers clearly back that up.

In a perfect world, Papelbon would get three days off in between appearances. A fresh arm is normally a lively arm. This is not a perfect world. And Papelbon won’t be perfect for the remainder of the year, or his career, although he’ll need to be as crisp with his control as he has ever been. He no longer has the giddyup to blow a 95 mph fastball by hitters. So, yes, it does matter how hard you throw, Jon. We’ll see how long he can keep throwing this hard, because it only helps.

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