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: