No Reason to Worry about Jonathan Papelbon

Closer Jonathan Papelbon has an ugly 27.00 ERA through three spring training appearances spanning two and two-thirds innings. Sample size, spring training, yada yada (I yada-yada’d over the best part!)…

Papelbon isn’t worried and neither should you be:

“I’m just trying to just keep my delivery intact, that’s it,” said Papelbon, who allowed eight runs in 1 2/3 innings in his first two appearances this spring. “All I try to do really is try to make sure that my delivery gets better and better as spring goes on. I don’t worry about velocity. I don’t worry about really making pitches until the last few weeks. Really to me, it’s all about delivery.”

He is traditionally a slow starter in spring training. His spring stats, dating back to 2006:

Spring Training Regular Season
ERA IP ERA IP
2006 5.48 21.1 0.92 68.1
2007 1.98 13.2 1.85 58.1
2008 3.60 10.0 2.34 69.1
2009 3.27 11.0 1.85 68.0
2010 4.22 10.2 3.90 67.0
2011 9.00 7.0 2.94 64.1
2012 3.86 11.2 2.44 70.0
2013 27.00 2.2 - -

The stats one should focus on with Papelbon are his exquisite strikeout and walk numbers from the 2012 regular season. He was among the best at missing bats and limiting walks last year, with rates at 32 percent and six percent, respectively. Papelbon’s one mediocre season in 2010 was due to a strikeout rate that dropped to 26.5 percent from a high of 37.5 percent (2007) and a walk rate that ballooned to ten percent from a low of three percent (2008). There was no meaningful change in his spring training ERA.

Papelbon also added that he suspects most closers suffer from his lack of interest, saying, “they probably all have had bad springs.”

While I didn’t take the time to go back and look at previous years, I did look at each team’s projected closer and their performance so far. Of the 27 closers to have thrown a pitch in spring, 15 have an ERA north of 4.00. Though of the 12 relievers to have an ERA below 4.00, ten of them have a spotless 0.00 ERA.

Player Team ERA IP
Jonathan Papelbon PHI 27.00 2.2
Joel Hanrahan BOS 13.50 4.0
John Axford MIL 13.50 2.2
Jason Motte STL 9.00 5.0
Joe Nathan TEX 9.00 2.0
Craig Kimbrel ATL 6.75 4.0
Addison Reed CHW 6.00 3.0
Jose Veras HOU 6.00 3.0
Brandon League LAD 6.00 3.0
Jason Grilli PIT 6.00 3.0
Huston Street SDP 6.00 3.0
Bruce Rondon DET 5.79 4.2
Carlos Marmol CHC 4.91 3.2
Steve Cishek MIA 4.50 4.0
Sergio Romo SFG 4.50 4.0
Jim Johnson BAL 3.60 5.0
Greg Holland KCR 3.00 3.0
Bobby Parnell NYM 0.00 6.0
Tom Wilhelmsen SEA 0.00 4.0
Glen Perkins MIN 0.00 3.1
Jonathan Broxton CIN 0.00 3.0
Ernesto Frieri LAA 0.00 3.0
Fernando Rodney TBR 0.00 3.0
Chris Perez CLE 0.00 2.0
Rafael Soriano WAS 0.00 2.0
Rafael Betancourt COL 0.00 1.0
Mariano Rivera NYY 0.00 1.0
J.J. Putz ARI - -
Grant Balfour OAK - -
Casey Janssen TOR - -

All the data really shows is that, in small samples, it is a lot easier to have wild fluctuations in results. But overall, at least looking at very early 2013 spring data, Papelbon is correct that most closers have ugly results so far.

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6 comments

  1. TomG

    March 10, 2013 01:32 PM

    I had just voted for Ryan Howard in your poll but as I did so (true story) Kevin Frandsen hit a little looper into the outfield that scored Freddie Galvis from second to give the Phils the lead; and then KF took second on a hustling play (can we agree that “hustle” probably exists, even if “clutch” is ontologically problematic?) and so accordingly I would like to change my vote.

    Please change my vote to Dom Brown.

    You thought I was going to say Kevin F, and, in truth, I was, but then yada yada Dom Brown.

  2. Heather

    March 10, 2013 03:25 PM

    I’m not worried about Papelbon because of his results per se. I’m worried about him because he has gotten smacked around with poor velocity readings on his FB, and the time he didn’t get smacked around, he relied heavily on his splitter.

    If his FB is at 93 and he’s greeting smacked around, fine. If his FB is at 88, and he’s getting smacked around, that’s a lot more worrisome, especially for a pitcher that relies heavily on his FB.

  3. Mike A

    March 11, 2013 09:47 AM

    That’s his whole point right now, though. His FB doesn’t need to be at a high velocity in Spring Training. The key right now is mechanics and getting his arm in shape. Throwing hard early in the Spring does nothing but put strain on his body, and create the potential for bad habits as he forces things.

    Spring training is just that – TRAINING. These guys should all be taking this opportunity to make sure they’re doing things correctly, and to work on nuances. It’s practice.

    In a couple weeks, when the real season begins, they should be pushing hard. If his FB is still in the 80s, THEN we should worry.

    For now, I laud him for his philosophy and focus.

  4. Heather

    March 11, 2013 11:09 AM

    It would be instructive to see an examination of what Papelbon usually starts off spring training at, velocity wise, versus previous years, and how many mph his velocity generally improves.

    Remember all those articles last year telling us not to worry about Halladay and his velocity?

  5. BobSmith77

    March 11, 2013 08:46 PM

    Mike A – Wrong and I am sure the Phils privately are quite concerned that there $12M closer is topping out at 90 or 91 so far in camp.

    Papelbon showed signs last year that he had lost a little velocity but he was still at 93 or 94 routinely in camp last year.

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