Jonathan Papelbon Doesn’t Think Velocity Matters Much. It Does.

Corinne Landrey has you covered on Jonathan Papelbon‘s start to the season overall. I’d just like to respond to something the closer said after Thursday afternoon’s game.

Papelbon was asked by the media about his velocity, which was measured in the low-to-mid 90’s during his save Thursday, after having registered in the high-80’s during spring training. While he hasn’t gotten back up to 95 MPH like he used to throw, seeing him consistently around 93 MPH has been a welcome sight.

Here’s what Papelbon had to say, via CSN Philly:

The thing is, velocity does matter. It matters a lot. The Pittsburgh Pirates, who have turned things around since adopting a more analytics-inclusive organizational approach, have specifically targeted pitchers with higher velocity and it’s worked out well for them, as they had baseball’s third-best bullpen ERA last season. Here’s what Pirates GM Neil Huntington had to say about the importance of velocity:

“(Velocity) gives you a larger margin for error,” Huntington said. “Ninety-four (mph) that runs and gets too much of the plate has much more margin for error than 88 (mph) that runs and gets too much of the plate.”

In Huntington’s first season as general manager, the Pirates ranked 18th in fastball velocity at 90.8 mph. The Pirates’ fastball velocity has improved every year under Huntington, averaging 92.5 mph last season, 10th in baseball.

Last season, the Pirates ended a two-decade postseason drought. Last season, velocity gave a no-margin-for-error, small-market baseball team an edge.via Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

It matters for Papelbon especially, who has relied on velocity to blow fastballs by hitters up in the strike zone.

Higher fastball velocity is correlated with higher strike rates. A higher strikeout rate, obviously, means fewer chances to hit home runs. Higher strikeout rates also mean fewer balls in play, and weaker contact on those balls put in play. If given the choice between higher velocity and lower velocity, one would choose higher velocity every time.

However, there is nuance to what Papelbon said. Velocity isn’t the only important thing about pitching; one must also locate his pitches effectively and mix up his pitches well, among other things. It’s just that, with Papelbon, velocity is much more important to him specifically than with most other pitchers. Since he came into the league, Papelbon has thrown the fastball 75 percent of the time, the seventh-highest rate among relievers to have compiled at least 400 innings. That’s why people are making a big deal about his declining velocity.

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