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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  1. Richard

    April 17, 2014 05:56 PM

    Also, the reference to Halladay is baffling. Is he unaware that Halladay retired? Only two years after he was “killed” about his velocity?

  2. yep

    April 17, 2014 07:42 PM

    You’re right Greg Maddox was terrible because he didnt have velocity.

    • JRFarmer

      April 17, 2014 08:10 PM

      Yep needs to actually read the post before commenting.

      • jonestown

        April 18, 2014 11:23 AM

        He just says “look the pirates looked for hard throwers and it worked for them it’s proof, Papelbon sucks cause he doesn’t know this”. One mention of needing to locate pitches and mix them (among other things) does not negate an entire article that says you need to throw hard to be a good pitcher. Many pitchers have proved this wrong. This is simply another way to say Paps is dumb and bad.

      • Greg

        April 18, 2014 01:04 PM

        I guess Jonestown also can’t read a full article. let’s just skip right over the part where he mentions Papelbon throws his fastball “75 percent of the time, the seventh-highest rate among relievers to have compiled at least 400 innings.” He is making the point that the slower the fastball, the more likely you will be hurt, as the tweet with Papelbon’s stat lines at each velocity show. It really wasn’t that long of an article, you should read the whole thing before you write something in the comments.

    • Mark66

      April 18, 2014 04:57 PM

      Heh numb nuts– are you just stupid ?

  3. Mark66

    April 18, 2014 04:55 PM

    The success rate that the Pirates have had certainly speaks for itself. The Phillies need to go after harder throwers, period. If that is the primary reason why the Pirates are back on the road to respectability then just do it. The numbers don’t lie. Pap speaks more BS that reality because he is just plain stupid some times.

  4. Richard

    April 18, 2014 07:38 PM

    Bill shouldn’t have to discuss every aspect of pitching on every single post. Given the context, it should simply be taken as given that different kinds of pitchers can be effective with different levels of velocity, but for pitchers like Papelbon, high velocity is especially very important. And any loss of velocity for a pitcher is important. If a pitcher was effective throwing 89 – as indeed some have been – if he suddenly starts throwing 86, he’s probably going to have problems.

    Halladay was effective throwing 93. Not so much throwing 89-90. And Maddux threw in the low 90s (do people think he threw a bunch of 85 mph junk up there his whole career?), and was dominant, was still somewhat effective late in his career in the mid-high 80s – but notably less so than before. It mattered even for him. (And let’s not pretend we think Papelbon is as smart as Maddux or is able to locate as well, which were massive factors in Maddux’s success, allowing him to succeed with the lower velocities.)

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