Jonathan Papelbon’s Lost Velocity: Much Ado about Nothing?

Back in mid-April, a couple weeks following an ugly blown save in Texas against the Rangers, Jonathan Papelbon asked the media why they worry so much about his declining velocity. In 2011, Papelbon’s fastball averaged 95 MPH. In 2012, it was 93.8, 92 MPH last season, and 91.6 MPH so far in 2014.

Did he have a point?

Papelbon closed out Saturday night’s game against the Mets relatively easily, notching his 11th save, tied for third-best in all of baseball. It continued a streak of scoreless appearances dating back to April 2’s meltdown against the Rangers in which he allowed three runs in one-third of an inning.

Since then, Papelbon has appeared in 14 games, tossed 14 innings, allowed zero runs on six hits and three walks, struck out 12, and converted all 11 of his save opportunities. It’s tough to argue with those results, even in a small sample.

That said, there are some worrying trends. Papelbon’s strikeout rate is still only at 23 percent, six percent below his career average and about ten percent below where it was as recently as 2012. His walk rate, at eight percent, is currently his highest since 2010. He’s been a bit fortunate on batted balls, sitting on a .244 BABIP compared to his .279 career average. And he has yet to allow a home run despite inducing fly balls at a rate he hasn’t seen since 2009 (52.5%).

Everything we’ve learned about pitchers thanks to DIPS would indicate that Papelbon is a ticking time bomb; a regression monster waiting to spawn.

Papelbon’s 2013 started off similarly. He allowed two runs in a non-save opportunity against the Atlanta Braves in his first appearance, then rattled off 18 consecutive scoreless appearances through May 28. From May 29 through the end of the season, Papelbon posted a 3.86 ERA and blew seven of 26 save opportunities.

IP ERA SV-OPP K% BB% BABIP HR
Thru May 28, 2013 19 2/3 0.92 10-10 23.0% 3.0% .180 1
May 29, 2013 – RoS 42 3.86 19-26 22.0% 5.0% .341 5
2014 Total 15 1/3 1.76 11-12 23.0% 8.0% .250 0

Samples for relievers are small enough within one season that Papelbon’s luck could continue throughout 2014, but the smart money is on his numbers resembling those of the final four months of the 2013 season going forward. The Phillies should hope that Papelbon’s luck can last another two months to further inflate his trade value — which had fallen precipitously in the latter half of 2013 — and try to move him before the trade deadline.

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10 comments

  1. George Callanan

    May 11, 2014 10:44 AM

    Bill you sound like a typical Phillies fan when your closer is producing it’s luck. It’s like you can’t wait until he crashes and burns. The one thing statistics can not measure is will to win and will not to lose. Pap hates losing. He may not have the statistics he had at one time but mentally he hates failure. What a scenario you leave us with, if he continues to do well we better trade him before the all star break and if he falls apart then you were right.

      • George Callanan

        May 11, 2014 01:58 PM

        The object of any game is to win. All competitors play to win. So the answer to your question is there is no one who loves to lose in anything in life.

    • Frank

      May 11, 2014 03:11 PM

      Oh wow. You went there.

    • Mike Lacy

      May 11, 2014 04:00 PM

      While I agree that Pap’s short term memory is good for a closer, don’t fool yourself into thinking that “will to win” can overcome declining stuff.

      Roy Halladay wanted to win more than anybody, but once he lost his stuff, it didn’t much matter.

      • George Callanan

        May 11, 2014 07:30 PM

        When your team is made up of old guys who is not declining?

  2. Frank

    May 11, 2014 03:08 PM

    Hopefully he doesn’t explode before the trade deadline. Would love to send him packing for another city. If that’s even possible.

    • George Callanan

      May 11, 2014 07:46 PM

      Then they can go with Bastardo. He was impressive today against the Mets.

  3. tom b

    May 11, 2014 07:06 PM

    never thought i’d say this but bring back charlie manuel. not that he could win with these guys, but sandberg is in over his head

  4. Rich Baxter

    May 12, 2014 07:20 AM

    Unfortunately, this aging Phillies team isn’t getting the job done at any point. The rebuilding should have started a long time ago, but Ruben Amaro had the luxury of a very high payroll following the 2008 World Series win and appearance in the 2009 World Series which they lost, since then the Phils have flushed a lot of that money into wrong areas, and continue to amaze with bad deals.

    Rube needs to go first and foremost, he tried but everything he has done lately hasn’t worked, this is a business and you have to give him an “F” for most of what he’s done with the team since he took the reigns.

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