Phillies Notes: Papelbon's drop in velocity is a concern

Posted: October 01, 2013

ATLANTA - His season ended Saturday with 32 pitches of slop, but Jonathan Papelbon was unconcerned. His fastball topped at 92.3 m.p.h., averaged 91 m.p.h., and 40 percent of his pitches were breaking balls. He permitted three ninth-inning runs as the Phillies hung on for a 5-4 win.

The Phillies paid $50 million for Papelbon, and he resembled nothing Saturday of the power arm that preserved so many Boston Red Sox victories. Can he still be a shutdown closer with a 91-m.p.h. fastball?

"Well, he's our guy right now for that," manager Ryne Sandberg said. "I see him getting some rest and getting back to throwing 94. I think that's what he needs."

Papelbon was not exactly overused in 2013; he pitched in 612/3 innings, his fewest since 2007. He finished with a 2.92 ERA and 29 saves. He turns 33 in November and is owed $26 million over the next two seasons.

A dip in fastball velocity coincided with the fewest strikeouts of his career. The more balls put in play, the more Papelbon leaves to chance. He struck out 8.3 batters per nine innings in 2013. His career average before this season was 10.8.

During his final three seasons with Boston, Papelbon's fastball traveled at an average 95.6 m.p.h., according to Pitch Info data. It dipped to 94.6 m.p.h. in 2012 and 92.7 m.p.h. in 2013. That is significant.

Papelbon said he had "no clue" how much velocity he lost on his fastball. Sandberg attributed it to a minor hip injury suffered earlier in the season, although scouts questioned Papelbon's stuff in spring training. Papelbon said that ailment does not bother him. The boorish closer was upset by the line of questioning.

"I guess, if you guys think I'm not throwing hard enough," he said when asked if his velocity could return. "I don't know, maybe. I don't think it really matters. It's velocity at the plate, life at the plate. It's not how hard it comes out of your hand, it's what it does near the plate."

The closer expressed his displeasure in July about the direction of the team. When asked Saturday where the Phillies are headed, he said: "We're headed to go play golf." More specifically, Papelbon said his opinion about 2014 mattered little.

"I don't think there's one thing," Papelbon said. "You can't point your finger at one guy or one thing. Everybody is in this thing together."

Extra bases

The Phillies have 10 arbitration-eligible players this winter. They are: Kyle Kendrick, John Lannan, Antonio Bastardo, Zach Miner, Ben Revere, John Mayberry Jr., Kevin Frandsen, Roger Bernadina, Casper Wells, and Pete Orr. They must be tendered contracts by Dec. 2. . . . The team's lone free agents are Carlos Ruiz and Roy Halladay.


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