Papelbon’s Velocity Cause for Concern

Posted by Ian Riccaboni, Mon, July 15, 2013 11:00 AM | Comments: 12

Jonathan Papelbon earned his fifth blown save of the season for the Phillies yesterday. After saving 38 of 42 last season, Papelbon has saved 20 of 25 this year. If the Phillies were to become sellers, it was believed that he would be among the first to be moved. Now, with five blown saves in the last 30 days, would anybody want him?

The problem goes a bit further than that: the mechanics of what generated saves for Papelbon, velocity and strikeouts, are in major jeopardy. By tallying a career low 7.91 K/9 IP in 2013, Papelbon ranks 84th among MLB relievers. The strikeouts may be disappearing with his velocity. Click chart below to enlarge.


Papelbon has lost over 2 MPH on his fastball since 2009. Papelbon was a bit in denial in this in an interview with Bob Brookover earlier in the season, stating that he could still thrown 95 MPH if “he needs it”. Brooks Baseball took a look at this topic a few months back and found some interesting results. Papelbon does usually improve as the season goes on, last year averaging 95+ MPH in September and October. However, his velocity to start seasons is lower and his peaks are also lower. And check out that slider: he’s lost 7.3 MPH on it since 2009.

Is this really, really bad? Papelbon’s K/9 IP has dipped below 9 for the first time in his career and hitters are hitting pitches in the zone off of Papelbon at an 86.5% clip according to FanGraphs. After looking at these numbers, Ruben Amaro will have a tough time trading Papelbon for a top-tier prospect – you can earn a save by accident but it is a lot tougher to accidentally regain 2 MPH on all of your pitches.

If there is a silver lining, at least the velocity lost wasn’t lost at the same pace Brad Lidge lost his or else we may be seeing more 2009 Lidge-type results from Papelbon:


Avatar of Ian Riccaboni

About Ian Riccaboni

Ian Riccaboni has written 848 articles on Phillies Nation.

Ian's athletic achievements include getting stuffed by NBA center Aaron Gray in high school and hitting .179 over four years for NYU against D-III, NAIA, JuCo, and NCBA schools. Ian hopes his athletic successes will help him achieve his dream of becoming the underground Bob Uecker.

  • Posts: 0 schmenkman

    I’d rather unload him AFTER he has a perfect season.

  • Posts: 0 Double Trouble Del

    George, I don’t think you can underestimate the experience level that Papelbon brings to the position. If you are the Tigers and your weakest slot is the backend of your bullpen you have to look at Papelbon, not a John Axford or a KRod because they have no post-season track record of note. If you’re getting a high level prospect back what difference does it make if you kick in some money.

  • Posts: 0 hk

    The answer to your hypothetical question about where the Phillies would be without Papelbon’s 20 saves depends upon what they had done with the money they are paying him. For instance, if they had signed Joe Nathan instead of Papelbon when both were free agents after the 2011 season, they would likely have the same number of saves and maybe they would have employed the extra $5M+ that they would have saved to improve another spot (like RF). Or, if they had gone the cheap veteran closer route like the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Tampa Rays, they would have the same number of saves and would have employed the extra $10M+ to improve two other spots. It’s impossible to know whether the Phillies closer would have saved 20 out of 25 if they had looked for another Jason Grilli or Edward Mujica.

    Papelbon has been very good this year, so any criticism that I have has to do with the Phillies being one of the last teams in MLB to pay big money and multiple years to a closer. The reason that I think the Phillies should trade him now if they can is that, with his velocity declining, there’s a good chance that in the next three years, they’ll pay ~$38M to by far the highest paid closer in baseball and only get mediocre results from him.

  • Posts: 0 Phillies fan from Germany

    Absolutely agree. Problem ist not Pap’s performance but that he is way overpaid. If you can find anybody to take on that contract it would be trade the Phillies would have to make. But then again, I don’t believe it is happening with RAJ at the helm. He just believes in statements like “proven closer” or “proven run producer” (who cares about that below .300 OBP)…

  • Posts: 0 George

    Some team had to be the last to make a huge payout for a closer. There were some other bad contracts at only slightly earlier times; Soriano with the Yanks, for instance.

    I do have a problem with Amaro’s slowness to catch on at times, though, and I mostly agree with your reasons for trading him now. I still think that even with his lower speeds, he’s still been quite effective, and that he may continue to be with some tweaks to his pitch selection and repertoire. It might be best, though, to see if he can make those adjustments somewhere in another division or another league.

  • Posts: 0 George

    I may have gotten the name wrong on that closer signed by the Yanks. He wasn’t even signed to close games, but he got something like $12 million anyway.

    The Marlins also signed a washed up closer when it was blatantly obvious to everybody that he’s fallen off the ladder. I think it was a two year deal, but he proved to be absolutely worthless, was traded for garbage, and continued to be absolutely worthless for his new team. He didn’t get Papelbon money, but it was still plenty, and anyone with any smarts could have foretold that he wouldn’t even be worth what Lenny Dykstra used to spit all over the astroturf at the Vet.

  • Posts: 0 George

    I figured you were doing some leg pulling, Schmenk. I thought I’d do a little teasing myself with my remark about doubting a perfect season. I, too, was a little bothered by the “going Lidge” remark. I think his legacy should indeed be that perfect season; I don’t think a pennant would have happened, let alone a World Championship, without that remarkable performance.

    Also, while Papelbon definitely won’t have that perfect season this year, there is always next. Looking at the stats, Lidge had lost some velocity in his perfect year, so there’s always a chance, even if very slender, that Papelbon could do something similar. Lidge also regained some of his abilty after that abysmal 2009 by making some adjustments.

  • Posts: 0 Ken Bland

    What I’ve read on Brian Wilson, and you can be the judge on how much you can believe what you read, let alone that you be hearing it 2nd hand is that he’s been working out in Hawaii. He should be ready to roll by early August, at which time the plan is to throw for clubs. During the spring, it was easy to get the impression that he was more geared toward getting himself 100% than trying to force things. I have no clue how long a deal he’d want, and maybe of greater importance, if he’d go short term as a setup guy to prove anything. And I’ve never seen anything that makes me think the Phils would be appealing other than for financial reasons, but that’s not to say they don’t exist.

    Within that really uneducated framework, my guess is he’s a long shot. My guess means nothing toward what he does, if he is indeed getting back to health. But the thought of him with the Phils is pretty fascinating.

  • Posts: 5555 Lefty

    Avatar of Lefty

    I haven’t read them yet Big Ed, but go to MLBTR and go to the search box about half way down. I was just about to type in Brian Wilson when I was surprised to see his name in big letters underneath the box. Apparently he is the most searched name on the site lately.

  • Posts: 5555 Lefty

    Avatar of Lefty

    No, no, no- Sir, you concluded your comment with-
    “If a blog writer can see declining stats, isn’t it likely that a scouting department will see it, too?”

    And I gave you a fairly good example of a team that did not. Stuff can, and sometimes does happen. You were right about one thing, that wasn’t even a great example, there are better. Dan Haren being picked up by the Nats when they could have had Lannan for quite a bit less. Apparently, everyone but Mike Rizzo knew Haren was rapidly declining in LA. You sound as if you really believe that bad deals/ terrible mistakes have never been made in MLB because everyone is so on top of their jobs.

    And I love this-
    “I’ll go on saying it’s a longshot, on the order of about 1000 to 1 that the Phils get anything much back if they try to trade Papelbon without pitching in about 80 or 90% of his remaining salary.”

    I’ll hold you to those words, 80 to 90%, and 1000 to 1
    Game on, I’ll bet a dollar. Your $1000 will be fun to pay bills with, ‘er , I mean, spend.
    If I lose are quarters okay?

  • Posts: 0 hk


    I dispute your point that Fielder was declining when Detroit signed him. Fielder raised his OPS from .871 in 2010 to .981 in 2011, his final season in Milwaukee.

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