More Man than Myth

What is up with Jonathan Papelbon? Granted relief pitchers are volatile, but a lot of that has to do with the smaller sample sizes they have compared to starters each year. Even looking at stats that are not as affected by the sample limits however, show a much different Papelbon in 2009.

In terms of pitch selection, Papelbon is throwing his slider more than he ever has and although it has improved in isolated results, the increase in usage might be in part because, and by no means offsets, the big drop in fastball effectiveness. From 2006 through 2008, Papelbon’s fastball was worth about three runs more than average per 100 fastballs. This year it is down to just 0.76. His velocity has not diminished though as far as obvious answers go.

In terms of location, Papelbon is hitting the strike zone at the worst rate of his career, down below 50% compared to the previous three year average of around 55%. Hitters are laying off pitches more than ever before as well, which is hurting both Papelbon’s strikeout and walk rates.

In terms of results, Papelbon is missing bats at almost half the rate that he did in his amazing 2007, and his 9.8% figure in 2009 is down from his three year average of 14.4%.

All in all, Papelbon has a 4.12 FIP and a 4.40 tRA, leaving him on pace to be worth just one win over replacement, a marked departure. His runs per inning pitched this year in just 30% what his 2006-8 value was.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

6 Responses to “More Man than Myth”

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  1. Connecticut Mike says:

    I watch more or less every Sox game, and anecdotally it seems as though he doesn’t have too many clean innings and more batters seem to take him deeper into counts (I don’t have the numbers to prove this though).

    It also kind of seems like his arm angle/slot has changed somewhat. I wouldn’t be entirely shocked if he was pitching through some soreness or other issues, especially seeing as how he doesn’t have a long term contract.

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  2. Joe Schmoe says:

    I thought that this was answered.

    Papelbon changed his mechanics so that his arm wouldn’t fall off.

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  3. theraysparty says:

    if someone had a pitch f/x, they would likely see his fastballs living on the high part of the strikezone

    He hides the ball well so that fastball seems a whole lot faster than the radar gun suggests, which is pretty high anyway. A few bad outings will make a pitcher like Papelbon question his own pitch selection and mechanics things like that.

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    Seems like a nice opportunity to compare his release points this year to those of previous years.

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  5. mattymatty says:

    Like Joe Schmoe, I heard the Red Sox tried to clean up his mechanics to avoid the arm problems he’s been having. I guess a diminished Papelbon is better than an injured one. Still, its very noticeable that he isn’t the same quality of pitcher that he’s been over the previous seasons.

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  6. Dewey's Mustache says:

    I think part of it is tied to his splitter too. He is throwing it about half as often as he was in ’06 (his best year). His use of the splitter has gone down and his slider has gone up until, so far this year, he is throwing them about the same % of the time. I wonder how much of that is tied to his shoulder issues / changing mechanics?

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