What's wrong with Jonathan Papelbon? A lot, actually

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Lost in Dustin Pedroia’s heroics last night is that Jonathan Papelbon blew a save on back-to-back days for the first time in his career and blew consecutive saves, period, for just the third time.
Here’s what he said afterward:

I’ve got to go back to the drawing board. It’s just that simple. If I sit here and try to make things more complicated than they are I’m only going to hurt myself in the long run. I wasn’t crisp in my delivery. That’s basically it. I mean, it’s just like anything else. The season’s a heavyweight fight. I lost Round 3. We’ve got 12 rounds to go.

Papelbon is absolutely right about not overreacting to a bad stretch in a long season and the good news is that he recovered from blowing a two-run lead in the ninth inning to pitch a scoreless 10th inning and actually pick up the win. However, the bad news is that his ERA is up to 3.98, which is by far the worst mark of his career, and Papelbon is showing significant signs of decline in several other areas:
* He’s striking out a career-worst 7.7 batters per nine innings, which is 22 percent worse than his previous career-low of 9.9 and 26 percent below his career mark of 10.4 coming into the season.
* He’s served up six homers in just 31.2 innings, which is already the highest total of his career. Prior to this season he allowed an average of six homers per 85 innings.
* He’s walking 3.4 batters per nine innings, which is even higher than his career-high mark of 3.2 set last season. Prior to 2009 he walked just 2.1 batters per nine innings.
* His average fastball velocity is down 0.2 miles per hour from last season and 0.8 mph from 2008, which would be insignificant if not for the fact that Fan Graphs shows his fastball as being a negative-value pitch so far this year after being a huge asset each year from 2005-2009.
* His average slider velocity is down 1.7 mph from last season and 4.4 mph from 2008.
* He’s throwing his splitter far more often than he did in 2008 or 2009, using it 15.7 percent of the time despite the pitch not actually producing positive results.
* Opponents are making more contact on his pitches inside the strike zone than at any point in his career, connecting on 87.8 percent of their swings.
I’m certainly not ready to write off Papelbon as an elite closer, but even looking deeper than the back-to-back blown saves the signs aren’t very encouraging. Meanwhile, setup man Daniel Bard has a 2.11 ERA, .167 opponents’ batting average, and 40/12 K/BB ratio in 38.1 innings.

Steven Matz likely to start season on DL; Zack Wheeler to adhere to innings limit

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Mets manager Terry Collins said on Wednesday, “It’s unlikely that [Steven Matz] will start the season with us.” The final spot in the Mets’ starting rotation will go to either Zack Wheeler or Seth Lugo, Newsday’s Marc Carig reports.

On Wheeler’s innings limit, assistant GM John Ricco said, “There’s going to be some number but we don’t exactly know what that is.” Wheeler missed the last two seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Neither Wheeler nor Lugo have had terrific springs as each carries a 5.11 and 5.56 Grapefruit League ERA, respectively. However, Carig notes that Wheeler has impressed simply by appearing healthy and brandishing a fastball that once again sits in the mid- to high-90’s. Lugo, meanwhile, proved crucial to the Mets last year, posting a 2.67 ERA across eight starts and nine relief appearances.

Rockies sign 30-year lease to stay in Coors Field

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Nick Groke of the Denver Post reports that the Rockies agreed to a $200 million, 30-year lease with the Metropolitan Baseball Stadium District, which is the state division that owns Coors Field. As part of the deal, the Rockies will lease and develop a plot of land south of the stadium, which will cost the team $125 million for 99 years.

As Groke points out, had the Rockies not reached a deal by Thursday, March 30, the lease would have rolled over for five more years.

Rockies owner Dick Monfort issued a statement, saying, “We are proud that Coors Field will continue to be a vital part of a vibrant city, drawing fans from near and far and making our Colorado residents proud.”

The Rockies moved into Coors Field in 1995. It is the National League’s third oldest stadium. In that span of time, the Rockies have made the playoffs three times, the last coming in 2009 when they lost in the NLDS to the Phillies. The Rockies were swept in the 2007 World Series by the Red Sox.