Jonathan Papelbon has not been Mr. Popular in Philadelphia, not after he was frequently unreliable last season, lost several MPH on his fastball, and blew a save in incredulous fashion against the Rangers on Wednesday. Fortunately for him, though, manager Ryne Sandberg stuck with him and asked him to get the save on Saturday afternoon against the Cubs. He did, nailing down the 2-0 victory for the Phillies.
After the game, Papelbon was asked about the ups and downs of being a closer. Via MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki on Twitter, Papelbon used an interesting analogy:
Space Mountain, for the uninitiated, is the name of a roller coaster at Disney World. Papelbon went back into serious mode, adding that he recognizes the need to be a pitcher as opposed to a thrower, considering he was only registering 90-91 MPH against the Cubs.
Papelbon, 33, is in the third year of a four-year, $50 million deal with the Phillies. However, he has a fifth-year option for 2016 worth $13 million that can potentially vest, as it requires the right-hander to finish 55 games in 2015 or finish 100 combined games between 2014-15. It’s certainly a contract GM Ruben Amaro is starting to regret.
“Work fast and throw strikes” has long been the top conventional wisdom for those preaching pitching success. The “work fast” part of that has increasingly gone by the wayside, however, as pitchers take more and more time to throw pitches in an effort to max out their effort and, thus, their velocity with each pitch.
Now, as Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer reports, the “throw strikes” part of it is going out of style too:
Pitchers are throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone than ever previously recorded . . . A decade ago, more than half of all pitches ended up in the strike zone. Today, that rate has fallen below 47 percent.
There are a couple of reasons for this. Most notable among them, Lindbergh says, being pitchers’ increasing reliance on curves, sliders and splitters as primary pitches, with said pitches not being in the zone by design. Lindbergh doesn’t mention it, but I’d guess that an increased emphasis on catchers’ framing plays a role too, with teams increasingly selecting for catchers who can turn balls that are actually out of the zone into strikes. If you have one of those beasts, why bother throwing something directly over the plate?
There is an unintended downside to all of this: a lack of action. As Lindbergh notes — and as you’ve not doubt noticed while watching games — there are more walks and strikeouts, there is more weak contact from guys chasing bad pitches and, as a result, games and at bats are going longer.
As always, such insights are interesting. As is so often the case these days, however, such insights serve as an unpleasant reminder of why the on-field product is so unsatisfying in so many ways in recent years.