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.

Twins to retire Joe Mauer’s No. 7

AP Photo/Jim Mone
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Twins senior director of communications Dustin Morse announced that the Twins will honor former C/1B Joe Mauer by retiring his uniform number 7. Mauer announced his retirement from baseball on November 9.

Mauer will join Harmon Killebrew (No. 3), Tony Oliva (No. 6), Tom Kelly (No. 10), Kent Hrbek (No. 14), Rod Carew (No. 29), Kirby Pucket (No. 34), and Bert Blyleven (No. 28) as Twins to have their numbers retired.

Mauer, 35, spent 15 seasons in the majors, all with the Twins. He posted a career .306/.388/.439 triple-slash line with 143 home runs and 923 RBI. He won the AL MVP Award in 2009, won the batting title three times, earned three Gold Gloves and five Silver Sluggers, and made the AL All-Star team six times. Sadly, his career was limited due to injuries, including a concussion that caused him to move from catcher to first base.

Five years from now, Mauer will appear on the Hall of Fame ballot. There will certainly be some arguments for and against his candidacy. He retired with 55.1 career Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball Reference, which definitely puts him in the conversation. But, as always, there’s never a consensus.