Forget about the Splitter Paps, Give Him the Heater. Whoops
Every time Jonathan Papelbon enters a game at Fenway, the song “Wild Thing” blares from the stadium speakers in tribute to the the greatest (fictional) closer of them all, the legendary Ricky Vaughn from Major League. Perhaps channeling Wild Thing Vaughn in the scene where Ricky forgets about the curve and whiffs Heywood on high cheese, the Sox’ Cinco Ocho also shelved his off-speed stuff in favor of the heat last night. The only problem was that Heywood (being played by Tampa Bay Ray Dan Johnson) hit one far, far off the reservation.
Writing for espn.com before last night’s game with the Rays, Keith Law (Insider Only) suggested that Papelbon has basically abandoned his entire repertoire, save for his fastball, and that was it only a matter of time until that backfired:
Jonathan Papelbon used to throw a devastating splitter as his out pitch, changing eye levels between the splitter and his upper-90s fastball. He has scrapped the splitter and replaced it with a slider that’s nowhere near the swing-and-miss pitch his splitter was.
You know that Law’s observation hit home because Don and Jerry were actually talking about it last night, with Remy insisting that Papelbon hadn’t shelved the splitter, until yet another fastball rocketed off the Monster.
Amalie Benjamin got more deeply into it with her story this morning in the Globe. Here’s the most interesting tidbit:
Papelbon has lowered his pitches per plate appearance, and pitches per inning. While strikeout pitchers generally have higher pitches per plate appearance, Papelbon is down to 3.86 this season, from 4.07 last year. His pitches per inning have decreased to 15.0 from 15.6. With that, his strikeouts per inning are down (12.96 in 2007 to 10.14 this season), but it has allowed him to pitch more.
Papelbon has been great this year. Before last night’s meltdown he he had given up exactly one run since the All-Star break, and that was of the unearned variety against Texas back on Aug. 12. But, in a playoff series against the same team night after night, can Papelbon live by fastball alone?