|Papelbon a bit different so far|
Written by Daniel Paulling (Contact & Archive) on April 27, 2009
Eight-plus innings is too little to make a lasting impression about a player, but Jonathan Papelbon hasn't looked right so far. Sure, he hasn't blown a save yet and his ERA is a sparkling 1.08, but there is some reason for concern.
Papelbon's K/9 mark this season (6.48) is a bit off his career average of 10.42. He's also walking more hitters, averaging a 1.20 K/BB ratio, instead of his career average of 4.76. So, he's allowing more walks and striking out less hitters. That's never a good combination for a pitcher.
Papelbon's early-season numbers are something Amalie Benjamin of the Boston Globe has recognized.
Though Papelbon has maintained an exemplary ERA at 1.08, it's his WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) that's looking slightly shakier. After three straight years in which his WHIP has been below 1.00 (.776 in 2006, .771 in 2007, and .952 in 2008), it's at 1.20 this season. That's more men on base and more pitches. After three consecutive seasons in which Papelbon has thrown between 15 and 15.6 pitches per inning, he's at 20.9 this year.
"I've changed my delivery, kind of added a little bit more power to it," Papelbon said. "When you make adjustments in this game, you're going to have to take the good with the bad, and maybe right now I'm throwing a little bit more pitches than I have in the past. To me, I'm still not overworking myself because by changing my mechanics, it's able to take some of that pressure off my arm. So throwing 15 pitches the old way is the same as throwing 25 the new way."
But what might be most troubling is that batters simply aren't swinging and missing as they once did. Since 2006, the first full year Papelbon spent in the bullpen, no pitcher made batters swing and miss at a higher rate. Batters whiffed on 27.6 percent of their swings, followed by Rudy Seanez at 27 percent, and Eric Gagne at 26.2 percent.
Now? It's not so automatic. Batters have swung at 85 of Papelbon's pitches this season, and missed 18 times for a 21.2 rate. That leaves him tied with Manny Delcarmen for 29th in baseball.
"I don't think his location is where it will be," manager Terry Francona said. "I think the power behind his fastball is probably better than it was last year. I just think he's not quite locating yet. Some good hitters are making him work really hard. His ERA is good. It's not like he's walking people. He's got some deep counts because they are fighting balls off. When he locates and he gets ahead, then he elevates, then he can throw this, it will fall back into place quicker."
It's definitely too early to wonder about Papelbon's 2009 season, but perhaps this falls under the category of things to keep watch upon.