Concerns at Closer?
They paid Jonathan Papelbon $50 million to do that job.
He nearly blew a four-run lead last night in a 5-4 victory over the Braves at Turner Field.
Anybody can have a bad night and Papelbon hung his night on a hanging breaking ball to Braves right fielder Justin Upton, who hit a three-run home run. But there are reasons to be concerned about their high-priced closer. Papelbon, who is owed $26 million over the next two seasons, has blown seven of 36 saves this year. His 80.6 save completion percentage ranks 27th out of 30 pitchers with 20 or more save opportunities. His once intimidating fastball has averaged just 92.1 mph, 1.7 mph less than last season and 2.7 mph less than his final season with the Red Sox in 2012.
A surly Papelbon sat in a far corner of the Phillies clubhouse afterward, carrying a blank look on his face and insisting he is not worried about any of this.
“I guess if you guys think I’m not throwing hard enough,” he said, when asked if he thinks his velocity can come back next season. “I don’t know, maybe. Maybe it will. I don’t know. I don’t think think (velocity) really matters in this game. It’s velocity at the plate, life at the plate. It’s not how hard it comes out of your hand. It’s what it does near the plate.”
But Papelbon is striking out only 8.3 batters per nine innings this season, which is the lowest mark of his career. He averaged 10.0 or more strikeouts per nine innings over each of the previous six seasons. In the past, when he allowed a couple infield hits like he did last night, he could get a big strikeout to get himself out of trouble. But that is happening less and less frequently this season.
Papelbon had a hip issue earlier this season, but he downplayed its effect then and he downplayed it again last night. But Ryne Sandberg said it is something Papelbon has been working on, and he said hopefully when his closer is healthy he can starting throwing fastballs back in the 93-94 mph range.
Asked if Papelbon can be a shutdown closer if he is throwing in the 91-92 mph range, Sandberg said, “Well, he’s our guy right now for that. I see him getting some rest and getting back to throwing 94. I think that’s what he needs.”
The Phillies are more than willing to trade Papelbon in the offseason, but they might have trouble finding takers. They had virtually no interest in him before the July 31 Trade Deadline because he is owed not only $26 million over the next two seasons, but potentially $13 million more in 2016 based on a club option.
Papelbon was very critical of the team in July, saying changes needed to be made from top to bottom to improve. Asked again last night where he thinks this team is headed, he said, “We’re headed to go play golf.”
His former team won the American League East this season after losing 93 games last year. Maybe it could happen to the Phillies in 2014.
“Sure, but you saw what they did over there,” he said.
The Red Sox cleaned house.
Is Papelbon happy in Philadelphia? It is hard to tell.
“Yeah, I mean, I’m happy to be in a uniform, playing baseball,” he said. “But it’s not fun to lose though.”