Hold off on those reports of Jonathan Papelbon's demise. It's possible that his outing in Texas two weeks ago was just a poorly-timed implosion.
For all of the heat Papelbon has taken about his declining save percentage and velocity, the fact remains that in three seasons with the Phillies, he has a 2.74 ERA and 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings.
Even if you eliminate 2012 from that sample, Papelbon still has a 3.04 ERA as a Phillie with 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings and just 1.9 walks.
Since his blown save against the Rangers, Papelbon has pitched five straight scoreless innings, allowed one hit and struck out five.
On Thursday, he protected a 1-0 Phillies lead and hit 93 mph on the radar gun (see Instant Replay).
Just don't make the mistake of talking to him about velocity.
"Why do you guys care about velo so much, man?" an agitated Papelbon said at his locker Thursday. "Is that -- does that matter? You think that matters? I don’t understand that. I mean, if a ball has life at the plate and you are throwing 88 miles an hour as opposed to 98 miles an hour, it doesn’t make one damn bit of difference. Whether you throw 93 or 94 or 84. I just, I don’t get it man."
Some of that makes sense. A heavy 90 mph fastball that moves is more effective than a straight 93. But on the other hand, the 91 mph fastballs Papelbon threw Adrian Beltre and Mitch Moreland that fateful night in Texas might have missed their bats if they were 95 coming off his hand the way they used to be.
"You all killed Roy [Halladay] about velo," Papelbon said. "It’s not a big deal. If you do your job and the ball is coming out of your hand, it doesn’t matter how hard you are throwing. Their pitcher over there (Alex Wood) -- what was he throwing, high-80s, low-90s? How well did he pitch? He ran through our lineup for the first eight innings basically. But it had life at the plate. That’s all that really matters, man. End of story."
Papelbon walked away at that point. Maybe it's a good thing he did, because the mention of Halladay there made little sense.
The questions about Halladay's velocity that originally arose before the 2012 season turned out to be a harbinger of his decline. Halladay from 2010 to 2013 went from averaging 92.6 mph with his fastball to 92.0, to 90.6, then finally to 88.8.
And Halladay's now retired because, at the end, he wasn't able to stay healthy or fool hitters the way he did during the bulk of his Hall of Fame career.
Velocity does matter. It's not the be-all, end-all. But it's also not some random factor that folks are hung up on.
"I have been able to make adjustments and that’s what this game is about and hopefully, I’ll be able to keep doing that," Papelbon said. "Texas was one of those innings that happens with a closer and you have to put that behind you."
Papelbon has talked a lot lately about adrenaline and its impact on a closer's velocity and performance. The division-leading Braves gave him some of that.
"For me, the biggest thing in today’s situation was the last couple of years that we’ve been here, we’ve had something to prove against the Braves," Papelbon said about an Atlanta team that is 25-15 against the Phillies since he arrived.
"They beat us up the last couple of years. If we are going to do anything in this division, we had to prove that we are going to be able to beat them whenever we can."