Several major league scouts confided in Fenway Pastoral earlier this week that Red Sox reliever Jon Papelbon’s struggles this season are due to his tipping pitches during key moments of games.
Three respected industry scouts were consistent in identifying the problems:
– When Papelbon purses his lips into what looks like a puckered swollen anus, he plans to throw his 91-MPH fastball with little or no movement.
– When Papelbon rolls his eyes up into the tops of their sockets and tilts the bill of his cap downward to glare at the hitter? That’s prelude to his 92-MPH fastball with little or no movement.
– When Papelbon takes a deep breath, squints his eyes, puckers his lips and takes a sip of a Dunkin’ Donuts Dark Roast iced coffee, hitters brace themselves for his 93-MPH fastball with little or no movement.
No consensus has been reached as to when the pitch tipping may have begun, but two of the three scouts providing the information for this story believe the practice started sometime last season. The numbers seem to back up the claims as Papelbon’s K/9 rate in 2010 (6.75) is well below his career average (10.22). Meanwhile, swing-and-miss rates against Papelbon have steadily fallen since his epic 2007 season in which batters whiffed at nearly 18% of his offerings.
“Hitters are swinging and missing at only 11% of his pitches this year,” explained one scout. “Hitters see him balloon-knotting his mouth before his windup and know they can just tee off.”