Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Papelbon revamped mechanics after meltdown

Jonathan Papelbon has not allowed a run and has allowed just one hit in his last 5 2/3 innings, striking out six and walking no one in the process. He hasn't allowed a base-runner in his last four outings -- the first time all season he's gone four outings without allowing a hit and just the third time all season he's gone four outings without walking anyone.

It's not just a hot streak, either. Papelbon clearly got to work on his mechanics in the aftermath of his July 28 meltdown against the Oakland Athletics, and it's paying off.

Among the areas of emphasis:

1. His set position
For most of his career, Papelbon has come to a set position with his hands at his belt -- but he made a significant change going into this season. It's pretty easy to see when you look at them side-by-side.

Here's the final out of the 2007 World Series:

Here's the final out of a game in early May:

Here's the double Papelbon surrendered to rookie Tommy Everidge, the biggest hit of that three-run inning:

Here's the Papelbon's four-out save against Detroit on Monday night. He brings his glove once again to his chest, just above the letters, but when he comes to a set position, his glove is almost resting on his belt buckle. It's a difference of almost a foot.

Papelbon and Farrell revamped his set position in the offseason and clearly have spent this season making tweaks as the closer's effectiveness has diminished. (His ERA hasn't been terrible, but he's allowing baserunners at a far higher clip this season than in seasons past.)

"There were a couple of benefits that came from it, and there were a couple of things that were drawbacks as well," Farrell said. "The benefit is that he’s used his legs more, and his bounce-back and his recovery time has been much shorter this year -- but he was sacrificing some fastball command and consistent location."

It was Papelbon who brought up the idea of making the adjustment, of returning to the mechanics that worked so well for him last season.

"The biggest thing was, it allowed his arms to relax," Farrell said. "In the previous set position, if you can recall and visualize, his back elbow was rigid and pointed outward, and it didn’t give him the natural fluidity that he’s showing now."

2. His release point
Every pitcher in the world knows the importance of consistency, the importance of throwing the ball from the same spot with the same delivery every time. Without a consistent delivery and a consistent point of release, a pitcher can't depend on his fastball go where he wants and his offspeed pitches to break the way he wants.

Papelbon's release points on July 28

Papelbon's release points on Aug. 10

Look at his release point on July 28 and and how much it varied. Look at his release point from Monday night and how tightly all the points are grouped. It's subtle, but it's there. That's a sign that he's made it an emphasis to find some consistency with where the ball comes out of his hand.

His release point actually comes back to his set position, too. With his hands set stiffly at his chest, he tended to let his motion take him "east-west," as Farrell said, rather than directly toward home plate. That almost certainly contributed to a lack of consistency in his release point.

"With the adjustment, it's allowed him to stay more on line and more true through the spot," Farrell said.

(Thanks to Dan Brooks and brooksbaseball.net for the Pitch f/x charts. All of the information is gleaned from MLB.com's Gameday data.)

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