Memo to Papelbon: Throw the splitter!

Evan Brunell@evanbrunellFeatured ColumnistSeptember 11, 2008

Apparently, locating his fastball is more important than winning the game to Jonathan Papelbon.

While Papelbon at times has an excellent split-fingered fastball, it’s his four-seamer that has been his bread-and-butter. And dedication to improved location of that fastball, as well as improved efficiency, has led to a plan Papelbon has been carrying out over the past couple of months. But location is especially critical to the new strategy - without location, it doesn’t work.

As Papelbon said before the game, “I don’t feel there’s a reason for me going to my second-best pitch when I’m effective with my No. 1.” (Boston Globe)

The article gives a convincing argument that he needs to work on locating his fastball in all four quadrants of the strike zone and when he is capable of doing so, can be effective. Pitching coach John Farrell says it’s like having four different pitches. Having played baseball, I can see the rationale behind that.

Another explanation is that it cuts down on Papelbon’s pitches per plate appearance and inning, allowing him to increase his workload. He’s leading the majors in saves lasting more than one inning (12) after finishing last year with four.

So okay, that’s all well and good. We can sacrifice some strikeouts and some splitters to get him an increase workload. After all, you need to pitch your best pitchers the most often to have a chance of winning. But…

I’m sorry to break it to Papelbon, though, but his second-best pitch is a pitch every other pitcher would kill for. It’s a splitter that absolutely drops off the table with no warning. It’s a pitch that needs to be used, especially in these tight situations.

Especially on a night where you freely admit the fastball wasn’t working as well as it was. At some times, you need to back off the pitch and mix in the splitters. If your fastball is not working and you’re mopping up a 10-run lead against the Rangers, hey, go crazy. But this?

In a game that the Red Sox are holding a tenuous one-run lead against a team that excels at every facet of the game with an opportunity to truly demoralize them and leap into first, you use your splitter.

Especially on a night that writers look back and say things like “It was a game the Rays simply had to win,” and “It was exactly the touch from the baseball gods the Rays desperately needed.”

Throw the splitter.