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The photo above is the Gameday illustration of Curtis Granderson’s brief at-bat against Jonathan Papelbon the other night. Papelbon threw two pitches to Curtis, the second one being a fastball middle-up at 94 MPH. As I am sure you know, Granderson turned on that pitch and sent it into the seats in right to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead. What was interesting about Papelbon’s performance Wednesday night was that although he has been encouraged to rediscover his splitter, he is still not confident enough to use it as an out pitch. According to Fangraphs, Papelbon threw his splitter less frequently in 2009, maddening Red Sox fans as he consistently reverted to a fastball-only philosophy in tight situations, while occasionally mixing in a slider. Here is Papelbon’s pitch type graph from his blown save in Game 3 of the ALDS, courtesy of Brooks Baseball (FF is fastball, FT is splitter):
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As you can see, all but one of his 28 pitches were fastballs. I’m not sure why it is that he has eschewed the splitter, but there was much talk this spring about recapturing that pitch as the devastating out pitch it once was. Against the Yankees, he threw 26 pitches, with 8 of them being splitters. However, he only threw one slider, rendering him a two pitch pitcher once again. Furthermore, as the following graph shows, he refrained from using the splitter deep into counts, with 6 out of 8 coming in the first 2 pitches of an at-bat. Here is his pitch selection chart based on pitch number in the AB:
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I am certainly not suggesting that Papelbon cannot succeed with just two pitches. He was very good in 2009, and I expect him to be excellent again in 2010. That said, when I brought this point up on Twitter, Ben Kabak of RAB astutely pointed out its relevance to Joba Chamberlain. I think the Yankees and Joba can learn a valuable lesson from Papelbon. Working in the bullpen often leads a pitcher to pare down his repertoire, removing pitches that can be effective but are simply not needed when facing just a handful of hitters one time. If Brian Cashman really still sees Joba as “a starter in the bullpen,” it will be important to have him mix in his changeup and curveball on occasion in order to maintain the quality of those pitches. Even if he is destined for the bullpen, having extra pitches at his disposal will leave him less prone to blow-ups when one of his primary pitches is not working. No matter what the future holds for Chamberlain, maintaining his entire repertoire of pitches will help him maximize his value.
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