Fastball, Fastball, Fastball

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Papelbon Pitches, originally uploaded by waldoj.

Let’s get a couple of things out of the way. Papelbon is absolutely correct: this game is not the end of the world. Red is right that “that shit’s just gonna happen.” John Farrell obviously has forgotten more about pitching than I ever will. And Cafardo, as he is wont to do, is clearly blowing things way out of proportion.

My problem is far more prosaic: what gives with the fastball heavy approach? As noted yesterday, as the fastball percentage has gone up, the numbers have gone down. From inhuman levels, true, but it’s still worth noting.

As many have noted, over the past two games, Pap threw 30 fastballs in one stretch. That’s a problem. Or two problems, actually. As Keith Law puts it:

Relying exclusively on a fastball — even a good one like Papelbon’s — poses two problems. First, the hitter can mostly look at one level within the zone for a pitch to hit. Pitchers use off-speed pitches to change hitters’ eye levels, forcing them to consider that the pitch might finish up in the zone, down in the zone or below the zone. Secondly, hitters can “cheat” and start their bats a little earlier when they know — or can reasonably guess — that a fastball is coming. Johnson absolutely was doing it Tuesday, as was Aybar, although he does that all the time anyway. Papelbon has to start mixing in a second pitch, preferably the splitter, or hitters will keep timing his fastball and driving it to the outfield or out of the park.

What about Papelbon’s defense, you ask? “I don’t feel there’s a reason for me going to my second-best pitch when I’m effective with my No. 1.” With all due respect to the best closer we’ve had in my lifetime, that strikes me as absurd.

The same kind of absurd that saw Beckett throw little but fastballs in his first trip around the AL. The trip that saw his ERA jump to north of 5 and his home runs allowed to 36. Even pitchers with dominant fastballs – pitchers like Beckett or Papelbon – need something else. In shelving his secondary pitches, Pap is doing the hitters a major favor, and, one has to think, himself a disservice. Becaause there will come a time where he doesn’t have the good fastball. A time where he needs the split, the slider, maybe even both. And if he’s not throwing them, the confidence in them must suffer.

My hope, actually, is that Pap is just being stubborn. Stubborn like Beckett. Because that’s correctable. Potentially easily, after a lesson like last night.

My fear, however, is that he’s not throwing his secondary pitches because he can’t, because it hurts. Both the split and the slider torque the arm to a greater degree than the fastball, and I’m worried that may be playing its part. It’s, sadly, the most plausible explanation

Because as much as Farrell talks about how locating the fastball to four different quadrants can make it “like four different pitches,” it is not four different pitches.

Just ask Dan Johnson.

Quick Links: New Radio Team, Why I Love Amalie, and More

mmm...Amalie

Or not so quick.

Anyway, another day, another new feature here at wicked clevah. Bringing you the news quickly. If not succinctly.

Bullpen Breakdown

Firebrand of the American League: I’ll be taking my own look at the roster – probably after we have more to go on, say midway through Spring Training – but in the meantime, Evan Brunell over on Firebrand of the American League has an interesting look at the battle for the final few bullpen roles. I think it under emphasizes slightly the role that roster status will play in the decision making process – I’d personally be shocked if any of the folks that don’t have to pass through waivers make the club from the outset – but it’s a good roundup of the candidates and their strengths and weaknesses.

One note worth adding: FBAL’s Dave B is not unique in his fascination with non-roster invitee Lee Gronkiewicz. Baseball Prospectus’ Joe Sheehan had this to say in his AL East preview:

Journeyman right-hander Lee Gronkiewicz has a 2.48 career ERA in the minors with nearly a 4:1 career K/BB. That ratio was 85/12 last year in 78 2/3 innings at three levels. There’s not much room in Fenway’s bullpen, but an injury to somebody could create an opportunity for the veteran to be this year’s Lee Gardner.

A long shot? Of course. But if there’s any front office that will give him credit for those numbers, it’s ours.

More Truck Day

Kelly O’Connor: Via Surviving Grady comes word of Kelly O’Connor’s Truck Day pictures. In case you, like me, can’t get enough.

New Radio Team Announced

Boston Globe: I’ll be honest: I never really cared for Jerry Trupiano, the long term radio partner of Joe Castiglione. His delivery was nothing to write home about, but the grating factor for me was his stale humor. A few summers back he had a running joke about some karaoke that Castiglione had done – Runaround Sue, I think it was – that became one of his running gags. It wasn’t particularly amusing the first time around, and to say it never grew on me was putting it mildly.

But neither was I big fan of Dave O’Brien (who other folks love) or Glenn Gefner (whom other folks most certainly did not). Most particularly, however, I didn’t like the transition back and forth between the two, and the obvious lack of chemistry between the boothmates, where chemistry = knowing who says what, and when, and who fills silences, and how.

Apparently, things are going to get worse in that department this season: not only are we not consolidating things in the booth, we’re adding a fourth. Castiglione remains, which is good, as does O’Brien, but when the latter is absent he’ll be replaced by a tag team of Dale Arnold or Jon Rish. I’ve heard both before, of course, in the context of their respective WEEI duties, and neither inspires strong feelings one way or the other.

I’ll reserve judgement until I hear the three pairings play out, but I’m not optimistic about the state of Red Sox radio in ’08. Which pains me in particular, because I don’t have TV set up in the cottage I live in in the summer (it’s in the one next door), meaning that radio is my primary medium whether I’m at home, on the boat or in the car.

Why I Love Amalie

Boston Globe: I’m far from alone in the massive crush I have on Amalie Benjamin – see the page footer over on the brilliance that is Surviving Grady – but a piece of hers today may win you over as well. In discussing Matsuzaka, she penned the following:

Matsuzaka, meanwhile, has turned his Mohawk from last season into something of a mullet. It’s definitely a party in the back.

Priceless, I think we can all agree.

But it’s even more valuable in the context of her competition: crusty old embittered white men. To me she’s a breath of fresh air in an increasingly stale medium. Also, there’s the hotness.