By Joe Giglio
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Philadelphia Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon is capable of causing a stir, both on and off the field. He did just that in the aftermath of Thursday afternoon’s victory over the Atlanta Braves by questioning the media’s obsession with his velocity.
“Why do you guys care about velo so much, man?” Papelbon asked. “Is that — does that matter? You think that matters? I don’t understand that. I mean, if a ball has life at the plate and you are throwing 88 miles an hour as opposed to 98 miles an hour, it doesn’t make one damn bit of difference. Whether you throw 93 or 94 or 84. I just, I don’t get it man.”
On the surface, it’s easy to say that Papelbon doesn’t get it, didn’t take notice of his poor performances last year or lack of velocity during a season-opening series in Texas. The reporters and columnists that cover the Phillies on a daily basis are just asking relevant questions that fans want to hear, read and see answers to from their favorite players.
In that sense, Papelbon is foolish to challenge the questions. After playing every moment of a decade-long career in sports-crazed cities like Boston and Philadelphia, the highly-paid closer should be ready for anything the media throws at him.
However, from a baseball perspective, Papelbon is 100 percent correct in questioning the validity of the comments thrown his way. It’s instructive for fans, reporters and WIP hosts to dig deep and explore why athletes in this town are performing well or disappointing based on a myriad of factors.
We can look ahead, but players are focused on day-to-day results. It’s not easy to take players or managers at their absolute word during the six-month grind of a major league season. This instance is an exception.
When Papelbon takes the hill, it’s not hard to imagine that the radar gun is irrelevant to him as he attempts to secure a save and help his team register a victory. It’s impossible for everyone else to notice a dip in his velocity as the years have moved along, but results matter much more than process to the players on the field.
As long as talent evaluators inside the walls at Citizens Bank Park are keenly aware of regression and potential for aging players to decline quickly, that should be enough. Expecting Papelbon — after successfully doing his job and saving the game — to be forward-thinking about the state of his right arm is asking too much.
Papelbon expounded on his point, bringing the performance of Atlanta Braves lefty Alex Wood into the conversation.
“Their pitcher over there — what was he throwing, high-80s, low-90s? How well did he pitch? He ran through our lineup for the first eight innings basically,” Papelbon said. “But it had life at the plate. That’s all that really matters, man. End of story.”
It’s the last line that should actually endear Papelbon to fans in Philadelphia: End of story.
Questioning Ruben Amaro’s decision to hand any closer not named Mariano Rivera a lucrative, long-term contract is fair. Wondering if or when Papelbon will become an albatross and major issue is natural. Exploring his dip in velocity compared to other closers in baseball is wise.
Expecting an athlete to prioritize process over results isn’t any of those things. In fact, it goes against everything players are taught as they work their way from youth sports to becoming the very best in their profession.
Stats, numbers and trends are for the reader of this piece and listener on WIP. They aren’t for Jonathan Papelbon when he’s on the mound. Ultimately, the Phillies closer will be judged on performance.
Despite a noticeable drop in skill level since his best days in Boston, 71 saves and an ERA of 2.74 have been the important numbers since a 2012 arrival to Philadelphia. If that type of performance continues, radar gun readings will ultimately be as irrelevant as Papelbon wants them to be.
Joe Giglio is a host on WIP and WFAN, and covers MLB as a Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Find him on Twitter @JoeGiglioSports. Catch Joe’s next show on WIP Saturday night following Phillies-Rockies.