Jonathan Papelbon had an old-school relief outing in Boston's eventual 7-4 win last night, tossing 2.1 scoreless innings and striking out four hitters. The free-agent-to-be is having arguably his best season yet, cobbling together an 85/10 K/BB ratio in 62.2 innings and placing second among all relievers with 2.8 Wins Above Replacement. Papelbon's resurgence after a middling 2010 campaign is due to his high heat -- he's blowing hitters away high in the zone with his fastball.
The 30-year-old righty is climbing the ladder more often with his fastball this year, increasing his percentage of heaters thrown high in the strike zone from 45 to 53 percent. He got hit hard sometimes when he threw high fastballs last year, but he's getting more misses, chases and weak contact in 2011:
Papelbon's fastball has similar velocity (94-95 mph average) to last year's version. Perhaps part of the reason that his high fastballs are more effective this year is that he's throwing them to the glove side instead of the arm side, creating more of a contrast with his splitter that drops and tails away from lefty hitters:
Whatever the reason, Papelbon's unhittable high heat is padding his pocketbook and bailing out a beat-up Boston staff that's pitching like it belongs in a Peanuts comic strip instead of a playoff race. If this is his last hurrah with the Red Sox, he's certainly going out in style.