Here are some recent comments from the Papelbon thread:
Repeating myself somewhat from another thread, but I think what we've been seeing is Papelbon adjusting his approach for the long haul. As impressive as he was from 06-08, it's not realistic to expect him to be able to look that dominant and blow away hitter after hitter year after year without his arm falling off. He can still reach back for something extra if he needs it, but I'm guessing he's determined that he needs to find more ways to get guys out in order to last.
Found this Baseball Prospectus chart interesting. Heading into tonight's game, the hitters Papelbon had faced so far this season had compiled the highest weighted aggregate OPS in the American League for 2010.
Collectively the 38 batters had put up a .275/.362/.457/.819 overall line. Paps has held them to .133/.316/.233/.549, and he's done it while working under a 1.864 average leverage index, the 12th highest among 92 AL relievers. So yeah, I'm going to cut him a little bit of slack on the 8:5 K/BB ratio.
The thing is, it's not the good hitters (based on 2009 stats) that are getting to him. Against those who had an OPS under 800 last year, they have a 689 OPS in 21 PA with 3K and 4 BB (assuming my calculations are correct). ... In any event, the OPS 800+ guys from last year have an 083 BA, so maybe that's his strategy, getting the bad hitters out has become boring for him ... He is kind of like the Dice-K of closers at this point, getting the job done, but not looking very good doing it.
Here is Papelbon's movement chart from the closer's latest volatile performance [Saturday night]. None of his offspeed pitches, slider or sinker, really dropped relative to gravity, yet the two sinkers did get swinging strikes -- mostly due to their location off the outside corner and inside below the knees, respectively. I also thought that the subjective impression of the slider was positive: it seemed to float, then dive, although the movement figures don't reflect that impression. Papelbon's fastball in 2010 has been unimpressive -- the first three Orioles looked for high fastballs early in the count, got them, and hit them -- but his breaking pitches have been good, even when thrown for strikes. An old cliche has it that the hardest pitch to hit is a major-league slider, not because of the absolute movement but because the illusion of a floating or darting pitch is the hardest for the hitter's brain to process effectively in time to translate it into hand-eye co-ordination. I would expect Papelbon to experiment more with the slider and splitter as it becomes apparent that he doesn't have his old velocity, and that good location, while important, isn't enough by itself when the hitters have a good scouting report, especially one that says: gear up for the high fastball early in the count.