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Global Warming: J.P. Howell Has Cooled Off

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The fall of the Rays 2009 season has coincided with the fall of the Iceman, J.P. Howell. Once of the most consistent performers for the Rays for most of the season, Howell's production has fallen by the wayside over the last six weeks.

From April to July, Howell was arguably one of the best, if not the best relief pitcher in the AL. He had thrown 49.2 innings of 1.81 ERA/2.32 FIP ball. He had a K/9 of 10.97, a BB/9 of 3.10 and a miniscule HR/9 of 0.36. When J.P. came in, the game was chilled and things were good.

Then the calendar turned to August and things got hot; the Iceman melted.

Since August 1st, Howell has appeared in 14 games. In 14 innings of work he has an ERA of 6.43 and an FIP of 8.12. His K/9 remains stellar at 10.28, however his walks and home run rate have ballooned. During this rough stretch he is walking 7.7 batters per nine while surrendering an average of 3.2 home runs per nine.

Howell

G

IP

ERA

FIP

K

BB

HR

Aug.-Current

14

14

6.43

8.12

16

12

5

April-July

49

49.2

1.81

2.32

60

17

2

A lot of people will point to this bump in the road and say Howell just doesn't have that "it" or "killer instinct" needed to be a closer. Howell may not be the Rays long term solution as a "closer", but the guy has pitched well in big spot after big spot over the last two seasons. I doubt this is the issue.

With that being said, your guess is as good as mine as to what is plaguing Howell right now. Is it fatigue? Is it the WBC curse? Is it a pitch confidence issue? Without access to Howell's psyche (only R.J. has that power), I'll focus on fatigue/usage.

J.P. has three pitches: fastball, a fastball that curves and a fastball that goes a little bit slower than normal. The latter two are known as curveball and change up. However, with Howell's lack of velocity, all are thrown within five or six miles of each other. Without much separation, Howell has relied on his fantastic command, something that he has lacked recently with all the walks and home runs. Over the past 30 days, Howell has used less fastballs and more change ups. According to his wCH, the change has been his second most effective pitch this season(5.8). However, during this patch it has been arguably his least effective (-0.8). This could explain some of the issues, but probably not all.

Howell pitched a combined 101.1 innings in relief last year in the regular season and post season. He has thrown 63.2 innings so far this year. The combined 165 relief innings are the most in the major leagues over the time period. We know Howell doesn't have much heat on the fastball and this year he's been around 86 mph for the most part. However in August that dipped down to an even 85 mph and in a SSS down to 84.7so far this month. After looking over the situation, I'm thinking fatigue could be the real issue.

Hopefully the Iceman just needs a little bit of Freon to get it going once again.