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What's happened to Koji Uehara?

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After posting historically good numbers early in the season, Koji Uehara has done enough in his last six games to undo much of the success. 

Boston's 39-year-old closer blew another save last night - his third in his last three chances and fourth overall appearance. Not only did Uehara blow the save, but he went on to lose the game two batters later.

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Both Mark Teixeira and Chase Headley homered from the left side of the plate in the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium Thursday. Uehara could only retire Brian McCann in between the two solo shots. They were the ninth and 10th home runs Koji has surrendered in just over 61 innings in 2014 - the worst mark among closers who have pitched the same number of innings and 39th worst throughout all pitchers in baseball with 60 innings.

Solo homer streak

But for a while, the very occasional home run was the only thing that could ever hurt Uehara, and they were all of the solo variety. He accumulated a streak that nearly reached 60 innings of giving up nothing but solo home runs. From September 17 of last season to June 30 of 2014, Koji did not give up a single run that did not come via a solo home run - an amazing streak of skill and luck that only Tom Seaver has topped. 

Now it seems that just about anyone and everyone has been hitting Koji. Of the 18 runs Uehara has given up this year, 10 of them have come in his last six outings. After two more last night, many people around the Boston organization were convinced that the recent struggle is no coincidence. 

What's the problem?

NESN's color commentator, Jerry Remy, commented on the movement of Uehara's split-fingered fastball. He said it was "flat." And it would be hard to disagree with his observation after watching the ball float up in the zone for Chase Headley to pulverize into the right field bleachers. So I went to brooksbaseball.net to look at Uehara's PITCHF/x data and the numbers don't support much of anything. 

Just looking at the range of games during Uehara's amazing streak vs. his last six, PITCHF/x says his splitter is actually moving more. The vertical break has upped to 4.77" from 4.60. And while the horizontal break has decreased a little bit, it's a puzzling thought to think Koji's splitter has been moving more. 

One thought is that the break might be more or less the same, but not as tight. There's certainly a difference between a slow, rolling splitter and one that darts out of the zone like we've known Koji's to do. It also might be something else. Or maybe Uehara's splitter really is the same and hitters are doing something to approach it better.

Either way, John Farrell acknowledged the possibility of shutting down his closer. It's unknown if Uehara will sign another MLB contract to pitch in his age 40 season, but his run of six games will certainly affect the number of teams bellying up to give him that chance. 

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Boston Red Sox
MLB
Boston Red Sox

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