What’s wrong with Papelbon?

Closers, as I stated in yesterday’s post, are completely unreliable commodities.  Jonathan Papelbon is widely regarded as an elite closer.

I am a Red Sox fan  Last summer, I watched more Red Sox games than the majority of you.  Papelbon struggled despite his gaudy numbers.  Watching ninth innings was painful.  Guys started catching up to his fastball and there were times when my father, brother and I all wished we could put Daniel Bard in the closers role.   To be clear, in no way am I advocating picking up Bard in any league where you are looking for saves.  Papelbon will end the year as closer barring statistical implosion.  But even as Papelbon has appeared to struggle anecdotally, his stats remain high.

Papelbon gets great fantasy numbers, but something is missing.

Last year’s season ended with Papelbon on the mound after blowing a save in the playoffs.  In Papelbon’s defense, he had never before come close to struggling in the playoffs.  In fact, he never gave up a run in the postseason until last year.  Yet, somehow, no one was surprised that Papelbon was on the mound as the season ended.  There were just too many close calls during the year.

Now don’t get me wrong, Papelbon’s numbers are very good.  He is a must-own elite guy in fantasy, and has a 2.08 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP, but there is something about watching him that doesn’t add up.  He already has two losses on the year and blew it in extra innings the other night. He always seems to make it interesting and the dominance that allowed him to participate in the last four All-Star games is gone.

Can this be statistically proven in light of Papelbon’s otherwise dominant numbers?  Yes.  This year, Papelbon has 9 strikeouts to 9 walks.  This is not a good ratio by any standard.  In 2007, Papelbon had a 13:1 ratio and for the last two years, he has been at 10:1.  These numbers tell the story of a pitcher who is far less dominant than he once was.

There’s always the argument with closers that they don’t get fired up unless it is a save situation and pitch poorly when there’s no save on the line.  Even so, I find it hard to believe the ever-competitive Papelbon doesn’t have adrenaline rushing in a ballgame tied in extra innings.

So what’s wrong with Papelbon?  Maybe nothing.  Maybe Red Sox Nation is constantly paranoid and will never be able to love a closer.  But maybe it is something.  He is still a dominant fantasy pitcher and will remain the ace of the Sox ‘pen until further notice.

But when watching him, there’s something intangible that makes me nervous about the game.

Hopefully he has another dominant year, but there’s reason for me to believe he might not, I just can’t figure out what that reason is.

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