by Bill Chuck
Special to CSNNE.com
Okay, it may be depressing to drop a series to the San Diego Padres, but it is by no means a catastrophe. In fact, overall, things are pretty, pretty, pretty good, to quote Larry David. But, I just want to curb your enthusiasm because heading into July, we can see what happens when the Red Sox bats are contained, as outside of Josh Beckett, the pitching remains iffy.
Okay, you say Im just hedging my bets, but understand that the staff overall is 20th in ERA, the starters are 24th in Quality Starts and the bullpen is the 21st in the majors with a 3.95 ERA (the major league average is 3.66). The bats may be the best in baseball, but the staff is troublesome.
I think the thing that is most concerning is that the bullpen simply doesnt give me any real piece of mind. I rarely feel that its lights out when it comes to the pen and that especially includes the closer.
Jonathan Papelbon, in his last year of contract, has an ERA of 4.03. It was 1.74 from 2006-2009. Hes appeared in 29 games, pitched 29 innings, has a WHIP of 1.172 (it was 0.837 from 2006 to 2008) and has earned 13 saves and blown just one. Then why when I speak to so many of you is there a feeling of apprehension when he comes into a game?
Statistically, Papelbon brings conflict . . . and conflict does not make people happy. For example, his strikeout-to-walk ratio, always an important indicator, is 7.80, the best since his All-Star year of 2008 when it was 9.63. Of his 493 pitches, 337 (68) have been for strikes. Yet, his control comes at a price. Batters are hitting .252 against him, the highest since his 2005 rookie season.
Part of the reason could be that batters are more comfortable swinging against Papelbon. Throughout his career, 22 of the strikes he has thrown have been swings and misses. This year, that number is 28, the highest of his career. The good news again is that only 65 of the time batters have made contact on their swings, once again the lowest of his career. But (there seems to always be a but) 8.1 of all plate appearances end in an extra-base hit, once again the highest since his rookie season. That number was just 4.5 in 2007.
As you can see, conflicts create confusion when it comes to Papelbon. The rule of thumb says that Batting Average for balls in plays eventually evens out. But you have to wonder if it is starting to even out over Papelbons career. His lifetime BAbip is .280, but that includes the .221 he averaged over the 2006-07 seasons. Over the 2008-10 seasons his BAbip has been .292 which ordinarily I would say is high, but it is an enormous .360 this season. Part of the reason for apprehension with that number is that 22 of all the balls put into play against Papelbon are line drives. Thats his highest since his outstanding 2007 season, but that year his Batting Average against was only .146, his BAbip .216 and only 4.5 of all plate appearances ended in an extra base hit, the lowest of his career. Hes already had 19 line drives hit off of him, the same as the entire 2007 season.
Confused? Who can blame you?
Heres a little more to muddy the waters:
On 2-2 counts, batters are hitting .167 against Papelbon.
But on 1-2 counts, they are hitting .400.
With the bases loaded, batters are 0-for-6.
But with a runner on first, they are hitting .308.
In Papelbons 29 appearances this season:
He has had 10 appearances in which in one inning of work he has allowed no baserunners.
But, he has also had nine appearances in which he has allowed runs.
In 2003, the Red Sox infamously experimented with the closer-by-committee concept. It was anxiety producing. Then came Byung-Hyun Kim and Keith Foulke before Jonathan Papelbon arrived. Through 2009 Pap was lights out, but over the last season-and-a-half we keep the lights on, nervously wondering what he will do. He has become a closer-by-committee all by himself.
It will be interesting to see what Theo does both over the next five weeks, as we approach the trading deadline, and, if the Sox dont make a move (or move Papelbon), will they re-sign the closer or move on. Like Papelbon himself, its kind of unnerving.