Nation STATion: Deconstructing Jonathan Papelbon

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Nation STATion: Deconstructing Jonathan Papelbon

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.

Brian Johnson: 'Awesome feeling' after five-hitter vs. Mariners

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Brian Johnson: 'Awesome feeling' after five-hitter vs. Mariners

BOSTON - Brian Johnson had quite a turnaround in his second time on Fenway Park's mound.

Johnson pitched a five-hitter in his first big league appearance at Fenway, and the Boston Red Sox stretched their winning streak to a season-high six games with a 6-0 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Saturday.

The 26-year-old left-hander became the first Red Sox pitcher to throw a shutout in his first Fenway start since Pedro Martinez on April 11, 1998. In Johnson's first start in Fenway - his fourth as a professional - he sustained a season-ending facial fracture when he hit by a line drive while pitching for Class A Lowell in 2012.

"The last time I walked off the mound here was 2012 and I made two pitches," Johnson said. "Today I went nine innings. Today was pretty cool."

Johnson left Triple-A for a little over a month last season to get treatment for an anxiety issue.

"Obviously with some stuff that I've been gone through in my career, it's an awesome feeling" he said.

But despite the stellar outing, Johnson was optioned back to Triple-A after the game.

"That's the reality of the game," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "We had a chance to congratulate him and yet option him back to Pawtucket, with David Price coming here Monday."

Brought up from the minors for the start, Johnson (2-0) gave up five singles, struck out eight and walked none. His only previous big league starts were at Houston on July 21, 2015, and at Toronto on April 18 this year.

Johnson was helped by a semi-leaping catch by center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. at the wall in the sixth, Bradley's diving grab of Nelson Cruz's sinking liner in the ninth and Bradley's game-ending running catch of Kyle Seager's drive.

Xander Bogaerts' RBI single triggered a three-run first inning and Bradley hit a two-run homer in the sixth

Shut out for the second straight day, Seattle has lost seven of eight.

"Their guy threw the ball over the plate. He threw strikes," Mariners manager Scott Servais said. "I won't take anything away from what he did, but we're not swinging the bat very well."

Rob Whalen (0-1) gave up five runs and seven hits over 5 1/3 innings in his Mariners' debut, his first big league start since Aug. 23 for Atlanta. He is Seattle's 12th starting pitcher, the most in the major leagues.

Andrew Benintendi and Sandy Leon also had RBI singles in the first, when the Red Sox had two batters hit by pitches, two walks and two runners thrown out on the bases - Dustin Pedroia at third for the first out and Hanley Ramirez at the plate for the last.

Johnson beats Mariners 6-0 for Red Sox' 6th straight win

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Johnson beats Mariners 6-0 for Red Sox' 6th straight win

BOSTON - Brian Johnson pitched a five-hitter in his first big league appearance at Fenway Park, and the Boston Red Sox stretched their winning streak to a season-high six games with a 6-0 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Saturday.

Brought up from Triple-A Pawtucket, Johnson (2-0) gave up five singles, struck out eight and walked none. The 26-year-old left-hander's only previous big league starts were at Houston on July 21, 2015, and at Toronto on April 18 this year.

Johnson became the first Red Sox pitcher to throw a shutout in his first Fenway start since Pedro Martinez on April 11, 1998. In Johnson's first start in Fenway - his fourth as a professional - he sustained a season-ending facial fracture when he hit by a line drive while pitching for Class A Lowell in 2012.

Johnson was helped by a semi-leaping catch by center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. at the wall in the sixth, Bradley's diving grab of Nelson Cruz's sinking liner in the ninth and Bradley's game-ending running catch of Kyle Seager's drive.

Xander Bogaerts' RBI single triggered a three-run first inning and Bradley hit a two-run homer in the sixth

Shut out for the second straight day, Seattle has lost seven of eight.

Rob Whalen (0-1) gave up five runs and seven hits over 5 1/3 innings in his Mariners' debut, his first big league start since Aug. 23 for Atlanta. He is Seattle's 12th starting pitcher, the most in the major leagues.

Andrew Benintendi and Sandy Leon also had RBI singles in the first, when the Red Sox had two batters hit by pitches, two walks and two runners thrown out on the bases - Dustin Pedroia at third for the first out and Hanley Ramirez at the plate for the last.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Mariners: RHPs Hisashi Iwakuma and Felix Hernandez, both on the DL with right shoulder inflammation, threw bullpen sessions. Hernandez said he "felt really good."... LHP James Paxton (strained forearm) is set to come off the DL and pitch at home Wednesday.

Red Sox: Pedroia was back at second base after getting Friday off to rest his sore left knee and not play on a wet field. He was hit by a pitch on the right forearm his first time up and went 1 for 3. ... 3B Pablo Sandoval, on the DL with a sprained right knee, was expected to play nine innings Saturday night in a rehab assignment with Triple-A Pawtucket. Manager John Farrell didn't rule out that he could be activated next week.

UP NEXT

Mariners: RHP Christian Bergman (1-2, 6.30 ERA) gave up 10 runs and 14 hits over four innings in a 10-1 loss Tuesday at Washington.

Red Sox: RHP Rick Porcello (3-4, 4.35) has gone at least six innings in eight of nine starts.