Nation STATion: Deconstructing Jonathan Papelbon


Nation STATion: Deconstructing Jonathan Papelbon

by Bill Chuck
Special to

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.

MLB may make rule changes for '18 season

MLB may make rule changes for '18 season

PHOENIX - Major League Baseball intends to push forward with the process that could lead to possible rule changes involving the strike zone, installation of pitch clocks and limits on trips to the pitcher's mound. While baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed hope the ongoing process would lead to an agreement, he said clubs would reserve the right to act unilaterally, consistent with the rule-change provision of the sport's labor contract.

Union head Tony Clark said last weekend he did not foresee players agreeing to proposed changes for 2017. Under baseball's collective bargaining agreement, management can alter playing rules only with agreement from the union - unless it gives one year notice. With the one year of notice, management can make changes on its own.

"Unfortunately it now appears that there really won't be any meaningful change for the 2017 season due to a lack of cooperation from the MLBPA," Manfred said Tuesday during a news conference. "I've tried to be clear that our game is fundamentally sound, that it does not need to be fixed as some people have suggested, and I think last season was the kind of demonstration of the potential of our league to captivate the nation and of the game's unique place in American culture."

Yet, he also added: "I believe it's a mistake to stick our head in the sand and ignore the fact that our game has changed and continues to change."

Manfred said while he prefers an agreement, "I'm also not willing to walk away." He said he will send a letter to the union in the coming days and plans to continue dialogue with Clark and others in hopes of reaching agreement.

Clark met with Cactus League teams last week, five at a time over Thursday, Friday and Saturday, before departing Monday for Florida to visit each Grapefruit League club - and proposed rules changes were a topic.

"I have great respect for the labor relations process, and I have a pretty good track record for getting things done with the MLBPA," Manfred said. "I have to admit, however, that I am disappointed that we could not even get the MLBPA to agree to modest rule changes like limits on trips to the mound that have little effect on the competitive character of the game."

Clark saw talks differently.

"Unless your definition of `cooperation' is blanket approval, I don't agree that we've failed to cooperate with the commissioner's office on these issues," he wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "Two years ago we negotiated pace of play protocols that had an immediate and positive impact. Last year we took a step backward in some ways, and this offseason we've been in regular contact with MLB and with our members to get a better handle on why that happened. I would be surprised if those discussions with MLB don't continue, notwithstanding today's comments about implementation. As I've said, fundamental changes to the game are going to be an uphill battle, but the lines of communication should remain open."

Clark added "my understanding is that MLB wants to continue with the replay changes (2-minute limit) and the no-pitch intentional walks and the pace of game warning/fine adjustments."

Manfred said he didn't want to share specifics of his priorities for alterations.

"There's a variety of changes that can be undertaken," Manfred said. "I'm committed to the idea that we have a set of proposals out there and we continue to discuss those proposals in private."

MLB has studied whether to restore the lower edge of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level - at the top of the kneecap. Management would like to install 20-second pitch clocks in an attempt to speed the pace of play - they have been used at Triple-A and Double-A for the past two seasons.

Players also have been against limiting mound meetings. The least controversial change appears to be allowing a team to call for an intentional walk without the pitcher having to throw pitches. In addition, MLB likely can alter some video review rules without the union's agreement- such as shortening the time a manager has to call for a review.

"Most of this stuff that they were talking about I don't think it would have been a major adjustment for us," Royals manager Ned Yost said.

Manfred said starting runners on second base in extra innings sounds unlikely to be implemented in the majors. The change will be experimented with during the World Baseball Classic and perhaps at some short-season Class A leagues. Manfred said it was a special-purpose rule "beneficial in developmental leagues."

Manfred also said Tuesday that a renovated Wrigley Field would be a great choice to host an All-Star Game and Las Vegas could be a "viable market for us."

"I don't think that the presence of legalized gambling in Las Vegas should necessarily disqualify that market as a potential major league city," Manfred said.