By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

“P” is for Papelbon and panic

No, I didn’t see Jonathan Papelbon blow his sixth save of the season this afternoon. I was working. But I’d say he’s now officially become a problem. Wouldn’t you? If he’d blown, say, two saves up to this point, the Sox would be leading in the wild-card race.

You can’t hold that blown save against the Angels in the 2009 playoffs over his head. Those things happen. But even though his statistics have, for the most part, been very good, I think most of us would agree that he hasn’t looked right since the beginning of the ’09 season — even though he can still be dominating, as he was against the Yankees the other night.

It would be a panic move, and I doubt Terry Francona would ever do it. But I wonder if it might be time to make Daniel Bard the closer, give some key innings to Felix Doubront and Michael Bowden (what is he still doing in Pawtucket?) and use Papelbon in some non-key situations for a while.

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  1. Bob Gardner

    You officially advocate panic? The idea is to panic while you deny that you are doing so.
    A better way to panic would be to let Bard (or even another reliever who gets hot) finish some of the games that they set up.

  2. ben starr

    Sox are 3-3 in Papelbon’s blown saves. Probably a game worse than you’d expect from a great closer.

  3. Aaron Read

    I wrote to Amalie’s mailbox about this: Papelbon is known to have migraine headaches. There are various types of migraines. But besides severe pain, most of them involve moderate to severe dizziness and reduction in vision…two things rather important to a pitcher. And they are bastardly difficult to predict or prevent.

    Why aren’t more people asking if Paps is being honest with his team (and quite possibility himself) about possible migraines? ESPECIALLY in the wake of Dice-K not being honest with the team about his health issues?

    Or are both the Sox and Paps trying to keep this quiet in order to preserve his trade / free-agency value?

    Inquiring minds…

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Aaron: Papelbon’s post-game comments about being “groggy” might fit into the migraine category. I’ve wondered about that myself. I’ve also wondered about his shoulder, which has been a concern going back to his first year as a closer. Pitchers who hurt their arms tend to lose their location, not their velocity. In any event, if Papelbon felt he really couldn’t perform yesterday, it was unconscionable of him not to say so, given that Bard could have come in.

  4. Peter Sullivan

    I think you have your baseball math a little fuzy, I think The Sox would only be leading the wild card race if those additional four blown saves were all vs, Tampa bay, in which case they would actually be tied.

  5. Andy Koppel

    Peter: The math is correct, more or less. Tampa’s record is 69-45. The Red Sox record is 66-50. With four other wins against any team but Tampa, their record would be 70-46, essentially tied with Tampa.

  6. Mike Benedict

    Papelbon’s problems seem to me to be more related to location than velocity, especially to the right side of the plate. That would suggest a mechanical issue. Mechanics break down when an injury is present, of course, but Paps hit 97 in two games this week, so I’m not so sure it’s an injury. I hadn’t heard about the headaches, but that would explain a lot.

  7. Aaron Read

    FWIW, I have a feeling that if Papelbon is around much longer, he’s going to learn the hard way that Boston sports fans are a very enthusiastic, supportive bunch….as long as you’re winning.

    Screw up too much, and they’re turn on you like a pack of wolves and rip you to shreds.

    All the moreso if you’re arrogant and not terribly likable…as Papelbon is. And triply so if you’ve whined about not being paid enough…as Papelbon has.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Aaron: I’m willing to cut Papelbon a little slack, because that mentality is also what made him a great closer. But there’s no question his physical gifts have declined over the past two years. Quoth Tito: “His command sometimes, for whatever reason, isn’t the same as it was. He went through that shoulder issue, so he doesn’t have the reps [Huh? Help me out here.] that he used to. He has to keep an eye on it. He’s done a terrific job, but sometimes the side work isn’t what it used to be. We’ve had to deal with that for two years now. If that’s the tradeoff, we’ll take it.”

      Closers are not irreplaceable, even when you don’t have a Bard around. It’s Beckett — now in the midst of his third consecutive disappointing season — who I’m really worried about.

  8. Mike Benedict

    Clarification: I said right side of the plate. By that, I meant the side of the plate a left-handed batter stands at.

    @Dan: By reps, I think Tito was referring to Papelbon’s workouts. From the context I’m guessing Tito means Papelbon doesn’t throw much on the side in order to protect his arm. So, that limits his opportunities to work out mechanical problems.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Mike: It occurred to me later that Tito meant repetitions. Makes me think Papelbon’s had an expiration date ever since he hurt his shoulder in 2006.

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