Thursday, July 09, 2009

A Closer Look at Papelbon

Jonathan Papelbon is a stud closer, and there is no one you'd rather see at the end of game, especially a big game, saving it all and finishing off a win.

Papelbon's success is a significant reason the Red Sox have done so well since the 2004 season. And once again, he was chosen to represent the American League in this year's All Star game next week.

But what about some of the more innocuous statistics behind his role as a closer this season?

One thing that stands out in 2009 are the walks, hits and runs being allowed. In Papelbon's 38 innings pitched, the steely-eyed closer has walked 18 batters and given up 34 hits. He's also given up 4 home runs. His ERA is hovering just under 2 at 1.89.

These are kind of high numbers when you consider that he only walked 8 guys all of last year. In 2007, the year the Red Sox won another World Series title, Papelbon only gave up 15 walks for the year. The most home runs he's given up in a season for his career is 5.

I'm not exactly sure what to make of these stats, other than to say that he is allowing more people on base and getting knocked around at a rate that you would not necessarily expect given his past dominance. Some of this knocking around has been noticeable.

It's not uncommon to see numbers go up a little as teams get more and more comfortable with a pitcher. The AL East has some of the best hitters in the game, and adjusting to his pitches has to have become easier the more they have faced his pitching. But it's still head scratching to see Papelbon approaching career highs in walks this early in the season.

Luckily, he's not blowing saves in any significant way (only 2 so far), but with the way some of these numbers are trending, it will not be surprising to see an increase in blown saves.

The most important statistic for a closer is really only one: Saves. And at the half-way mark for the '09 season, Paps has 22 of those.

[Image by Paul Keleher via Flickr CC 2.0]