Papelbon’s September stats and closer fatigue

September 16th, 2008 → 11:28 am @

In case you haven’t noticed, the Sox’s most enthusiastic dancer has hit a rough patch the last week or so. (Papelbon himself has noticed–and he’s noticed that Eck and TC have noticed over on NESN as well.) In fact, according to Nick Cafardo’s piece in today’s Globe, hitters have a .414 BAA for Paps since Aug 28, and he’s seen his ERA jump from 1.71 to 2.11.

What else has happened in that time? Papelbon has been used a lot, and used on consecutive days a lot – on Sept. 7, 8, and 9, and then again on the 13th and 14th.

This reminded me of an essay on closer fatigue in The Bill James Gold Mine 2008 that looks at Mariano and his use over the years. There are lots of variables, and Bill, being much smarter than I am, figures out all sorts of ways to parse thousands of games worth of data, but the take-away is essentially this: for the Yankees, the difference between a rested and a tired Mariano has been the difference between a 103 win season and a 93 win season.

Intuitively, this makes sense, and I assumed that if I went back and looked at Pap’s game logs for this year, I’d find data that mirrored what we’ve seen in the past week or so. I was wrong. From April through August, Papelbon pitched on consecutive days 13 times – and didn’t give up an earned run on the second day once. (Interestingly, on the first day of those pairs, he’s given up 4 ERs and 7 runs total, which translates into roughly 41 percent of his total runs and 36 percent of his earned runs in 22 percent of his games. (Keep in mind: This is pre-September stats only.))

Does this mean fatigue doesn’t have anything to do with Pap’s 6.0 September ERA, or his 1.83 WHIP? Well, no, not necessarily. If you dig a little deeper, you find that Papelbon entered September with 58 innings pitched, well over the 47.1 he’d amassed through August 31, 2007. In fact, Papelbon’s total innings last year, playoffs included, was only 69 innings, which is just five innings under where he is now. (In 2006, Pap pitched a total of 68 innings…and was shut down for the season after he gave up 2 hits and a run in a third of an inning on Sept. 1.)

I’ll be curious to see how Papelbon is used for the rest of the year. I, for one, was mildly surprised that he was brought in with 1 out and a man on in a 7-1 game back on Sept. 7, (although it’s true that he hadn’t pitched in six games at that point, and the 2 hits he gave up could have been as indicative of some rust as anything). And I’m obviously in favor of pretty much anything that keeps Mike Timlin out of all games in which the Sox are neither winning nor losing by a minimum of ten runs.

Post Categories: 2008 Season & Bill James & Closer fatigue & Jonathan Papelbon

Dear Jim Palmer: There is not an incendiary device at the end of my last name.

June 1st, 2008 → 5:36 pm @

Love, Jonathan Papelbon.

Post Categories: 2008 Season & Broadcasting & Jonathan Papelbon

Gt yr video highlights here…

October 23rd, 2007 → 8:39 am @

Several readers wrote in pointing out that Coco’s catch was, in fact, posted on the MLB site, although so far as I can tell you need to subscribe to the MLB postseason package to see it. Worth doing, though, for that alone.

And in case that’s not enough video highlight for one day, here’s JP’s latest audition for Alvin Ailey…

One more day till the fun begins.

Post Categories: 2007 Playoffs & Coco Crisp & Jonathan Papelbon

I guess Papelbon’s parents missed the entire 2005 season

April 10th, 2007 → 9:19 am @

“Weeks ago, when his parents booked their trip to Texas this past weekend, they made plans to leave on Sunday. They figured their son would be making his first big-league start (emphasis added) in either the fourth or fifth game of the season. So they weren’t in the stands Sunday night, when Papelbon came out of the bullpen and was so overpowering in squashing a Rangers rally that starter Curt Schilling was moved to say: ‘You can’t understand how unbelievable that is. Until you’re on the mound, you can’t understand that there are very few guys in the history of the game who can do that, much less right now.'”

— “Welcome News: Many, Including Papelbon, Happy He’s Back Closing
The Boston Globe
April 10, 2007

Granted, there was a lot going on that day, but I’m willing to bet that the Papelbon’s parents actually remember that his first big-league start came on July 31, 2005, against the Minnesota Twins. You remember that game: it was the trade deadline. Manny didn’t start. Then, in the eighth, he came in to pinch hit — his presence in the batters box heralded with the theme to “Superman” — with the score tied at three and hit an RBI single up the middle. It was the beginning of the Manny being Manny era. After the game, Paps told the Fenway press corps he had gotten goosebumps when Manny rose off the bunch: “I think, to be honest with you, I bet you everybody on the bench did.” Kinda like how everyone must have felt on Sunday…when Papelbon came out of the bullpen. No Superman music this time, although it wouldn’t have been inappropriate.

Post Categories: Boston Globe & Jonathan Papelbon & Manny Ramirez

Opening Day, 2003: An FTM excerpt explaining one more reason why it makes sense to put Papelbon in the pen…

March 27th, 2007 → 5:22 pm @

Last Friday, I posted some quick thoughts about the Pap to the pen move; I also promised to post a historical lesson that would provide some insight as to why installing the Baby Faced Killer as the closer was a good idea simply because of the distraction it would cause if the Sox blew so much as a single game in the first weeks of the season because Tavarez (or the corpse of Mike Timlin) was closing.

And yes, at the time I promised that second post would come “in a few hours.” So here I am, sticking to my word…so long as you’re willing to consider 100 or so “a few.” Anyway, without further ado, here’s an excerpt from Feeding the Monster^ that takes us all the way back to Opening Day, 2003…a quaint and innocent time that feels like it was several lifetimes ago. Theo was the newly appointed GM, Jeremy Giambi was ahead of Ortiz on the depth chart, and the Sox’s “closer by committee” experiment was being derided even before the season started. It only took one game — one blown Opening Day game against the Devil Rays, to be precise — to fire up the populace’s bloodlust. But did that game actually say anything about the possibilities of a closer by committee? Nope. It did show a lot about the stupidity of Grady Little. Read and learn…

^I’d be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to point out that FTM is available from Amazon for only $17.16 (cheap!) and that free signed and personalized bookplates are here for the asking. It’s a perfect gift for Opening Day. For yourself, even.


The Red Sox began the 2003 season hundreds of miles away from their Fenway home, in Tampa’s Tropicana Field, a domed stadium that housed the moribund Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The first inning of Opening Day seemed like it could serve as a microcosm for the two teams. In the top of the first, the Sox scored three runs off of two Tampa Bay errors, a pair of singles by Nomar Garciaparra and Kevin Millar, and a two-run double by Shea Hillenbrand. In the bottom of the inning, Pedro Martinez retired the Devil Rays in order, with a strikeout sandwiched between a pair of groundouts. For most of the game, that was as exciting as it got. The Red Sox scored again in the fifth, and Tampa scratched out an unearned run off of Martinez in the seventh. After finishing that inning, Martinez’s night was complete, and he seemed to be in prime form. He’d thrown 91 pitches, striking out six while allowing only three hits. Ramiro Mendoza came in on relief to retire the Devil Rays in order in the eighth, and Boston was three outs away from its first victory of the season. With a three-run lead against a team that had finished in last place every year of its existence, it was the perfect opportunity to test out the Red Sox’s closer-by-committee approach in a low-stress situation.

With three left-handed batters coming up to the plate, lefty Alan Embree was the first pitcher summoned out of the Boston bullpen in the ninth. Embree, a former member of the Padres, had been picked up by the Red Sox on June 26, 2002, four days after he struck out seven of ten Yankees—including the last six in a row—in a game in San Diego. For the remainder of the 2002 season, he had thrown well, pitching in 32 games for Boston with a 2.97 ERA. Epstein was hoping that, in 2003, he’d become one of the linchpins of the Red Sox’s bullpen.

Embree gave up a single to Travis Lee, the first batter he faced, prompting Tampa manager Lou Pinella to send up the right-handed Terry Shumpert to pinch-hit for the Devil Ray’s lefty designated hitter, Al Martin. Shumpert, in his 13-year Major League career, had only 47 home runs and had batted only .235 in 2002. Before the game, the Red Sox advance scouting team had prepared a report on Tampa Bay and left it for Grady Little. With regards to Shumpert, the instructions were clear: Shumpert was all but useless at the plate so long as you don’t, under any circumstances, throw him an inside fastball. Embree soon demonstrated that Little had either never read the report, or never shared the information with his pitching staff, and Shumpert hit one of Embree’s inside fastballs for his 48th home run (and the second to last of his career).* After Embree gave up another single, this one to right-fielder Ben Grieve, Little summoned Chad Fox to the mound.

Fox struck out the first batter he faced, and then, with one out and a man on first base, induced a bouncer up the middle that looked like it would result in a routine, game-ending double play. But after stepping on second base for the force out, Nomar Garciaparra fumbled the ball as he prepared to throw to first, leaving a man on with two out and the Red Sox clinging to a 4-3 lead. After a seemingly rattled Fox walked pinch-hitter Marlon Anderson, Carl Crawford, the Devil Rays’ leadoff batter, came to the plate.

Crawford fouled off four straight pitches, putting him in an 0-2 hole. Fox’s fifth pitch was high, bringing the count to 1-2. His next pitch was low and inside, exactly where he wanted it, but Crawford got his bat around on the ball, golfing it in to the right-field stands for a game-winning, three-run homer.

It was a tough loss, but it didn’t predict anything one way or another about the Sox’s bullpen plan. Save for Garciaparra’s bobble, Chad Fox would have been out of the inning, and the pitch Crawford hit to end the game was an excellent one. Still, the reaction in Boston was swift and harsh. After a grand total of one game, the Herald’s Jeff Horrigan dubbed the Red Sox’s bullpen experiment “loser[s] by committee.” The Globe said the opening night loss had given “rise to the darkest fears of the scheme’s architects” and reported that a 73-year-old woman had been prompted to call the paper for the first time in her life. She relayed this message: “I’m so disgusted. What’s with this closer by committee?” Dan Shaughnessy wanted to “start with a memo to Bill James: Perhaps the seventh inning is not the most important inning to hold a lead.” After an offseason “spent reinventing baseball,” Shaughnessy wrote, “young Theo saw it all implode in the hideous confines of Tropicana Field.”

The bullpen brouhaha was just one of the distractions that would occupy the team during the first half of the season. In April, soon after his $17.5 million contract extension for the 2004 season was picked, Martinez seemed to falter, sparking a round of hand wringing and second-guessing. When the team’s relievers continued to struggle, the closer-by-committee experiment was more or less discarded, as Grady Little announced that Brandon Lyon and Chad Fox would, until further notice, both serve as the Red Sox’s closers. And in late May, after Martinez landed on the disabled list with a strained muscle in his back, Epstein succeeded in swapping an increasingly bitter Hillenbrand for some pitching help, trading him to the Arizona Diamondbacks for their 24-year-old Korean pitcher, Byung-Hyun Kim.

* One member of the team’s baseball operations staff said of that night, “That’s when I had a feeling Grady wasn’t going to work out.”

Post Categories: Feeding the Monster Outtakes & Grady Little & Jonathan Papelbon

Pap to the pen: A good move?

March 23rd, 2007 → 11:37 am @

So much for Papelbon’s short-lived career as a starting pitcher: yesterday, as everyone living within 500 miles of Boston undoubtedly knows, Jonathan Papelbon was named the Sox’s 2007 closer. At first blush, it’s hard to argue with this decision: Papelbon, a fourth round pick in the ’03 draft, was, for 5/6’s of the ’06 season, the best closer in the league. And lord knows I’m glad we’re not going to be watching Mike Timlin jogging out of the bullpen in the bottom of the ninth.

The move, according to everyone from Papelbon himself to the ticket takers in Ft. Myers, came after Paps himself requested he return to the bullpen, which, on a certain level, makes the whole discussion of whether or not this is a good idea moot. (After all, when you have a young stud offering to fill the team’s most glaring hole, it’s hard to marshal a good reason to deny him his request.) But will Papelbon be more valuable coming on in the ninth than he would be if he’d taken the mound every fifth day? That’s a trickier question. There’s undoubtedly a big psychological boost that comes with having a lights-out flamethrower set to slam shut the door at the end of a game. But let’s say Julian Taverez — who’s more than a little nuts — fills the fifth starter role to the tune of, say, a .500 record and a 4.43 ERA. And, for arguments sake, let’s say Papelbon would have put up a 10-6 record with a 4.07 ERA.

Actually, that’s not arguments sake: that’s Papelbon’s and Tavarez’s PECOTA projections for the ’07 season. (You’ll need a Baseball Prospectus subscription to view those PECOTA links; for an explanation of just what PECOTA, or Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test, is all about, here’s BP’s PECOTA glossary and the PECOTA Wikipedia entry.) Those numbers are a bit off, because they’re assuming Papelbon would be in the starting rotation and rack up 147 innings, while Tavarez was projected to be in the pen and amass a mere 50 innings (and everything else being the same, more innings=more value). But those stats give Papelbon a 30.1 VORP (value above replacement player), worth 4.5 wins above replacement player; they give Taverez a 7.6 VORP, good for a 1.2 WORP.

Now let’s compare two closers from last year: Mariano Rivera and Todd Jones. Jones, finishing games for the pennant-winning Tigers, ended the year with 37 saves; Mo finished up with 34. But according to PECOTA, Mariano was a lot more valuable, with a 34.9 VORP, and a 7.1 WARP; Jones’s numbers were 12.2, and 3.2. (For those of you who are interested, PECOTA has Pap as more valuable than both of them, coming in at 38.6 and 7.3)

And this means what, exactly? Well, for one thing, it shows how mutable relief pitching can be. (Anyone who bets that Jones is likely to repeat his ’06 performance is likely to lose his money. Lest anyone forget, Joe Borowski looked like an elite reliever last year.) They also give an indication that Papelbon will be a more valuable closer than he will be a starter. But that doesn’t us a complete answer as to our question; for that, we’d need to subtract Tavarez’s value as a starter from Papelbon’s value as a starter and add that to Papelbon’s value as a closer subtracted from that of whomever would have been the closer (or closers) had Paps remained in the rotation. If that number ends up being positive, then Jonathan and the Sox made the right call; if it’s negative, they made the wrong one. (Actually, it’s even more complicated than that, because you’d need to figure out the PECOTA figures of the replacement closer(s) versus their PECOTAs when they’re not closing, and also predict the likelihood that Papelbon will get injured when starting versus reliever, and add in some projections as to whether Manny is more or less likely to be paying attention when his buddy Julian is on the mound, and then try to determine what Papelbon’s presence in the rotation would mean for, say, Lester and Clement, and finally throw in whether John Henry & Co. would be more or less likely to go after Clemens in each imaginary scenario…well, you get the idea.)

This, of course, is the type of hypothetical argument that takes place in a vacuum, and it’s the type of number-crunching exercise that makes Luddite’s like Murray Chass wince. But it’s interesting, and the fact that this kind of analysis is getting little (read: no) attention in what those kooky wingnuts in the blogosphere like to refer to as the MSM is indicative of the extent to which baseball reporting by the mass-market professionals lags behind baseball analysis by specialized writers and amateurs alike.

And to get back to the main point of this here post, it’s the absence of this type of discussion that helps show why precisely this is such a good move, numbers be damned. Even if Papelbon performed above expectations as a starter — say, 13-6, 3.60 — if the team’s closer(s) blew a handful of games, they’d be cries for blood. If, on the other hand, Tavarez goes 4-10 with a 4.79 ERA, there’ll be bitching about his performance…but precious little discussion as to whether the Sox made the wrong move by putting Papelbon back in the pen. Which means that Paps in the rotation has the potential to be huge distraction. And that would be bad for everyone.

In a couple of hours, I’ll offer up an historical example of just how distracting that type of situation can be. And — surprise! — Grady Little plays a central role in that tale.

(Update: the good folks over at SoSH have started a thread on the relative value of relievers versus starters thing; I’m about to run out so I haven’t had a chance to fully check it out, but it’s bound to be interesting.)

Post Categories: Jonathan Papelbon & Julian Tavarez & Red Sox Fans & Sosh & Sports Reporters & Statistics

Pet peeve #831

February 24th, 2007 → 12:30 pm @

On, Jayson Stark has a column about how the Red Sox wish Jonathan Papelbon would remain as closer. “Under ordinary circumstances,” Stark writes, “no team moves men who are that good at a job that important to some other job. You sure won’t see the Red Sox trying Manny Ramirez at shortstop this spring. And David Ortiz won’t be hitting leadoff.” More to the point, regardless of how effective Ortiz is at moving runners from first to third, you won’t see him punching the ball to the opposite field instead of swinging for the fences, which is exactly what the Red Sox wanted him to do when they signed him.

And, as Papelbon himself knows (“the Red Sox drafted me as a starter,” Paps told Stark, “and that’s what I’m going to be”), he’ll be most valuable in a spot in which he can pitch the most innings. It’s common sense that 200 innings is worth more than 70. That’s why mid-level starters get $12 million a year and, in ’06, Mo made $10.5 mil. Unfortunately, common sense isn’t a lot of sportswriters’ strengths.

There are plenty of exceptions out there, and regular readers of this blog are well aware that of I think Rob Bradford is one of them. It’s obviously good news that Bradford has a new blog, Bradford on Baseball. If you haven’t already, check it out. You’ll be glad you did.

Post Categories: Jayson Stark & Jonathan Papelbon & Rob Bradford