Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Jonathan Papelbon is the Real Thing [Addison Quale]

It was a pretty impressive showing for Jonathan Papelbon Sunday night. Peter Gammons is calling it perhaps a 'seminal moment'. The Sox were clinging to a precarious 3-2 lead in the 8th inning with one out , runners on 1st and 3rd and the Rangers' best hitter Michael Young (200 hits each of the past 4 seasons) at the dish, with Mark Teixeira to follow. In comes Paps to put out the Texas fire and attempt to record a 5 out save. First pitch: 94 mph - Young swings and misses. Second pitch: 96 mph heater - Swings and misses. At this point the announcer on the radio said something like, "Young can't keep up with these pitches. Papelbon should just come right after him and do it again." And he did. Third pitch: Called strike three. One of the best hitters in baseball neutralized. One more pitch-- and a popup hit by Teixeira, and the threat was over. Paps went on to cruise easily through the 9th to preserve Curt Schilling's first win of the season and get his second save.

What is the value of a good closer? In 2003 the Red Sox experimented with the idea that a closer by committee approach would be more effective than dubbing one single reliever the closer. The result was disastrous. And I think it illustrated well the limits of the wisdom of Sabrmetrics. The science of baseball statistics fail to speak truth into situations where raw human emotion plays enough of a role. (This is perhaps the biggest reason why the postseason truly IS a crapshoot--because under that kind of pressure, ANYthing can happen.) The Sabrmetricans were dead wrong. The 9th inning isn't like any other inning. You can't just plug anyone in there.

I think that the idea of the closer is finally being accepted as a truly unique position, at least as valuable if not way more so than a starter. It seems that more and more pitchers are becoming lifetime closers at a young age (a la Francisco Rodriguez, B.J. Ryan, Huston Street) I feel that closers used to be the place were old relievers and failed starters ended up (Eckersley and Smoltz). We always got the sense that they really yearned to be starting again.

The difference Papelbon makes for the Red Sox now that he is their closer is going to be immeasureable. Think about the confidence the Sox will now have this year knowing that their 3-2 leads are still pretty ridiculously safe even with 1 out and runners on the corners and Michael Young at bat. It seems that Papelbon has finally decided to accept his destiny, unlike Derek Lowe, to be a lifetime Closer. This could turn out to be one heckuva career.

Labels: , ,