Papelbon Spins a Tale That is Awash in Delusion

I wish I lived in the same world as Jonathan Papelbon. You know, that world where number fifty-eight still reigns supreme. That world where JP still throws strikes. And that world where Pap still wins more “full counts” than he losses.   

Unfortunately, that world no longer exists and really hasn’t for a couple of years.  But that didn’t stop Papelbon from pretending otherwise yesterday as he put a ribbon on his fabulous 2010 season. Here are the money quotes and some parsing:

“The season is more satisfying to me [than frustrating], because of one simple thing: I’m throwing this breaking ball, the slider, that is better than I’ve ever thrown. In my mind, now I’m going into a healthy, to-be-free agent year with three pitches and healthy. I’ve reached exactly where I want to be with health, where I want to be as a pitcher, and I can’t complain.”

Can’t complain? And this is where you want to be? You mean you aspired to become a ninth-inning pinata? You can’t complain about becoming a whipping boy for the Yankees? You’re pleased with the development of that slider even if it means you can’t throw your other two pitches for strikes anymore? An ERA north of 4.00 is satisfying?

The lunacy continues:

 “I think everything has come full circle …. I’ve developed a third out pitch, which I’ve been really successful with this year, and it’s only going to get better. How many closers out there have three legitimate out-pitches? I think for me, and my career, and my health, everything has come full circle to this final year. I’m looking forward to a big year next year, with a lot of motivation.”

Um, Jon, there may not be many closers out there with three good “out” pitches but that also includes you. Because if you had even one or two of those pitches, you wouldn’t have been destroyed on full counts this season. In fact, I would gladly go back to the 2007 Pap who had one out pitch …. A 96 MPH heater with late movement. Give me that and you can have the rest.

Papelbon concluded with this …. “My pitches are there, my health is there, my velocity is there. What else can I hope for?” Um, how about getting more outs and better results? That might be useful.

Cinco-Ocho is clearly sweating his future. Worried that the huge payday he was shooting for now looks like a pipe dream, Papelbon is trying to convince himself that a bounce back is in the cards. So he talks about comfort and sliders and good health but chooses to ignore the obvious which is he had a TERRIBLE year.

And this is where I want to highlight an interesting trend I noticed this year, confirmed this morning, and mentioned above. Pap spoke yesterday of having that full arsenal of “out” pitches but the fact of the matter is, this season he routinely lost “out” situations. Case in point, let’s look at his record when the count was full. Over his career, including this season, this is what batters have slashed with a full count:  .146/.414/.223. So historically, he basically has won six in ten of his full count fights. But this year, the numbers are as follows: .292/.585/.375. So instead of winning a majority of these battles, as he has in the past, Pap is now losing six in ten of these fights. So much for an out pitch.

The fact of the matter is the Boston pen was a total disaster this year. And every bit as bad as it was in 2001 and 2003 and 2005. Theo Epstein admitted as much yesterday and stressed that in the off-season, the Sox “have to completely fix the bullpen.”  So does “completely” cover the closer? Was Epstein opening up the possibility that Pap would be traded or released? Or will Epstein proceed under a narrow definition of “complete” and hope that a healthy Pap can produce in his contract season?

My guess is there is a seventy percent chance Papelbon will be back next season. Normally, I would have said fifty but Bard’s September fade is not exactly serving as a catalyst for change. So with a gun to my head, I will say the Sox bet on a rebound. And hope that a healthy Pap, armed with that new slider, can bounce back and have a passable walk year. I don’t think this is a great bet, especially at $11M, but I fear it is the one Theo will make. 

And for Pap? Well, if this is where he wanted to be heading into his walk year, I guess I had him figured out all wrong . Call me crazy, but I would have thought “momentum” and “domination” would be more important to him. Given yesterday’s testimony, I suppose I was wrong.

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