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Saturday, September 16, 2006

Providence Journal: Sox considering Papelbon as a starter (RR)

“Pretty much,” said [Jon] Papelbon yesterday when asked if he was preparing to start next season. “(The Red Sox) have talked to my agent and we’ve talked to doctors. Right now, my whole mindset is focused on going back to the (starting) rotation.”

The shift has nothing to do with Papelbon’s performance and everything to do with his physical status. Papelbon is through for this season because of a strained shoulder that sidelined him earlier this month.

Coupled with a weakened shoulder just before the All-Star break, the Red Sox are fearful that having him continue in the closer’s role will exacerbate the issue and limit his use.

Placed back in the rotation, Papelbon and the team’s training staff can devise a throwing program that lessens the strain on his powerful—if vulnerable—shoulder. “It’s going to be less stressful (starting),” said Papelbon.
...
But the switch is not without complications. Papelbon lacks a track record as a major-league starter and the switch will force him to use at least three pitches to get through a lineup several times over..

 

 

So are they going to pay out for a 2007 closer, or try the cheap/retread route for a closer?

NTNgod Posted: September 16, 2006 at 07:03 AM | 34 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: red sox

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   1. OlePerfesser Posted: September 16, 2006 at 12:12 PM (#2178686)
As a reliever, as good as he is . . . when is enough, enough?

Ah, there's the rub. This is a research topic that is wide open: BProsp's Pitcher Abuse Points research gives a nice indicator of how hard starters have been ridden, but gauging stress and strain on relievers is much tougher. No one really knows how it affects your injury risk to throw really hard a few days in a row. No one has assessed how to weight raw pitch counts for high-leverage situations. No one is counting times-warmed-up-without-appearing. Etc., etc.

At least that I know of. Maybe there's a Thinking Fan out there who has crunched the numbers?
   2. Johnny Tuttle Posted: September 16, 2006 at 12:22 PM (#2178687)
I know that a good starter is more valuable numerically than is a good starter, and I know that there's a lot to be said for giving players chances in the roles they want when they've been nothing but flexible and successful in the past, but I really don't like this from a Sox perspective (something I rarely assume).

There's a lot to be said psychologically for having a lights-out closer waiting in the wings during a game (Yankees in recent years) and something to be said when a bullpen is the worst part of a team (Blue Jays '94). There's a lot to be said for not blandly assuming a player's success in one role will easily translate to success elsewhere.

Now, for oleprofessor's question, I haven't crunched the numbers at all, but I'd be very surprised if threads from around Smoltz's conversions to and from closers wouldn't bring up some good numbers about this issue. After I vacuum, I'll poke around for that.
   3. Darren Posted: September 16, 2006 at 12:39 PM (#2178692)
I thought Pitcher Abuse Points were garbage.

Putting aside physical health for a moment, the obvious move is to keep Pap as the closer. The Red Sox have an opening at closer and he's proven to be very, very good at it. They also have a spot open in the rotation, but the spot is for a #2 starter. There's no reason to believe that Papelbon is likely to be that. If they have the #5 spot open in the rotation and say a setup position open, it would be a lot more obvious choice. So, independent of health, you've got to put him at closer.

But health is huge and pretty unknown to laymen outsiders like us. If they think that putting him in the rotation is going to keep him healthy, then I'd say that has to supercede the other part of the equation. Put him in the rotation and hope for the best.
   4. Captain Supporter Posted: September 16, 2006 at 12:58 PM (#2178705)
There is no evidence that I am aware of that demonstrates that being a starter is better for a pitcher's arm than being a closer. All I can say is that as a Yankee fan, I am pleased with this move. Papelbon looked like the real deal as a closer. Now we'll be back to having a big edge there until Mo finally runs out of gas.
   5. Women's Lib is Ms.Guided Posted: September 16, 2006 at 01:12 PM (#2178707)
Looks like the 2007 rotation is set with Schilling, Beckett, Papelbon, Wakefield, Clement/Lester. If Foulke exercises the player option he'd be reasonably priced. Hansen and Delcarmen and Tavarez plus Timlin if he resigns stills leaves them short a lefty, though maybe they keep Gabbard around as a lefty/swingman.

Assuming they can get Gonzalez back at a short money/length deal they can just plug Wily Mo in RF and Pedroia at 2B and they've got a top-flight squad.
   6. Darren Posted: September 16, 2006 at 01:22 PM (#2178710)
Women's,

Are you funning us? That's the same topflight squad that completely fell apart this year.

Captain,

I'm not sure what kind of evidence you're looking for. But there may very well be medical evidence--things his doctors/trainers can see that we can't--that make it clear that starting would be better for him. As for Mo finally running out of gas, maybe that's what we're seeing right now.
   7. karlmagnus Posted: September 16, 2006 at 01:31 PM (#2178719)
Given normal early career improvement (not something Sox fans are used to -- this geriatric sqaud has been all stories about late career falling apart) either Delcarmen or Hansen will be an excellent closer in 2007. Papelbon has plety of pitches and will be 25; if his arm's up to it I think there's an excellent chance he'd be a good #2 starter, if not #1 -- except for fireballers without another pitch, it's rare to see a top closer that couldn't also start. Much of his excellence as closer has been wasted this year, because Timlin and Seanez/Tavarez blew too many games in the 7th/8th before he could get there to close them. A HUGE proportion of his saves were in the first month or so.
   8. Darren Posted: September 16, 2006 at 01:34 PM (#2178720)
You know, both Delcarmen and Hansen have been killed by BIP. I'm thinking a bunch of that is defense or luck. Please?
   9. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: September 16, 2006 at 01:56 PM (#2178730)
I really think Delcarmen is a major league pitcher. He needs to command his fastball a little better, but there's no way he's actually as hittable as he's been. I think 2008, he could well be the Sox closer. Hansen I'm not so sure - I think he's still a couple steps away. Delcarmen gets looking and swinging strikes with his curve that Hansen almost never gets with his slider, and their fastballs are pretty comparable.

Up until the shoulder injury, I was assuming that Papelbon would re-enter the Sox rotation next year. I'm very optimistic - and I realize the following sentence is reminiscent of our Clemens-Beckett comparisons in April - to the degree that I get a definite Curt Schilling vibe from him in approach and stuff. Papelbon's splitter turned into a plus pitch over the year, and I think that a pitcher who can command a fastball and a splitter doesn't desperately need a third pitch. He can use the two-seamer and slider as show-me pitches, focusing on the heater and split. He has the frame of a starter. The main question to me is health, and if the Red Sox are confident that he can handle the transition back to starting, then I'm more confident than I was before I read the article.

I am now thinking that the Red Sox will work hard to trade for a closer in the offseason. Generally you acquire relievers in season or by free agency, so that seems unlikely, but the Sox are short at least one top-grade reliever right now, and there aren't really any available in free agency that I can tell.

And, yes, I know of no particular evidence that Pitcher Abuse Points signify anything - they were invented without evidence, and the after-the-fact work was unconvincing to me.
   10. Daryn Posted: September 16, 2006 at 02:21 PM (#2178739)
Duchscherer should be available in the off season. He'd be a nice fit.
   11. AROM Posted: September 16, 2006 at 02:22 PM (#2178740)
it's rare to see a top closer that couldn't also start.

Off the top of my head, Rivera, Gossage, and Gagne were nothing special as starters. The Twins tried moving Rick Aguilera back to the rotation one year. That was a disaster. On the other side, Derek Lowe took to starting very well. Smoltz too, but he already had a track record as a starter.

As a closer Papelbon has been one of the most valuable pitchers in the AL. I think its a longshot that he can be equally valuable as a starter.
   12. Greg Maddux School of Reflexive Profanity Posted: September 16, 2006 at 02:56 PM (#2178751)
Well, considering that his "ceiling as a starter has been compared to that of everyone from (a healthy) Mark Prior to Roger Clemens," of course they should put him in the rotation.
   13. KronicFatigue Posted: September 16, 2006 at 03:10 PM (#2178757)
Off the top of my head, Rivera,...

well, isn't mo a slightly modified example of the first part of the statement.... i.e. "a fireballer w/o another pitch"
   14. OlePerfesser Posted: September 16, 2006 at 03:17 PM (#2178758)
And, yes, I know of no particular evidence that Pitcher Abuse Points signify anything...

Actually, BProsp's Dr. Jazayerli has worked on this, finding correlation between PAP and (a) diminished subsequent effectiveness and (b) injury risk. You're perfectly entitled to remain unconvinced, Darren and MCoA, but there has been some work done there, and it seems a tad high-handed to call it garbage or dismiss it as non-existent or not signifying anything. There are a lot of very smart folks over at BProsp; I'm puzzled why some of the smart folks at this site sneer at them as often as they do.

Papelbon's splitter turned into a plus pitch over the year, and I think that a pitcher who can command a fastball and a splitter doesn't desperately need a third pitch.

I agree--but have one reservation. A closer is to a starter as a sprinter is to a miler. I'm worried that Papelbon's heater will not have quite as much heat when he has to pace himself to get as many as 27 outs instead of 3. And if the fastball isn't as fearsome, will the split be? Bottom line is this is a risky proposition. BProsp's Nate Silver had a two-parter about whether it was wise to start Lil Papi, and concluded it was safer (production-wise) not to--unless his health required it. Apparently it does, but we're pretty much crossing our fingers on how effective he'll be.
   15. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: September 16, 2006 at 03:27 PM (#2178762)
Papelbon is sort of a weird case. As of this spring, he was a perfect example of a "fireballer w/o another pitch." In his starts in '05, he was able to plow through a few innings just on four-seamers, but eventually the hitters caught up with him. The move to the bullpen this year made perfect sense to me.

The thing is - and this is my honest but nonetheless fanboyish opinion - over the course of the year, Papelbon learned to throw a splitter. By June, he could use either the split or the fastball as his strikeout pitch, and he even started using the split to set hitters up for the riding fastball. He's now a two-pitch pitcher, and they both look like plus offerings to me. If I'm right in those observations, I think the conclusion should be that Papelbon is now well-prepared to enter the starting rotation, given clean enough health.
   16. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: September 16, 2006 at 03:31 PM (#2178764)
Actually, BProsp's Dr. Jazayerli has worked on this, finding correlation between PAP and (a) diminished subsequent effectiveness and (b) injury risk.
The correlation required cubing PAP, a totally new operation, and they only did a best-fit test on a very small part of the curve. I didn't think it held up. Sean Forman published an excellent set of questions that I never saw a response to.

Even if you take their conclusion at face value, all they found was a correlation between 140-pitch starts and injury. At 110 or 120, the relationship was very weak.
   17. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: September 16, 2006 at 03:58 PM (#2178775)
I should say, before I head out, that there's another part of me that looks at the Papelbon situation somewhat differently. I then break it down into three simple categories of information.

1) My observation/evaluation. I think Papelbon will be totally awesome, but I'm just some jackass on the internets.
2) The Red Sox' observation/evaluation. They appear to think he'll be healthy and ready to start, but they're the jackasses who spent eleventy billion dollars to be 11th in runs allowed.
3) History of closer conversions, which suggest the factors involved are extremely complicated and the list of successful conversions is a short one.

And so I should really trust in (3). But I don' wanna.
   18. Cowboy Popup Posted: September 16, 2006 at 04:19 PM (#2178786)
Kelvim Escobar had more sucess as a starter then a closer (checks numbers), yeah, he was better.
   19. OlePerfesser Posted: September 16, 2006 at 04:38 PM (#2178797)
MCoA (#17): It's certainly legitimate to question empirical evidence, and even to find it unconvincing. My point is that's different from implying it's non-existent or doesn't signify anything. Empirical work is hard; those who do it deserve some basic level of respect, even if we're ultimately unconvinced. "Proof" is often beyond reach, and requires much replication in any case. Sometimes several "unconvincing" studies eventually comprise persuasive evidence.t

Anyway, I don't wanna believe Lil Papi is likely to fail, either. And one thing worth noting is that (unless I missed something) none of the failed closer-to-starter experiments involved someone with a plus splitter. But I still maintain that a key variable here is how effective Papelbon's fastball will be when it's likely to average 92/3 in an extended outing rather than 96/7 in a 1-inning appearance.
   20. RB in NYC (Now Semi-Retired from BBTF) Posted: September 16, 2006 at 04:42 PM (#2178799)
Haven't seen this anywhere else, but the NYT had a blurb in their sports section today hinting that Foulke might retire. I don't know if you guys would see that as a plus or a minus, but it's something to consider anyway
   21. JC in DC Posted: September 16, 2006 at 04:58 PM (#2178810)
This is all great analysis, but my initial layman's reaction is a lot like Darren's. As a Yankee fans, I'm somewhat heartened by this move, as it seems to create two areas of uncertainty (closer and Pap qua SP) where there was once one (SP).

Obviously, nothing is a sure thing, and one had to expect Pap would not repeat his closer performance next year. But that seemed a surer bet than whatever he'll do this year as an SP.

I agree as well w/Ole Perfesser about the comparisons of an SP to an RP. We'll all see. This move has the virtue of being daring. We'll all get to see what other virtues it has soon enough.
   22. Darren Posted: September 16, 2006 at 05:34 PM (#2178825)
There are a few areas where I have a beef with BPro. One is fielding runs because they haven't revealed their method for calculating them or shown them to be useful. The other is PAP, which was baloney in its original formulation (Jazerelli just started using it without ever showing any correlation to injuries/health). They then "fixed" PAP, but my admittedly foggy memory is that the new pap, as MCoA explains, still has a bunch of shortcomings. If, as he says, it's only good in showing the effects of 140-pitch games, it doesn't seem very helpful.

I think it's fair to ignore the stuff that they don't bother to prove. I don't think that constitutes being some kind of snob.
   23. Raskolnikov Posted: September 16, 2006 at 05:46 PM (#2178834)
I'm not sure why this is a bad idea. Worst case scenario - Papelbon does poorly as a starter 3/4 of the way into the season (pulling a Beckett). In that case, you ease him back into the closer's role.
   24. Darren Posted: September 16, 2006 at 05:55 PM (#2178840)
Rask,

3/4 of a season of bad pitching by Papelbon would really screw up the season. How about Beckett for the closer's role while we're at it? Not sure about it, but worth considering.
   25. TVerik, the gum-snappin' hairdresser Posted: September 16, 2006 at 06:01 PM (#2178845)
I think there are two possible ways this could be:

the team could theorize that ANY role would be better for Papelbon's health than closer. In which case they're crossing their fingers a bit by thinking that starter is better.

or:

the team could KNOW that closer is harder than starter for this particular pitcher's health. In which case they're doing the very best thing.

Ras, those of us who have worked on computers and electronics know that disconnecting everything and then plugging it back in the exact same way doesn't always work. What's to say that paps can ever close again if he starts?
   26. Raskolnikov Posted: September 16, 2006 at 06:13 PM (#2178858)
Ras, those of us who have worked on computers and electronics know that disconnecting everything and then plugging it back in the exact same way doesn't always work. What's to say that paps can ever close again if he starts?


of course, that's the risk, but it's worth the try. I mean this move isn't done just for the sake of activity. You're reconfiguring this computer because it has the capacity to be a whole lot more powerful. A front-line starting pitcher is much more valuable than a dominant closer. If Papelbon can become the next Schilling, which he has the potential to, then you should try out the experiment.

Maybe it doesn't work. I think that it's more likely that Papelbon can become a dominant reliever again - even if it takes some time to readjust - than the risk that this conversion blows up in their faces.
   27. JC in DC Posted: September 16, 2006 at 07:27 PM (#2178937)
If Papelbon can become the next Schilling, which he has the potential to, then you should try out the experiment.


I guess I would agree w/this, but - and I don't really know - is that remotely the expectation? Have the Sox really thought of Papelbon as a #1 of Schilling's ability? And if that's not the expectation, why give up someone who could be a potential Rivera?
   28. DCW3 Posted: September 16, 2006 at 07:40 PM (#2178948)
Papelbon's going to finish the season as only the sixth pitcher in history with at least 60 IP in a season and an ERA under 1.00--and only the third to do it since the deadball era. I'm surprised I haven't heard this mentioned anywhere.
   29. Hurdle's Heroes (SuperBaes) Posted: September 17, 2006 at 02:11 AM (#2179217)
Does this mean that there will now be a pitch count for closers? Where is "Pitch Counts Make the Baby Jesus Cry" when you need him?
   30. GGC don't think it can get longer than a novella Posted: September 17, 2006 at 02:50 AM (#2179227)
I think that personality is a factor when it comes to how pitchers perform in different roles. In Dollar Sign on the Muscle, Orioles scouting director Jim McLaughlin discussed how starters should have high levels of emotional control, while this wasn't necessary for relievers.

Derek Lowe seems to do okay as a starter. Would he be better if he was rewafered (to use a Don Malcolm term)?
   31. Tom Cervo, backup catcher Posted: September 17, 2006 at 06:40 AM (#2179290)
One is fielding runs because they haven't revealed their method for calculating them or shown them to be useful.


Mike E. mentioned once it was in an abstract 3-4 years ago, and I think it's basically a modified range factor using types of balls in play (not location) and handedness of the opposing batters. I don't think it's worth anything.
   32. Sean Forman Posted: September 17, 2006 at 05:40 PM (#2179492)
PAP Critique

Since it has been brought up, I thought I would link to the critique of PAP3 in question.
   33. Mike Emeigh Posted: September 17, 2006 at 05:55 PM (#2179523)
You know, both Delcarmen and Hansen have been killed by BIP. I'm thinking a bunch of that is defense or luck. Please?


In Delcarmen's case, from what I can tell looking at his minor league numbers, I'd suggest that much of it IS defense/luck, and that once he learns the hitters he'll be fine. In Hansen's case, I really think he needs another pitch, or modifications to one of his existing pitches, because his stuff right now doesn't appear to be good enough to keep hitters (especially LHB) off-balance consistently. He got hammered by LHB on BIP in Pawtucket, and his overall performance was just fair.

-- MWE

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