2010 Red Sox Preview: Will Jonathan Papelbon Regain His Dominance?

Jeffrey BrownAnalyst IFebruary 22, 2010

ST. LOUIS, MO - JULY 14:  American League All-Star Jonathan Papelbon of the Boston Red Sox points during the 2009 MLB All-Star Game at Busch Stadium on July 14, 2009 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon recorded 38 saves and compiled a 1.85 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP last season, yet it always seemed that something just wasn’t right with him.

Pappy had made an adjustment to his delivery in spring training. Consequently, he posted a career-high walk rate (3.2 BB / 9 IP) and a career-low K-BB ratio (3.2). He frequently seemed incapable of recording a 1-2-3 inning.

Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell says, “The change in his mechanics was designed to get his legs more involved in his mechanics in order to distribute the workload and the stress throughout his body more evenly, which it did. But it took away from his overall fastball command.”

As midseason approached, Pappy made another adjustment—back to a similar delivery he employed in 2007-08. The change netted immediate results. His command improved dramatically.

Farrell explains: “He went back to the delivery (he used in) 2007, but these adjustments are pretty commonplace for guys who are always looking to get the edge and who are always looking to stay one step ahead of their opponent.”

The readjustment worked.

He lowered his WHIP from 1.34 in the first half to 0.94 in the second half. He cut his walk rate by more than half (from 4.4 to 1.9), and his strikeout rate spiked (to 11.5 K / 9 IP). As a result, his K/BB ratio improved to a level you’d expect from a dominant closer (6-to-1). He didn’t walk a batter during the regular season after Sept. 1.

Everything pointed to an extremely strong postseason, but then came the ninth inning of ALDS Game Three. Now, Red Sox Nation is forced to wonder whether there will be any semblance of a hangover effect from that outing.

Pappy says he uses Game Three as motivation: “I’ve got it on tape and I’ve watched it 100 times in my weight room. I used it for motivation when I was feeling weak and tired in the weight room. I’d pop it on and kind of go over it and say, ‘All right, there’s still work to be done.’”

With that said, Farrell cautions there is still lots of work to do: “His splitter is there. The consistency with which he throws it for strikes needs to improve. He likes to bury the pitch below the strike zone, so lots of hitters read the ball right out of his hand. And because he has become predominately a fastball pitcher, hitters now take any pitch that has a different release or spin to it. We need to get him to the point where he throws it more often for strikes.”

So, what kind of numbers will he put up in 2010? As I’ve mentioned previously in this series, I am not a devotee of the most widely used projection systems: CHONE, Bill James, and PECOTA. They all have problems.

CHONE projections tend to be strong for hitters but weak for pitchers. The PECOTA system has the opposite problem—it is strong for pitchers but weak for hitters. Also, while Bill James is well-known and an employee of the Red Sox, his annual projections are consistently overly optimistic.

I prefer the work done by Ron Shandler (who is the godfather of "fanalytics") and Mike Podhorzer (the new kid on the block).

Shandler’s Baseball Forecaster is a must read for any baseball fan, especially if he/she is a fantasy baseball aficionado. Shandler and his minions do great work. They can be found at BaseballHeadquarters.com .

Podhorzer’s predictions at fantasypros911.com went 42-0 when compared head-to-head with other projection systems last year. Seriously, folks, if you don’t know about fantasypros911.com , it’s time that you take a look. Great stuff!

So what do these two systems project for Pappy for the upcoming season?

Shandler: 2-2, 38 saves, 2.64 ERA, 1.07 WHIP...58 IP, 66 K
Podhorzer: five wins, 40 saves, 3.10 ERA, 1.10 WHIP...70 IP, 76 K

As for me, based on his second-half performance, I think he will return to his once dominant self:

SOX1FAN projection: 3-1, 43 saves, 1.85 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 66 IP, 75 K