The Boston Red Sox are at a crossroads right now. In the thick of a pennant race, their star closer is melting down before their very eyes.
Jonathan Papelbon is putting up the worst numbers of his career and is no longer one of the most intimidating closers in baseball.
Sure, his credentials make him one of the all-time great Red Sox. Enough is enough though. It's time for Daniel Bard to get the call from the bullpen in each and every save situation for the rest of the season.
Maybe this would have been a reactionary move in July, when half the team was on the DL. The injuries are no longer the story line though, as the only player the team is awaiting is second baseman Dustin Pedroia. Granted, Pedroia is a key part of the team, but in the end he's just one player.
Now that the injury excuse is a thing of the past, the microscope is finally where it should be: the bullpen.
Despite all the injuries, this team has competed and stayed within striking distance of the Rays and Yankees. The offense has at the very least exceeded expectations. The starting rotation has been very good most of the time. The failures of the bullpen are the elephant in the room.
Now, Jonathan Papelbon certainly isn't the only one to blame. Hideki Okajima, among others, has vastly underperformed. Papelbon is the closer though. He's supposed to be the anchor of the bullpen.
Who should be the closer of the Boston Red Sox?
Baseball is and has always been a game of numbers. The numbers don't lie. Jonathan Papelbon has only saved 78 percent of his saves. In baseball, normally succeeding 78 percent of the time would be considered a wonderful thing. Not for closers though.
When you're a closer, you're probably not going to pitch more than 70 times in a year. When a closer fails, everybody knows so because it usually is the difference between winning and losing. Don't even look at ERA when analyzing a closer's stats. It's a faulty stat because it doesn't account for inherited runners.
Papelbon's 83 percent save percentage is the worst in the American League among closers with at least 20 saves.
Andrew Bailey (87 percent): 20 saves
Jon Rauch (84 percent): 21 saves
David Aardsma (85 percent): 22 saves
Jose Valverde (96 percent): 22 saves
Bobby Jenks (88 percent): 23 saves
Brian Fuentes (85 percent): 23 saves
Mariano Rivera (92 percent): 24 saves
Kevin Gregg (86 percent): 25 saves
Pedro Feliz (91 percent): 29 saves
Jonathan Papelbon (83 percent): 29 saves
Joakim Soria (93 percent): 31 saves
Rafael Soriano (94 percent): 32 saves
Daniel Bard isn't a proven Major League closer, but when you watch the two pitchers, who do you want on the mound with the game on the line? The guy with a 100 MPH fastball, an 85 MPH changeup, a low 90s slider, and a mid 80s curveball who has more strikeouts than innings pitched—that's who you want.
Bard has been masterful this season. With a WHIP of 0.860, a WAR* of 2.5, and a RAR** of 17 (compared to Papelbon's 1.148, 1.0, and 6 respectively), Bard has without question outperformed Jonathan Papelbon.
It's a myth that Jonathan Papelbon is a player that only throws fastballs. He's been throwing off-speed pitches more than he ever has in his career. It was an adjustment he had to make after he semi-struggled last season.
The problem this year isn't a lack of a repertoire, but an inability to hit spots. When he throws a 96 MPH fastball down the middle when it was intended to be low and inside, what would any capable Major League hitter do? Crush the ball. Papelbon isn't getting absolutely hammered this year, but he's having bad days at all the wrong times.
If you were Terry Francona, would you make the change now or continue to roll the dice with Jonathan Papelbon?
* - Wins above replacement = the number of wins a player adds compared to his potential replacement player. 0-2 qualifies as a reserve. 2+ qualifies as a starter.
** - Runs above replacement = the number of runs a player is better than a replacement player.