2011 Draft Closer Debate: Papelbon vs. Broxton

Todd FarinoCorrespondent IFebruary 26, 2011

SEATTLE - SEPTEMBER 14:  Closing pitcher Jonathan Papelbon #58 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on September 14, 2010 in Seattle, Washington. The Red Sox won 9-6. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Here is a debate for the ages. In one corner you have Jonathan Papelbon, who is arguably one of the most consistent closers in baseball on a consistently winning team. In the other corner you have Jonathan Broxton, who was considered the best closer in baseball going into drafts last season. Both suffered setbacks last season, but none bigger than Broxton.

Broxton finished the 2010 season with only 22 saves and a career worst 4.04 ERA. Across the board, Broxton looked worse in all categories. Part of his downfall was injury related, but there was also a mental impact on the pitcher. Severe toe pain clearly affected his mechanics, and he just never was able to reclaim his old form.

In 2011, Broxton is 100 percent healthy. The toe pain is gone and he has the confidence of his manager, Don Mattingly. Broxton is currently has an ADP around #207. That is placing him in the 18th round. Insane, I know. Broxton was 34th round pick last year and should be gone no later than the tenth round in 2011. Every pitcher has bad years, especially when injuries are involved, and Broxton is no exception.

Managers who make the mistake of passing on this elite closer because of one bad season are normally the guys who don’t win their leagues. The biggest worry for Broxton is that he pitches for the Dodgers. If they continue to free fall like they did last year, it won’t bode well for Broxton.

However, coming into camp, the Dodgers have a better team and new management that won’t abuse it’s bullpen like Torre did over the past years.

Jonathan Papelbon is a different story. He is also coming off one of his worst seasons, though much of it has to do with some tough luck. Even if you believe Papelbon is fading in his ability to dominate American League hitters, you cannot deny that he will continue to compete for 40 saves every season as Boston's closer.

My worry with Papelbon is his consistency. Last year he depended far too much on his fastball and didn’t throw his splitter enough. He basically became a one-pitch pitcher.  In the past, he was dominant because of location, something he lost last year, walking a career high 28 batters.  He also had the highest batting average put up on him since his rookie season at .226. 

As long as Papelbon can regain location and confidence in his splitter, he will stay an elite closer.  With Daniel Bard aching to close for the Red Sox, and the potential to convert Papelbon to a starter, his role may soon change.  Maybe not in 2011, but 2012? At 30, Papelbon has likely peaked, but will still be a top closer for your fantasy team.  Right now his ADP of 123 places him in the 11th round.  That is a steal for a pitcher of his caliber. 

If I had advice for fantasy owners, I’d say get both of these guys.  Draft one in the 10th round, and the other in 14th.  Since this is a debate though, here are my Closer Report Draft Kit projections for both closers:

Jonathan Broxton ranked #6 –  39 Saves-6 Wins-2.12 ERA-1.07 WHIP-90 Ks

Jonathan Papelbon ranked #15 – 34 Saves-2 Wins-2.99 ERA-1.17 WHIP-67 Ks

As you can see, I think Broxton is clearly the better bargain.  You can draft him 75 picks later, and I expect much bigger numbers from the former #1 ranked closer.  Papelbon will be rested as he always is every year.  With Francona having more confidence in Daniel Bard in the ninth inning, I expect Bard to notch a few saves while Papelbon rests.  While that might happen with Broxton, the Dodgers will be involved in many more close games in which they will need Broxton. 

Both teams are projected with 44 saves, and have young flamethrowers backing up their Jonathans, in the aformentioned Bard and the Dodgers' Kenley Jansen.

If you have to choose one, go with Jonanthan Broxton.  I promise you will be happy with your decision.