Monday, March 05, 2007

Papelbon: Starter vs. Closer

Going back to what Ross said, there's still a debate over whether Papelbon should be in the rotation or be the closer. There certainly is compelling evidence to put him in the bullpen (namely Mr. Pineiro, Mr. Timlin, Mr. Hansen... do I have to list them all?), but I think the Red Sox are doing the right thing keeping him in the rotation.

For all the talk about needing an established closer right now, I think the Sox are doing the right thing bringing as much talent (word used loosely) to camp as possible and seeing who throws well. They've got a new pitching coach, so they'll need time to work on some of the holdovers (specifically Hansen and Delcarmen), and given how much reliever performance fluctuates year-to-year, it can't hurt too much to try to catch lightning in a bottle. It may not work, but I don't fault their reasoning, and acquiring a reliever in May or June if the experiment fails will be much easier than acquiring a fifth starter.

And that's the part that nobody seems to mention in this debate: if Papelbon closes, who takes his spot in the rotation? After Schilling, Matsuzaka, Beckett, and Wakefield, there's nobody else. John Lester isn't ready for major league action yet, and won't be until mid-season or so. Kyle Snyder is good the first time through the lineup and awful afterwards. Runelvys Hernandez is fatter than Curt Schilling. Matt Clement was plan B after Carl Pavano (and is out until August). David Pauley? Kason Gabbard?

The one option I don't particularly dislike would be Julian Tavarez, but I don't know if you can depend on him for a whole season. He'd be my first choice for a spot start if anyone gets hurt, and really, most of the others won't kill you making a start or two here or there. The reality is, however, that none of them should be in the opening day rotation of a team with World Series aspirations.

The 2003 Red Sox showed that you can go from bullpen-by-committee to within Grady Little of the World Series. The 2006 Red Sox showed that if you have no depth in your rotation, all the Jason Johnsons and Lenny DiNardos of the world can't keep you afloat in the long term. Papelbon will be fine in the rotation - of course he's not going to post a 0.92 ERA, but it's doubtful that he would have even approached that again as a closer, anyway. There's still some risk in the rotation with Papelbon, but it's substantially less than it would be without him.

1 comment:

Sully said...

I forgot to mention that the Red Sox have said that their doctors think that the starting routine will put less strain on Papelbon's arm. I'm not sure if I believe that completely, but that's what they've said.