Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Papelbon Plus Pen Preview

Continuing right along with me Red Sox previews for various positions, I’m moving from the starters to the enders. The bullpen. I’m not going to talk about every member of the pen. For one thing, I don’t think even Francona knows every member of his pen. Plus, there is so much turnover with the middle relievers, it doesn’t make any sense. But, there are a few guys who we can assume will be mainstays. Starting with the guy at the end.

It’s become popular to bash Papelbon lately. There are a couple not very good reasons for this. The first is that the Sox don’t expect to keep him once he hits free agency. So, if we’re going to lose him, it’s much easier if we can convince ourselves he wasn’t any good anyway. We can convince ourselves that we’re better off without him. I would expect the stories to leak around June that Pap has threatened to go on the DL if the Sox make him do something. That seems to be the fallback “run him out of town” story. The second reason people bash him is that he was so darn good his first couple years. He started out on a historic run, and has dropped back to the pack since then. It’s not his fault that we expect the unreasonable. So, what do I expect from him? A very good closer’s performance. After all, that’s what he is. He’ll blow some saves. He’ll struggle every once in a while. But, 95% of the time another team’s closer tries to shut down the Sox, we’ll be glad Pap is on our side. A statistical prediction? How about a 4-3 record. 38 saves. A 3.19 ERA.

One of the guys setting up for Papelbon is Daniel Bard. It’s tempting to say he’ll pitch the eighth, and Pap the ninth. But, I think Bard will have a more dynamic role than that. I see him being used the way Theo and Bill James would want a closer to be used. He’ll get the most important out, even if it’s not the eighth inning. So, bases loaded in the seventh, Bard will be used to try and get the strikeout. He might be a one-batter guy one night. Might go 1.1 innings on another. If he can keep progressing, he will be a monster in that role. The Sox are going to like having that kind of flexibility. Prediction? How about 3-3, 5 saves, 2.96 ERA?

The most interesting guy in the pen has to be Bobby Jenks. He was an elite closer for quite a few years, but has fallen apart lately. What does this mean for his season in Boston? Good question. He won’t be the old Jenks. He should certainly be a valuable member of the ‘pen. (Assuming he doesn’t suffer from Gagne-itis.) He’s a question mark, but I think it’s more likely to be a good answer.  Numbers? Let’s go with 6-3, 2 saves, 3.78 ERA. Assuming he comes in before Bard in most situations, his leash will be short enough that he shouldn’t get in too much trouble.

Not a bad final three.

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