Tagged: Jonathan Papelbon

Jonathan Papelbon: Buy, Sell or Hold?

By Tommy Rancel //

Despite being one of the majors’ hottest teams, the Boston Red Sox have some concerns. With Josh Beckett and Jacoby Ellsbury already on the shelf, Boston recently lost former American League MVP Dustin Pedroia and star catcher Victor Martinez to the disabled list. In addition to those players, Clay Buchholz is also nursing an injury.

There is plenty to worry about in Boston with that group of players. But any potential concerns about the performance of closer Jonathan Papelbon are premature.


Anytime a player struggles in a major media market his troubles become magnified. In two straight appearances in Colorado last week, the 29-year-old right-hander allowed five runs on six hits, yielded two three home runs, and blew two straight saves.

The Red Sox closer currently owns a 3.82 ERA in 31 appearances. Papelbon hasn’t posted an ERA over 2.65 in any of his previous five seasons. Outside of the expanded ERA, Papelbon is striking out fewer batters (7.64 strikeouts per nine innings) and walking more batters (3.31 walks per nine innings) than he ever has in a full season. To complete the trifecta, he is allowing home runs to leave the ballpark at a rate more than double his career level.


It might seem like it’s time to explore moving Papelbon off your fantasy team. But that’s probably a bad move, especially while he’s at his lowest perceived value. Besides, a number of advanced metrics suggest he will rebound quite favorably.

As mentioned Papelbon’s K/9 has fallen from a career mark of 10.17 per 9 IP to 7.64 in 2010. This is odd for a few reasons. His velocity of 94.6 mph on his fastball is nearly identical to his 94.5 mph career number. In addition to the velocity, Papelbon is still getting a lot of swinging strikeouts. His swinging strike percentage of 11.5% is actually higher than his 11.0% from a season ago.

Papelbon is also getting hitters to chase out of the zone (35.6% O-Swing) more than he has in previous seasons (30.4% O-Swing career). He’s throwing more first-pitch strikes (67.2%) which means he is not falling behind hitters. All signs point to Papelbon’s strikeout rate increasing, if his core skills remain steady.

Papelbon’s biggest problem has been the long ball. He has surrendered more home runs this season (6) than in any other season in his career, and we haven’t even reached the All-Star break. We mentioned that his HR/9 of 1.64 was more than twice his career number (0.73). A big reason for that is his elevated home run-to-flyball rate of 12.2%. For his career, 7.1% of the flyballs hit against him have left the yard. In four of his five previous seasons, he maintained a HR/FB% of 7.5% or less.

More likely than not, Papelbon’s problems are related to pitch location issues. We may also be seeing some outliers due to small sample sizes. With the potential for positive regression in terms of strikeouts, and a correction in the disproportionate rate of home runs allowed, Papelbon should maintain plenty of value. If you own him, remain patient. If you don’t, this may be a good time to trade for Papelbon at a discount.

For more on Jonathan Papelbon and other Boston Red Sox, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools

True Value of Great Relievers, Part 1

By Eriq Gardner
One myth that is constantly perpetuated in the echo chamber of fantasy baseball analysis is that relievers are one-category players. Quite a number of very smart analysts have been telling competitors for years that relievers are good for saves and hardly anything else.
This analysis may be true for Head-to-Head leagues with short scoring periods and Roto leagues with high innings maximums — where ability to dominate often depends more on the bulk rather than the quality of innings pitched.
But in the vast majority of rotisserie leagues, the notion that relievers don’t contribute value beyond saves just doesn’t hold any water. In fact, people may be surprised to learn that a great reliever can contribute just as much value in ERA and WHIP as a good starter.
Let’s take an example from the 2009 season.
Pretend two competing fantasy teams each finished the year with 1200 innings. The pitchers on Team A let up 500 earned runs. The pitchers on Team B let up 520 earned runs. Doing simple arithmetic tells us that Team A wound up with an ERA of 3.75 whereas Team B wound up with an ERA of 3.9.
In other words, Team A was superior in ERA based upon those 20 earned runs saved by his pitching squad.
Now, here’s what most people miss: Great relievers have the ability to save just as many earned runs as good starters.
Don’t believe us?
Let’s take a comparison of two closers last year — Jonathan Papelbon and Fernando Rodney
In the minds of some, the fact that Papelbon ended up the year with 38 saves and Rodney finished with 37 saves makes them roughly equal and proof positive that it’s foolish to invest a high draft pick on Papelbon when a fantasy team could have gotten those saves from a guy who was hardly drafted before last season. But what about the ERA and WHIP contribution? Let’s take a look at how many earned runs, walks and hits these two relievers allowed last year:
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As you’ll see above, Papelbon saved 23 runs and 33 H+BB over Rodney. 

Now let’s compare two starting pitchers from last season: Wandy Rodriguez and his spectacular 3.02 ERA versus Jon Garland and his decent-but-not-great 4.01 ERA. Both pitchers ended the season with about 205 innings. How many runs, hits, and walks did Way-Rod save over Garland?
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The answer is just 22 earned runs and 31 H+BB.
This means that having the combination of Jon Garland + Jonathan Papelbon instead of Wandy Rodriguez + Fernando Rodney was very slightly more beneficial to a team’s ERA and WHIP in 2009. Stated another way, a team that decided to draft Papelbon very high in drafts last year instead of waiting to fill the closer spot with someone of Rodney’s caliber managed to boost his team’s ERA and WHIP about as much as having one of baseball’s top starters from the previous season instead of Garland.
I know this conclusion may be hard for some people to stomach.

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Yes, a starter who puts up a 3.75 ERA is more valuable than a reliever who puts up a 3.75 ERA. But what about a reliever like Jonathan Broxton who is projected at 2.76?  How do we weight his contribution?
If we figure that teams will roughly wind up with the same amount of innings pitched in total, the real question becomes how many runs will be saved by Broxton against inferior relievers. By our math, an ERA difference of 1.00 for a reliever in 75 innings translates to 8.3 saved earned runs over the course of a season. That’s about the difference we see when looking at Bloomberg Sports’ projections on Broxton versus Leo Nunez.
Eight runs might not sound like a lot, but it’s the equivalent of an ERA difference of .36 for two pitchers who are both expected to reach 200 innings. The difference between Broxton and Nunez is the difference in ERA value from a 3.75 starter (Justin Verlander‘s 2010 Bloomberg Sports projection) and a 4.12 starter (like Aaron Cook‘s ’10 forecast).
Of course, there are other factors such as variability and scarcity to consider too. In Part 2 of this study, we’ll examine those variable, and also discuss the implications on a fantasy team’s strategy when it comes to drafting relievers. Does it make sense to draft a stud closer high? If relievers bring ERA and WHIP value to the table, does it make more sense to draft a great middle reliever over a shaky closer? Stay tuned.
For more information on Jonathan Papelbon, Jonathan Broxton, and other top relievers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kit.