Not Cleared to Close

"Papelbon not medically cleared to close games"

This the headline from a story on ESPN.  I think we can file the "he’s starting for the long-term cash-upside" idea away for good.  It was a silly accusation, and I think this piece seals it. The story indicates there is room for Papelbon to return to last year’s role, pending physical clearance, and Terry Francona makes it certain that JP shutting the door is his first desire, even if it appears that a move to the bullpen would be a last resort.  We hope it doesn’t come to that; it would indicate some serious in-season problems for our squad.

23 comments… add one
  • I’m interested to see how pitching 200 or so innings is going to be less physically challenging than 65 out of the pen. Does this mean there is going to be a VERY close watch on his pitch counts? (I assume) How high can he go? 75? 90? 100? How will this change over the course of the year? Sox fans have to see Paps as a big question markā€”not to say the Yanks don’t have a few of there own.

    YF February 6, 2007, 10:09 pm
  • I think Papelbon is going to have to dial down his blazing 97 mph fastballs to something more along the lines of low 90s to be able to pitch 6 or 7 innings in a row. He’s always able to rear back and give more, but I’m really interested in seeing how much that will effect his performance as a starter. Also, if people see him that much more, his stuff might be the kind that can get figured out the second or third time around the batting order.

    Andrew February 6, 2007, 10:31 pm
  • It’ll be interesting to see how transitioning to starting changes the way Papelbon works. My guess is he will have to use his secondary pitches a lot more, he seemed to rely almost exclusively on fastballs when he was closing (and for good reason). It’ll be interesting to see if his other pitches are up to snuff.

    Eric February 6, 2007, 10:39 pm
  • …the espn article glossed over it, but as important as the number of pitches or innings is the preparation and routine for being a starter v. a closer…a closer has no routine…one day you might pitch, or you might not, or you might not pitch for 3 or 4 days, or you might pitch 3 or 4 days in a row…if you know you are only pitching the 9th, you’ll probably rare back and fire the ball as hard as you can to get the strikeout with the bases loaded….a starter’s life is a bit more predictable…you get 4 or 5 days off in between starts to recuperate, and you’ll probably use more “finesse” pitches when the situation allows it…so, it may not be the quantity of work that papelbon gets, but rather the predictability and the rest in between that will keep him healthy….on the other hand, i heard once that there’s medical evidence to support that throwing the ball overhand is a very unnatural motion that relentlessly wears the components of the human arm…the theory is that each of us has only so many “throws” in us…

    dc February 6, 2007, 10:53 pm
  • Wow, dc just said exactly what I was going to say. In other news, Santa just stopped by hell and said he’s building his new workshop there.
    Not being a medical specialist, all I can say is it makes sense that a structured routine is better on the human shoulder than the crazy off-three-days, on-two-days, off-two-days, etc. schedule of a closer. Papelbon has a very good fastbal and a very good splitter, which are the two pitches many other hurlers (including Curt Schilling) have made a mighty fine living off of. If he has even a halfway decent curve or change — and I’ve heard he does — he’ll be just fine next year. The biggest question mark, I think, will be his durability down the stretch. I bet he’ll start off hot though.
    With Matsuzaka and Papelbon, though, the Sox have a legitimate concern of having two pitchers in the midst of great seasons both tiring in mid-August or early September as they transition to unfamiliar territory (a full season of starting in the AL). They’ll have to watch that carefully throughout the season.

    Paul SF February 6, 2007, 11:47 pm
  • Which brings up the possible merits of a temporary 6-man, if the situation presents itself. It’d take health from all 5 primary starters, along with either Lester’s ascension or Gabbard/Snyder somehow turning into competent No. 5’s, but come September, depending on the standings and the like…it may be worth thinking about. Or I’m sure the 5-man could be juggled such that Papelbon or Matsuzaka can get an extra few days off without completely throwing off the other guys. Either way, if our biggest worry in September is whether or not Matsuzaka and Paps might slow after a solid or brilliant first 4 months…well I’ll take that. Beats last season’s “Guess Today’s Pitcher” game they got going around the same time.

    desturbd1 February 7, 2007, 12:14 am
  • The Sox won’t need a fifth starter for almost three weeks, so I don’t see any reason for a SIX man rotation any time early in the season. The question mark about Papelbon is a legitimate one, but YF’s confusion over the sheer innings is odd to me. It’s clear that a closer works under major stress, physically. Sometimes they warm up quickly and are thrust into games, sometimes they warm up on four or five days straight, even if they are only used on three of those occasions. You can’t judge a closer’s workload based on appearances; they work far more than that number would reveal. Clearly there is a sentiment that Papelbon will benefit from regimented stress on his shoulder, and the number of innings may be secondary to the constant pressures put on his body if closing. I don’t find this odd at all.
    The question marks exist regardless, though. We simply don’t know how he’ll hold up. If the Sox get 150-160 (23-25 starts?) healthy innings out of Papelbon (he, Wake, and possibly Lester are interchangeable as 4th/5th starters) I think that will bode well. He simply does NOT need to throw 180-200 innings to exert significant influence.

    SF February 7, 2007, 6:44 am
  • “Papelbon will benefit from regimented stress on his shoulder, and the number of innings may be secondary to the constant pressures put on his body if closing.” …pretty much what i was saying sf [and i agree with it by the way], though i didn’t say it as eloquently …see we can agree on something…
    …on a related note, i can help with the closer problem: the denver post is reporting that your old buddy Byung-Hyun Kim is competing for a starter spot on the rocks rotation, but that he remains a “trade candidate”…hmmm, homecoming?…a throw-in with helton?…maybe he and guapo can have a pitch-off during spring training…think theo would give me a finder’s fee?…

    dc February 7, 2007, 7:22 am
  • A boston.com article on Papelbon from earlier in the week confirms what you guys are saying about Papelbon’s need to be a starter instead of a reliever (second page of the article, under “Strong Arm Tactics”:
    “Papelbon was told that by pitching every fifth day he’ll be able to continue to strengthen his shoulder through a preventative program designed by Sox physician Thomas Gill.
    As a reliever it would be more difficult for Papelbon to stay on a strength program because he’d be pitching much more frequently. But the Sox have put him on the same in-season program they gave Josh Beckett, who was able to work 200 innings for the first time in his career last season.
    The day after Papelbon starts he’ll recuperate with light exercise and running. The next day he will do some strength work with weights, and on the third and fourth days he will throw on the side, leading up to his start on the fifth day.”

    Scott SF February 7, 2007, 8:15 am
  • Interesting. There goes my theory that if the candidates for closer struggle, the Sox will turn back to Paps.
    It will be interesting to see if being a starter will be easier on him. It will be interesting to see how deep he goes into games. How often he throws at max effort…
    I think he will be ok. I think they will be real careful with him, though… maybe he’ll rack up ~180 innings. Maybe he will be a mostly 6-inning pitcher. This is the AL, and the AL East… if they’re worried about the load on his shoulder, they will probably watch the pitch count.

    Rob (Middletown, CT) February 7, 2007, 10:31 am
  • FWIW, The Sporting News Fantasy Baseball guide pegs Papelbon as the Sox’ best (lowest-ERA) pitcher next season, as does the Baseball Info Solutions projection system. So some people in the know think he can make the retransition without much of a hitch. I’m not so sure, though I’m optimistic. As the fifth starter in the rotation, it’s not like he has to be lights out to provide the Sox a big improvement over 2006.

    Paul SF February 7, 2007, 10:49 am
  • “The Red Sox medical staff, as well as his personal physician and one provided by agents Scott and Sam Levinson, concurred it might be easier on his arm if he started every fifth day rather than endure the rigors of getting up and down in the bullpen and pitching frequently on short notice.
    What’s not true is that Papelbon is prohibited from returning to his closer role.”
    From the Globe article. Quite a far cry from:
    “Papelbon not medically cleared to close games”
    Exactly who said that? Francona? the FO?
    Sounds like a preemptive move by the sox to quell the intense pressure that will surely be on the team to return Paple to the closer role, should the bullpen struggle in the early going.
    Also from the Globe article:
    “While closing has brought him notoriety, starting has always been his dream. Papelbon has always wanted to emulate his hero, Roger Clemens.”
    And bring home the same “long yard” (dead presidents) like Clemens?

    Andrews February 7, 2007, 11:27 am
  • “The Sox won’t need a fifth starter for almost three weeks, so I don’t see any reason for a SIX man rotation any time early in the season.”
    Yeah I was just referring to near the end of the season, in response to Paul’s concern that Matsuzaka and/or Paps might wear down in September.
    “Papelbon not medically cleared to close games”
    Exactly who said that? Francona? the FO?”
    Umm…Francona. He said something along the lines of, “If I had my way he’d be closing, but we have to do what the medical staff says is safest for his arm.” The conspiracy theories about Paps greedily seeking starter’s money can stop now. He’s said all along he’ll do whatever Boston wants…if I remember correctly, he wasn’t too high on closing at first, but went out and did it anyway, eventually deciding he’d be OK with either role. (Though he still prefers starting)

    desturbd1 February 7, 2007, 3:30 pm
  • Umm, read the article – Francona is not quoted as saying ” …not medically cleared..”.
    He said: “If I had my way he’d be closing, but we have to do what the medical staff says is safest for his arm.” That’s very different.

    Andrews February 7, 2007, 3:44 pm
  • Really? Because I just listened to the actual conference…check my other post. Heh.

    desturbd1 February 7, 2007, 3:50 pm
  • Yeah, Andrews. “Medically cleared” came from Francona himself. The AP wrote a bad headline by not attributing as they should have. It didn’t help that Tito said two different things and that everyone’s trying to simplify this into a 100 percent certain issue either way when it is not.
    Still gonna say that you are the only person I’ve ever heard argue for the greedy-Papelbon theme to this story.

    Paul SF February 7, 2007, 4:24 pm
  • Tongue-in cheek dead presidents remark aside, I have never said I thought Paplebon was driven by greed. Check the record.I said that the financial advantages of starting probably played a factor in his desire to return to starting. I’m not ripping him – who wouldn’t do what was best for their career from a financial standpoint if given the chance and choice? Obviously, the comfort factor, health, and other issues are in play here as well – but short of a statement from JP to the contrary, I still think money probably played a role. This article changes nothing.

    Andrews February 7, 2007, 4:56 pm
  • The best way to get paid in baseball is to establish performance, thus increasing arbitration value, and following that leverage during free agency based on accomplishment (combined with supply and demand). The best way to accomplish anything is to stay healthy. Thus, any financial decision that Papelbon might make with regards to his position (and that decision is really only partially his) should first be based on what will keep him healthy. This is why I find the idea that Papelbon has factored his role on the team as moot. He has to stay healthy to make money. He therefore should be advised (if his agent has a brain) to pitch in the position that best keeps him healthy, whether that’s relieving or starting. To me, it ends there. The bottom line is that if the medical staff (and JP, and his handlers) felt that the five day starting routine was worse for his arm than closing, then he’d be closing. The team (we hope) will pitch him where he is likely to be most healthy, and therefore most valuable.

    SF February 7, 2007, 5:39 pm
  • Yeah, yeah, yeah – the comfort factor, health, and other issues are in play here as well – but short of a statement from JP to the contrary, I still think money probably played a role.

    Andrews February 7, 2007, 8:17 pm
  • fun facts:
    top starter = $16-20m
    top reliever = $5-10m

    dc February 8, 2007, 9:15 am
  • Heck, dc:
    average 4th starter – 10$ mil
    top reliever – 5-10$ mil
    So Paps don’t have to be excellent – even a Ted Lilly-like stats would be good enough, at least in terms of money..

    Lar February 8, 2007, 9:28 am
  • Not sure why you chose to re-iterate your point, Andrews. SF basically agreed with you. If health were not a factor, if it was primarily money, Papelbon and his agent would be trumpeting the doctor’s reports, not the Sox FO and management.

    QuoSF February 8, 2007, 9:31 am
  • that was my point lar…since papel can make the same money being a lilly-like starter as he can being a premier closer, and presumably [according to medical opinion] keep his health, seems like a no-brainer…but i’m not saying it’s money-motivated…

    dc February 8, 2007, 10:08 am

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