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Jonathan Papelbon. Ace Starter?

Word. Who doesn't love talking about Papelbon? His poise. His stuff. His composure during sticky situations. His enduring love for the game of Scrabble. Just what he might owe to Adam Stern.

I'm going to try to figure out what we should realistically expect from Jonathan Papelbon as a starter. For what it's worth, the last successful closer to transition to being a successful starter is John Smoltz, and that's cheating, honestly. He'd been a starter for years before becoming a closer. And that's certainly not the only difference. As bloggers and internet junkies, there are plenty of tools available to help us come up with reasonable expectations for Jonathan Papelbon.

Scouting Reports

This one is slightly out-of-date, but I was curious about the pitch charts they have for him. He's good at working the edges of the plate, but he often misses when trying for the corners. It was a year ago, so I'll let you all decide whether it's useful or not.

There's also this one from SoxProspects.com. Fastball in the mid-90s, slider, changeup, slurve/curve, splitter. I'm going to re-direct you at this time to the out-of-date report on Boston.com, out-of-date, but also the last time Papelbon pitched as a starter, other than ST 2006. He doesn't throw his changeup for strikes, whether purposely or not. He greatly prefers his fastball. We saw it hit higher than 95 this season (97-98 was the highest I saw), but he'll probably dial it back down and be satisfied with 93-95 this season. Odds are the splitter is the mysterious "5th pitch" written about on the report.

Who Doesn't Love a Bunch of Statistics?

We all know quite a bit about Papelbon's season in 2006 and his stint in 2005. I'm not going to bore you with it, and to be honest, him spending most of his time as a reliever makes it all near-useless to us. It's a different approach to pitching, and relievers face bases-empty situations, bases-loaded situations, and everything in-between.

Hold on. You're probably thinking, "hey, he's not going to bring minor-league statistics up, is he? That's almost two full years ago now, buddy. Could his minor league statistics really be useful?" Well, I think so. Let's ignore his minor-league ERA. Wins and losses are pretty meaningless as well.

What can Papelbon control?

  • WHIP. His Walks + Hits/Innings Pitched had never been higher(in the minors) than 1.08 since the NYPenn League in 2003. This is much better than average for a ML pitcher. His 2005 stats with Boston (1.47) say that we should expect it to be a little higher in the ML. The reasons for this are numerous, but a prime example for why could be Bobby Abreu. He's going to walk. He's going to draw a lot of walks. It's a higher level of competition for longer stints per game at a time.
  • K/9. The lowest K/9 Papelbon every put up (at any professional level) was 8.59 in AA Portland. If you're keeping track at home, this is still very good, and there's not a whole lot of reason(even pessimistically speaking) to expect anything less than 8-8.5.
  • HR/9. Even in 2005, Papelbon's HR rate was just at the league average. It was much lower last season. His highest HR rate in the minors was 0.93/9 at Portland. Still not bad.*
What can't he control?
  • BABIP. This stat, which I know little about but throw around anyway, often involves luck. There are outliers, as there are with everything, but for the most part, a pitcher's(or hitter's) BABIP will have to do with luck. The stat involves how many balls in play end up as hits. As you might expect, Papelbon's BABIP was extremely low in 2006. It was a bit higher than league-average in 2005.
  • Outfield Defense. This isn't a stat, is it? Kind of. And it will be extremely important for Papelbon's success in 2007. Remember that excellent diving catch Adam Stern made to save a save for Papelbon last season? Yeah. He plays for the Orioles now. Until/when/if the J.D. Drew signing is official, our OF defense currently reads as Manny in LF, Coco in CF, and Manny's Clone minus Plate Discipline in RF. This is not good. We should expect 40-50% of contact off of Papelbon to be fly balls. He could adjust, but my guess is that it will be at least 40% next season. This is where Papelbon could suffer.
Computer-Based Projection Systems are Cool, Right?

Yeah, I guess. To be honest, I don't put a lot of stock in them myself: but they are cool to look at.

  • ZIPS: If you spend any time on Baseball Think Factory, then you've probably seen ZIPS. The projection on Papelbon(also includes entire team) doesn't seem right, but that's the computer's fault, somewhat. HRs seem a bit high, and my personal guess is that he starts almost the entire season, so 12 GS certainly seems low.
  • CHONE: If you've seen CHONE before, well, you're a better man than I am. I didn't notice its existance until yesterday morning. There's an excel file available for download here, but unless you're interested in the stats on everyone else in the ML, I'll save some time and just post some of Papelbon's pertinent projection numbers. IP: 139. SO: 116. ERA: 3.73. BABIP: .289. I don't know if I can understand why his ability to strike out hitters is consistently challenged in computer projection. I also think he'll get more innings. But again. Computer projection. How much (beef) stock can you put into it?
The Part Where I Tell You What I Think.

This has been a lot to trudge through on behalf of Papelbon, and I'm almost too tired to write anything else of any substance. Here's my hopefully (semi) realistic idea of what he might throw up next season.

Games: 32
Games Started: 32
IP: 180
SO: 176
ERA: 4.17
W: 16
L: 7
BB: 50
H: 173
WHIP: 1.24
Scrabble Games Won: 100%.

Not to burst my own bubble, but it seems kind of optimistic at first glance. Dominating the 9th and dominating innings 1-6(hopefully 7 and 8 sometimes too) are very different: but you all knew that. Enjoy.