Thursday, January 04, 2007

"Do You Wanna Change Your Bullshit Story, Sir?"

The Red Sox are a team that looks great, except for the fact that we don't have a closer. Keeping Papelbon as the closer will turn us into a team that looks great, period.

It's not that I think Papelbon will fail as a starter. I think that guy will succeed no matter what, and I'm just happy he's on the team. But with no solid closer, we leave a question mark that has the potential to affect every single game.

If you have four awesome starters and an awesome reliever, you could win 80 percent of your games. If you have five awesome starters and no closer, you could lose 100 percent.

Now let's talk about these doctor's orders. The Red Sox claim that Papelbon will be healthy throwing a lot of innings every five days. And that he'll likely injure himself if he pitches a little bit at a time, but more often than once every five days. I'm no physician, but you know what I say about that? Horse. Poop.

Here are my reasons:

1. No precedent. Have you ever heard this about a baseball player before? "This guy can only be a starter. He can't be a reliever. He'll get hurt." "Oh, that guy? We know he stinks, but we put him in the rotation because it's the only way he can pitch without injuring his arm." I've never heard that before.

2. Babying. Maybe they really do believe it. Maybe if you play it out a thousand times, he gets injured at a closer 5% more often than he does as a starter. They hear that and they panic. This is a young kid who can do anything. You start babying him and that's when you're gonna hurt him. And this goes for all pitchers. I do agree with the bitter old people who say "pitch counts ruined pitchers." A pitch count is like a flu shot. All a flu shot does is give you the flu. Or, like those people who mess with their car all the time. There's always a problem because they're always messing with it. Or, like those people who go to the chiropractor. Have you ever heard of one of those people going to the chiropractor, getting their muscles fixed, and then never having to go back? It's like Chris Rock said: "A cure for AIDS? That'd be like Cadillac makin' a car that lasts fifty years!"

3. Makes no sense. Would you rather have some guy kick your ass every five days, for seven and two-thirds hours at a time? Or every three days, for an hour at a time? Do the math. The first way is gonna give you way more of a beating in the end. But wait, you'd have more time to heal the first way! True, but overall, is that gonna make a huge difference? You're getting your ass kicked either way.

I think we're seeing the momentum swing back my way. People are talking about Pap possibly be the closer again. One article made mention of the Sox' new closer situation, "with Papelbon as a fallback." Joy of Sox posted about Pineiro and the bullpen situation, and the name alone prompted commenters to respond: Papelbon, Papelbon, Papelbon.*

You know what will prove my theory that they're full of shit with this doctor's diagnosis? If the team, at any point, choosed to put Pap in the closer role. If they really believe it, they'll come out tomorrow and say, "He's a starter, end of story."

The good news is, there's a chance we turn out to bean awesome team either way. We have a lot of young guys that could turn in to starters and/or closers. I'd just prefer the proven solution to our single biggest concern.

*Since the post I was referring to, Joy posted again, citing an article that says the incentives in Pineiro's contract point to him becoming the closer. This only makes my case look better. As soon as this news gets out, New England will make its choice for closer be known. Here's your chance, Red Sox, to change your bullshit story.

I just hope they have a backup plan for a closer in case PINERIO turns out be a RUDY SEANEZ(sorry i have rudy on my mind now)
My wife just left on a business trip, so I finally have a chance to respond to this post, as I sit here watching the Pats having trouble with the Jets. First off, I think the Sox have more holes than just the closer; I think the entire bullpen looks extremely mediocre once again. I realize this is hindsight, but given what's gone on in the free agent marketplace this winter, they would have been well-advised to pick up Foulke's $7.5mm option...I think he's gonna rebound nicely in Cleveland, and that we'll miss him. But yeah, I'd agree that the biggest single move that the FO could do to upgrade the team would be to get an actual bona fide closer instead of Pinero or a committee or whatever else they're thinking at this point.

But with that said, I disagree with you about Papelbon. If BSM were still commenting here, he'd probably already have posted a comment about Papelbon's VORP or WARP as a starter being higher than as a closer. Being less fluent in advanced SABRmetrics, as well as lazy, I'll just put it in simple terms: the way to maximize the production out of you pitching staff is to have your most talented and effective pitchers throwing as many total innings for you as possible. I acknowledge that closers are important, but I also think they tend to get overrated, and contrary to your claim, a team with five awesome starters and no closer is guaranteed to win a lot of valuable as a closer can be, if you have great starting pitching, there are going to be lot of times during a season when you'll win without one. And you do realize that no team wins 80% of their games? That would be 130 victories.

The other thing is, I think you're being too cavalier about the health concerns that prompted Paps' shift back to the starting rotation. They shut him down in September with a fairly serious shoulder injury, and if they're getting medical counsel that his shoulder is better built to withstand the workload of a starter, I don't know why that should be ignored. I don't know why a precedent is necessary here to justify this decision; sports medicine is a field of exponential advancement, and it's possible that there were a lot of guys in the past who would have benefited from similar treatment...we'll never know.

As for the value of pitch counts, ask the Chicago Cubs if they believe in them these days....they'd have 3 aces in their rotation if Dusty Baker and Don Baylor hadn't blown out Kerry Wood and Mark Prior's arms at a young age.

With all of that said, I'd still much prefer it if Theo could obtain Chad Cordero or Mike Gonzalez at a reasonable price. And yeah, if we get to June and the pen is absolutely killing the Sox, then I would hope the Sox would take a good hard look at moving Paps back there.
Me: "If you have four awesome starters and an awesome reliever, you could win 80 percent of your games. If you have five awesome starters and no closer, you could lose 100 percent."

Yes I realize you don't literally win 80 percent of your games, just like I realize no one's ever gone 0-162.

BSM has already said stuff about this, in past posts about the topic. So, if the closer is overrated, why haven't all great closers immediately become starters when it was realized how great they were? In my world, pitchers wouldn't be babied, and there wouldn't be a specific job called "closer," as most pitchers would go nine, and if not, you'd just put in some guy who wasn't good enough to be one. ie the way it used to be. But as long as "closer" is a a role, every team needs a good one. We have a good one, and we're taking him out of that role. Even if he does great as a starter, well, we still need a closer.

And per your June theory, if you talk about putting Pap back there, doesn't that mean you agree with me that the injury talk is overhyped and that he CAN be a closer if necessary?
"So, if the closer is overrated, why haven't all great closers immediately become starters when it was realized how great they were?"

Well, to give you one example that you should remember well, Derek Lowe became a starter in 2002 after 2.5 seasons as a closer, and won 21 games with a 2.58 ERA and a no-hitter.

In general though, it seems that successful closers tend to have a fairly limited repertoire of pitches. They're very good at those pitches, which makes them extremely effective for 1-2 inning stretches, but less likely to succeed facing the same lineup 3-4 times in a game. The most extreme example is of course Rivera, who has one pitch that he throws extremely well...and it's probably not a stretch to say that he's the best 'one-pitch' pitcher in baseball history. Dominant as he's been in his role, it's unlikely that would have translated into him being an 'ace' at the top of a rotation. For what it's worth (probably very little), I see that he actually had ten starts for the Yanks back in '95 at the age of 25...and he put up a 5.51 era. To cite another anecdotal example, did you happen to catch Brad Penny strike out Ichiro, Jeter and Papi in order with 98-mph fastballs in the first inning of the All-Star game last year? Penny's a been a pretty good, but not great, starter at times, but without having to worry about going 6 innings in that game, he just aired out his heater and was unhittable, at least for an inning.

And of course, there's been a ton of examples of good, average, and even bad starters over the years being converted into dominant closers...Goose Gossage, Dave Righetti, and The Eck come to mind, as does Flash Gordon, who it seems that the Sox are looking to as the inspiration for the Joel Pinero experiment.

Lastly, I don't agree with you that the injury talk is overhyped, because I don't presume to know more about sports medicine in general, and Papelbon's case in particular, than the doctors who actually have examined him. To be clear, I'd only want to put him back in the closer role as a last resort if the Sox bullpen is sucking so badly two months in that another season looks to be going down the drain. Even then, I'd have a ton of ambivalence about it. I'd like to see Papelbon healthy and pitching very well for the Sox for a very long time.

So here's hoping that Theo can make a deal, or that somone from the group of Pinero/Delcarmen/Okajima/Hansack/Hansen/Romero/Donnelly/Timlin steps up. The most intriguing to me, based on the very limited amount that I saw him pitch, is Devern Hansack...both because of the nasty stuff he had on display, and his remarkable background. Just a great story, and a guy you really can root for.
Remember, Lowe was shitting the bed as a reliever and got demoted when we got Ugie. It's not like we said, "He's such a great closer, let's start him." He basically had nowhere to go, we tried starting him, and it worked out. At times.What I was saying is that all the great closers stay closers.

About the doctor thing: Even Doctor Huxtable could tell you that this makes no sense. Why is he the one guy in the world that pitching on a slightly less regular basis would make fall apart?

I love Hansack. This will all work out if one of those dudes can step up.
Well, I'll steal a description of Papelbon's condition from a surgeon who happens to post on SoSH:

"Subluxation of the shoulder is, as has been previously stated, when the head of the humerus (the ball) rides up near or onto the edge of the glenoid (socket). In some people this happens habitually, either because they have "loose" ligaments congenitally or from previous trauma, or because they have had a previous dislocation or subluxation that results in a labral tear. People with labral tears usually have pain that goes along with the subluxation; people with a "loose" shoulder usually complain of a feeling of instability without pain."

And here's another description of his condition from Will Carroll's column at Baseball Prospectus:

"Jonathan Papelbon finally had his MRI and the results are mixed. The official diagnosis is "transient subluxation event due to fatigue." In essence, Papelbon was so tired that his rotator cuff could no longer hold his shoulder in place. The shoulder went with the ball, rather than, you know, with the rest of his body. The biggest concern is that there was some labrum involvement. In addition to the MRI, Papelbon had an arthrogram that he stated showed no evidence of tearing of the labrum. The upside is that there's no immediately apparent structural damage. His rotator cuff was tired, not torn."

So, in other words, he has "loose-joints". I don't know how common this is, or whether there are any examples out there of other relievers who had this condition but continued to pitch successfully and without frequent DL stints. But I have seen it suggested that if this remains a chronic condition for him, then the long and gradual warm up routine of a starter would be much less likely to further aggrevate it than the frequent use, warm-up-on-a-moment's-notice role of a reliever.

All I do know is that he definitely seemed pretty tired in August from the heavy workload, and that certainly seemed that he was dropping his arm down more during delivery. His control certainly seemed to suffer in those weeks before he was shut down. So it doesn't seem all that implausible to me that the best way to get the most out of him in the future is through a spot in the rotation, where he can warm up fully beforehand, and rest completely between appearances.
Okay. But how his throwing a hundred pitches in a day gonna help? What I don't get is how they are so sure they can come up with a regimen that allows him to start but not relieve. Plenty of pitchers have had rotator cuff injuries, and I know what they're like because mine still hurts--I haven't carried a bag over my right shoulder since '85 just to try and keep it healthy, so why haven't we heard of this a million times: "Another reliever who hurt himself in this way who has to go the rotation."

I understand the differences between the routines of starters vs. relievers. But, still. I mean, if they wanna use him as a starter because they feel he'll help more that way, it's their choice. But they should've had a closer at the ready before removing the current one.

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