Saturday, March 17, 2007


Papelbon: starter or closer?

The Sox played their game today with Jon Papelbon throwing some good innings and giving up a homer to someone he probably shouldn't have. I didn't see the game, unfortunately, but Papelbon's change from super-closer to starter is very interesting. There seems to me to be very little precedent for such a move in the recent past. Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals is attempting to make the same move, though he was no where near as dominating as Papelbon was last season. Still, I can recall no pitcher having experienced the success that Papelbon did last season immediately switching to starting the following season

It seems obvious that a good starter, a guy who throws 200 innings with a 3.50 ERA, say, is more valuable to a team than a top-flight closer, even one as good as Papelbon was last season. The same goes for Mariano Rivera, who has been almost unhittable since moving into the closers roll just before the end of the past century. Because the baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint, one would think that the long and steady (the starter) would win the race over the short and fast (the closer).

That being the case, I wonder why Rivera, a guy who is as good a pitcher over the past decade as there has been when he's pitched, has never tried to transition back to a starters roll. Its not like the Yankees haven't needed a good starter in the last ten years. Rivera could have been, had he been successful, the guy who put the team over the top in 2001 and 2003. Likely, the Yankees were thinking that you don't mess with success, even if that success is less valuable to the team.

Rivera is undoubtedly a Hall of Fame pitcher, so its hard to call the Yankees out on his usage. Still, one wonders, if Papelbon can make the transition from closer in college, to starter in the minors, to all-star closer as a rookie, and then back to starter, maybe the Yankees insistence on keeping Rivera in the closers roll has been a mistake.

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