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Red Sox 2011 Bullpen Preview: Jonathan Papelbon

Papelbon's record breaking Tuesday night is a bright spot in an otherwise mediocre season from Jonathan Papelbon (photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Heading into the 2011 season, one of the biggest questions for all of Red Sox Nation will simply be, how good will the bullpen actually be? That is a good question because it seems that every year, it is almost entirely revamped and this offseason, we saw the same thing. Such names as Dan Wheeler, Bobby Jenks, Matt Albers and Alfredo Aceves will be joining Jonathan Papelbon and the rest of the bullpen. So, how these new additions pan out is a big question that will not be answered until the last day of the season.

Judging a bullpen is nearly impossible. The pitchers could have a great first half of the season but then falter in the second half, so would that mean they were good or bad? No matter what, it seems as if the Red Sox bullpen is never good for a whole season. It just can’t be, there are too many games in a season for the bullpen to be deemed solid for a whole season. If Papelbon has a good season and doesn’t blow too many games, it would be easy to say the bullpen was solid, unfortunately that is how a bullpen is viewed, from the standpoint of the closer or a select few pitchers.

So how will the bullpen turn out? I expect some ups and downs but ultimately it will be much stronger than last season. With that said, we begin our week-long look at the Red Sox bullpen with Jonathan Papelbon.

Heading into his seventh season in the majors and his sixth as the Red Sox closer, Jonathan Papelbon has a lot riding on his shoulders. He is in the final year of his current contract and as of right now there have been little or no new negotiations for an extension. So, how he performs this season could determine whether the Sox offer him a contract.

When Paps first took over the closer role in 2006, he dominated and Boston loved him. That year he had 35 saves, a
WHIP of 0.78 and an ERA of 0.92, absolutely ridiculous numbers. He also had six blown saves and 75 strikeouts in 68.1 innings of work.

Last year was a different story…well kind of. Paps had 37 saves in 67 innings, while striking out 76 batters. The only difference was that he had a career-highs with an ERA of 3.90, eight blown saves, seven losses and seven HRs surrendered. His WHIP of 1.27 was the highest it was since his rookie year. He also walked a career high 28 batters.

So what happened to Papelbon last season? Was it that he was throwing way too many fastballs and couldn’t get them by the hitters like he used to? Was it that he was brought into the game in the eighth inning too often with runners on? Was it all in his or was his command just off? Whatever it was, it wasn’t too good.

No, I’m not saying he was awful and we need to dump him as soon as possible. Actually, I just think that people exaggerate his numbers to something far worse than he actually did. His saves, strikeouts, wins and hits were all normal numbers for him. I think he was just thrown into poor situations last season and sometimes he didn’t prevail.

That’s not going to happen this season. He has help in former-closer Bobby Jenks and Daniel Bard has another year under his belt. If anything, those guys will get the brunt of the work in the bad situations and Paps will do his job and just close out games in the ninth, not in the eighth.

I’m expecting a record of 4-2, 40 saves, 77 K’s, four blown saves, a WHIP of 0.98 and an ERA of 1.75. Yeah, I know those numbers may seem like a stretch, but he’s more than capable of putting them up this season. Last year was a fluke.

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