September 16th, a 1-1 game between two teams tied for first in the AL East. Bottom of the 9th, bases loaded, 1 out. Yet the visiting team didn't have their best reliever on the mound? Why? Why was Jonathan Papelbon milling around the bullpen and not on the mound.
With the bases loaded and 1 out, you want a strikeout pitcher out there. Papelbon is the most prolific K-man on the team, striking out 10.13 batters every 9 innings, or 1.13 every inning. Masterson, on the other hand, has struck out 6.91 batters every 9 innings.
I don't have to deploy an armada of statistics to prove to you that Papelbon is more likely than Masterson to get out of that jam. So why wasn't he used?
They must think he's tired. He's given up 6 runs in his last 3 outings, and only struck out 1 in that stretch. He's relying more and more on his fastball. He's not throwing his slider for strikes. He's falling behind in counts, or struggling to stay ahead in them.
We've seen something like this before back in 2006. Papelbon was overworked, and broke down in September. This season, thanks to the lacklusterness of Okajima, Delcarmen, and the rest of the pen; Papelbon has been used too often.
Here's a chart comparing the wear and tear on Papelbon in 2006, 2007, and 2008. Ext Out = Extended Outings (Appearances of 1.1 innings or more). All stats are totals at the end of August:
The Sox haven't abused Papelbon like they did in 2006, but they haven't been as conservative with him as they were in 2007. Now I think they're worried that he'll be ineffective in October, like he was ineffective in September of '06.
You can't blame Francona for the overuse of Papelbon in 2008. What choice did he have? Okajima took a lot of the slack in 2007, but he's been mediocre at best in '08. Delcarmen hasn't stepped up, and neither have any of the other relievers. The starters are also having difficulty going deep into games.
So in the 11 remaining regular season games, don't expect to see much Papelbon. He'll be used in 3 out save situations, but shouldn't be brought in to get 4 outs. I also wouldn't be surprised if they avoid pitching him on back-to-back days.
Without Papelbon, the Red Sox have little chance to do damage in the playoffs. He gave the Sox 10.2 scoreless innings in the 2007 postseason, including 4.1 innings and 3 saves in the World Series. And the bullpen is even thinner in '08, so we need him healthy and strong.
AP Photo/Winslow Townson