Welcome to Boston.com’s Sports Q, our daily conversation, initiated by you and moderated by Chad Finn, about a compelling topic in Boston sports. Here’s how it works: You submit questions to Chad through Twitter, Facebook, and email. He’ll pick one each weekday to answer, then we’ll take the discussion to the comments. Chad will stop by several times per day to navigate. But you drive the conversation.
Who was the better Red Sox closer, Jonathan Papelbon or Koji Uehara?
Continuing in our ongoing, organic Who Was Better? series here at the Sports Q, today we’ve got a matchup of lights-out closers, both of whom recorded the last out of a World Series. The Red Sox have had some terrific closers over the last couple of decades – Keith Foulke got the outs that changed franchise history, and Tom Gordon was electrifying in ’98 – but Papelbon vs. Uehara is a showdown of two shut-down relievers who excelled over multiple seasons. The tale of the tape:
Papelbon (2005-11): 2.33 ERA, 396 games, 219 saves, 1.02 WHIP, 6.8 H/9, 10.7 K/9, .2.4 BB/9, 16.2 WAR, 2007 World Series champion, three-time All-Star, expert at dancing an Irish jig while wearing an empty Bud Lite case as a hat.
Uehara (2013-16): 2.19 ERA, 230 games, 79 saves, 0.81 WHIP, 5.8 H/9, 11.6 K/9. 1.5 BB/9, 2013 World Series champion, expert at extra-hard high-fives and surviving being hoisted by David Ortiz after closing out a win.
All right, so this comparison is sort of like the Roger Clemens-Pedro Martinez showdown from a couple of days ago. Papelbon, like Clemens to a certain degree, excelled at his job and has the longevity advantage. Uehara, like Martinez, wasn’t here as long, but at his best was otherworldly.
I picked Pedro in that previous debate. And I’m picking Koji here.
Yeah, he was here for just four seasons. But the Red Sox have never had a closer who caused less anxiety when he came into a game. When Uehara came in during the magical 2013 season, you knew the game was over, he’d do it efficiently, with one strike after another, and then he’d have a great time celebrating the win.
Papelbon had an exceptional 2007 season, with a 1.85 ERA, allowing just 30 hits and 15 walks in 58.1 innings. The next season, he walked just 8 in 69.1 innings while striking out 77. Great stuff … and yet not nearly as extraordinary as Uehara’s ’13. Here’s his line from that first season in Boston:
74.1 innings, 33 hits, 9 walks (2 intentional), 101 strikeouts. 1.09 ERA, 21 saves, seventh in the AL Cy Young voting, 19th in the AL MVP voting.
That is not just the most dominating season I’ve ever seen a Red Sox closer have. I’m convinced we’ll never see anything close to that again. Plus, Uehara was as likable as it gets.
Papelbon was great. Uehara was better. Like Pedro, he’s an easy choice for me.
What does everyone else think? Who was the better Red Sox closer, Jonathan Papelbon or Koji Uehara? I’ll hear you in the comments.
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