There was a time when Jonathan Papelbon was considered one of the elite closers in baseball, among the likes of Mariano Rivera, Joe Nathan, and Francisco Rodriguez.

Between a mid-90s fastball that could hit 98 MPH, a plus splitter, a solid change-up, and a slider of the same description, Papelbon had a deathly arsenal that he could unleash at will on opposing hitters.

In his first full year in 2006 as the Red Sox closer, Papelbon was brilliant. He threw 68.1 dominant innings, striking out 75 and walking only 13 en route to a 0.92 ERA and an All-Star selection.

He was just as dominant in 2007 and had perhaps an even better year in 2008, striking out 77 and walking only eight for a ridiculous 9.63 K/BB ratio (Roy Halladay’s is 7.64 this year).

Then, in 2009, something happened—Papelbon became human.

Despite posting a 1.85 ERA and saving 38 games, Papelbon was noticeably shakier on the mound. His WHIP ballooned to 1.147 (previous career high was 0.952 in 2007).

The culprit?

He couldn’t control his pitches anymore.

Papelbon walked 24 batters in 2009 as his K/BB ratio rose to 3.17. He blew three saves and allowed 25 percent of inherited runners to score (awful for a closer). In the playoffs, he was atrocious as he allowed three runs, walked two in two innings, and watched as the Red Sox got eliminated by the Los Angeles Angels.

In 2010, things just got worse.

His K/BB ratio is 2.37 (Daisuke Matsuzaka’s is 1.78). He’s blown six saves in 35 chances. His ERA is a career high 3.26 and his WHIP stands at 1.148. He’s even striking out batters less, only 45 in 49.2 innings (he’s never struck out less than a batter per inning in his career).

His inherited score percentage is a ghastly 36 percent.

After blowing another must-win game against Toronto on Thursday, the four-time All Star has hit an all-time low.

Papelbon can’t throw strikes consistently and, even when he does, he is getting hit hard. The biggest hole in his game this season has been the splitter, a pitch that—when thrown correctly—looks exactly like a fastball coming out of the pitcher’s hand. Without it, Papelbon is simply a fastball pitcher who can’t throw a fastball for a strike.

Questions are surfacing regarding whether he will finish out the season as the Red Sox closer or give way to the closer-in-waiting in Daniel Bard.

That scenario seems unlikely, especially since they need Bard as the set-up man.

However, the big fella’s run with baseball’s best closers seems to be over. He’s still a better pitcher than 90 percent of the relievers out there, but if you’re contending for a championship you need to be able to trust your closer to finish the game.

There’s no way Jonathan Papelbon deserves that trust anymore.

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