- You don't have to be good to save a lot of games. (see Jones, Todd). It's getting three people out in a situation where you can have as large a lead as three runs and starting at a random point in the batting order.
- You don't have to have a good closer to win a lot of games. (see 2014 Tigers). While they will blow a couple games the truth is a good team usually wins games by a bunch of runs. Closers impact say 20-25 games within 2-runs? If they blow 25% of those that's 5-6 games and 25% is a ridiculous "replace me" percentage. More likely for them to stay at closer they blow 3-4 of those, 1-2 other games if they are bad. But probably 1-2 of those would have been blown by closer X and it's not like they wouldn't pitch at other times if relieved of closing duties, and it's not like if they were replaced entirely that the other pitcher coming in would be perfect. All in all the end result is maybe you blow 2-3 games you wouldn't have? Maybe? That doesn't turn a good team bad.
- You don't have to have a great closer to win a World Series. See 2012 Giants (Casilla was good but nothing special.) or 2006 Cardinals (Isringhausen was not on his game that year and would be done in 2008). It's 7 games at most. It may not even come up that you need a closer. Not saying it doesn't help. But you don't NEED it.
Papelbon is not pitching well. Mainly he's not missing bats. He's striking out a lot fewer batters (K/9 down to 6.75 and trending down since 11.83 in 2012). This is backed up by a big drop in swinging strikes, a big drop in batters swinging at pitches outside the zone, and a big increase in batter contact. His fastball speed is down (and like K/9 on a long trend down though since 2011 - though to be fair this is what happens to every pitcher. Time gets all the arms except for Nolan Ryan). And batters are squaring up on him. This is backed up by a drop in opposite field hits and an almost non-existent percentage of soft hits off him (7.3%! You may not know that but that's crazy) This is why we see the percentage of line drives and fly balls that are being hit off him go up.
He's not going to get the big strikeouts anymore, but his control was pretty good before and might be better now (BB/9 rate is at a career low) and despite the hard hits he isn't prone to giving up the home runs and that hasn't changed. So scoring runs off Papelbon still will take a few hits in a row. In a game where generally only 30% of balls in play drop for hits that's going to be hard to do, even if you can hit it decently.
So will guys hit him? Probably. Will he still be able to save say 80-85% of his games? Probably. Is that good enough? Probably.
Hey what do you want from me? I always hated the guy and never wanted him here and root for blowout wins so I don't see him or for him to blow saves and have the Nats win in extras. This is the best I can, and will, do for the guy.