1.85/0.771/.154, 58.1 IP, 59 G, 37 SV, 92.5 SV%, 84 K, 15 BB, 12.96 K/9, 5.6 K/BB, 256 ERA+
Postseason: 0.00/0.843/.135, 10.2 IP, 7 G, 1 W, 4 SV, 7 K
All-Star Papelbon’s gaudy 0.96 ERA in 2006 – as a rookie, no less – carried him very close to this list, but ultimately his season-ending injury must be factored in. Also factored in: Papelbon’s star turn in the 2007 postseason, including saving three of the four World Series games – all requiring more than three outs. Even without October, however, Papelbon simply was dominant as few others have been out of the bullpen for the Red Sox. In fact, only two relief seasons get a nod higher than this one.
How dominant was he? In 59 games, Papelbon gave up runs in just nine and more than one in just three. He never gave up more than two runs. Fifteen times he was called into a one-run game, and 15 times he left the mound with the lead intact. From Aug. 1 to Sept. 12, as the Sox fended off the Yankees for the AL East title, Papelbon appeared in 16 games and allowed seven baserunners – two hits, four walks, one hit batter – while striking out 25 and recording 12 saves and a win. That’s an opponents’ batting line in 15.2 innings of .041/.130/.041.
Key game: Oct. 25. Papelbon comes into the eighth inning of World Series Game 2 against the Rockies with two outs and the Red Sox leading by one. After allowing an infield single to Matt Holliday, the dangerous Todd Helton at the plate as the go-ahead run. Before even throwing a pitch to him, however, Papelbon picks off Holliday. He then comes out for the ninth and strikes out two of the game’s final three batters – including Helton.