Jonathan Papelbon Has Pretty Much Owned


May 29, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Jonathan Papelbon (58) reacts to recording the last out in the ninth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies defeated the Red Sox 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Giving a closer, any closer, a four-year, $50 million contract borders on something slightly more than ill-advised and slightly less extreme than psychotic. Let’s just say it usually isn’t a good idea.

By their nature, relief pitchers are volatile creatures. Their stuff is usually ridiculously good, but is also usually reliant on only one or two quality pitches, delivered with maximum exertion and adrenaline. The rate at which relief pitchers, closers in particular, flame out, is quite high.

That is why, when the Phillies gave Jonathan Papelbon a four-year, $50 million contract before the 2012 season, most people called it a foolish expenditure of cash.

And while that remains a valid criticism, that should not take away from the fact that Papelbon has freaking owned since he became a Philadelphia Phillie.

I know that $50 million is too much money to give a closer. So let’s just say that Papelbon is clearly worth whatever would be the most money that would be palatable to give a relief pitcher.

After closing out last night’s 4-3 win over his ex-teammates, the Boston Red Sox, Paps has now pitched 20 2/3 innings this year to the tune of a 1.31 ERA. Only once has he pitched more than one inning, that for an impressive five-out save against the Arizona Diamondbacks at the beginning of the month.

Like most managers, Charlie Manuel does not like to use his closer in anything other than save situations. That also doesn’t seem to get the most out of the man the team is paying $50 million to pitch. Consider that last year, Papelbon was paid $13 million and pitched 70 innings. That equates to about $185,000 per inning. This year, the Phillies have played 477 total innings. Jonathan Papelbon has pitched in 21 of them. That’s 4.4% of all the team’s innings this year.

Clearly, it would be great to get more use out of a guy who has been absolutely lights out.

Papelbon has given up an earned run in exactly TWO starts this year. He has given up a hit in only NINE starts. And although the save stat is a garbage statistic, I will note he has converted all 11 of his save chances, after converting 38 last year.

Of course, at 32 years old, Papelbon is getting older. His velocity is diminishing, and his K-rate is down as well this year (11.8 to 7.4). And he’s a renowned flake.

He also calls himself “Cinco Ocho.” For some reason.

Still, Papelbon has been one of the best closers in the National League, anchoring a bullpen that has been, at times, rather leaky this year.

If the Phils can keep Mike Adams healthy and figure out some kind of combination of Justin De Fratus, Michael Stutes and Antonio Bastardo in the sixth and seventh innings, the back end of the ‘pen can be a strength.

Just close your ears and watch Papelbon pitch. It’s safer for everybody.