Has Jonathan Papelbon Just Been Unlucky?


Jun 22, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Jonathan Papelbon (58) walks off the field in the ninth inning after blowing a save against the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies defeated the Mets, 8-7. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Papelbon has had a rough go of it lately.

Not only has he been the subject of constant trade rumors, he also has had a hard time doing his job, nailing down wins in high leverage situations.

Last night Papelbon blew his fourth save in eight days, giving up three runs in the bottom of the ninth to the San Diego Padres as the Phils lost 4-3 in 10 innings.

It wrapped up a brutal week and a half for Paps, who has posted an ERA of 5.40 in his last five appearances stretching back to June 17th, allowing an OPS of .991 in that time. Prior to that, he had posted a 1.46 ERA in 24 games, while converting all 13 of his save opportunities.

But has this recent negative trend been all on Papelbon, or has he also been the victim of some bad luck?

It’s a little bit of both, but clearly, Paps has gotten unlucky during a few of these blown saves. He didn’t suddenly become terrible.

His first blown save was against the Nationals on June 17, in which Chad Tracy hit a game-tying solo homer with two out in the ninth inning. Papelbon made a decent pitch on the inner-half of the plate and Tracy managed to get himself a Citizens Bank Park homer just inside the right-field foul pole. It was a cheapy home run that used to be the hallmark of CBP. Yes, it’s on Papelbon, but in most parks, that’s a long fly ball to right for the final out of the game.

The second blown save also came during the Nationals series on June 19th, when Jayson Werth hit an RBI single to tie the game in the ninth inning. It was a clean, hard-hit single through the hole between third base and shortstop, and Jonathan didn’t do himself any favors by giving up a walk in the inning as well.

The third blown save was on Saturday against the Mets. His personal nemesis, Jordany Valdespin hit a long home run off him on Saturday, the fourth career homer Valdespin has hit off Papelbon. That cut the lead to one. It was after that when Papelbon really ran into some tough luck. With two out, Daniel Murphy’s ridiculous RBI single was hit directly at the shotstop position. But because David Wright was running on the play, and the outfielders were in a no-doubles defense, Rollins was sucked towards the second base bag, leaving his position vacant. The ground ball traveled slowly through that spot, and was slow enough for David Wright to score all the way from first base.

It was some crazy bad luck.

Finally, there was last night’s Kyle Blanks show in which he hit a soft liner to center to score two runs, then scored on a passed ball by Carlos Ruiz. Papelbon hit a batter in the inning, but the two-run single was softly hit, and the final run came because of an error by Ruiz.

It’s clear that some of the blame for these blown saves is on Papelbon. Two walks and a hit batsman during those four blown saves are his fault. But he’s also been the victim of some terrific bad luck.

So when you read about Papelbon blowing four saves in the last week and a half, understand that he hasn’t all of a sudden turned into a horrible, Brad Lidge-like mess.

He hasn’t been awesome, but he also hasn’t been a whole lot different than he was when he was doing totally awesome.