Papelbon Deserves Appreciation


Say what you want about Jonathan Papelbon, but it is tough to argue against his continued effectiveness during his time spent in a Phillies uniform—especially as he just made history with a 132-year old franchise.

Many criticize the Phils closer for his blunt personality, his emphatic end-of-game fist pumps, the infamous crotch-grab apparently directed towards fans after blowing a game last season.

I just toe it up every day and come to work…be ready to play every day and that’s all I really necessarily worry about” ~ Papelbon

He is also criticized for the four-year, $50 million contract he signed in November of 2011 which made him the richest relief pitcher in MLB history at the time, though that deal is hard to blame on him. That’s all fine. What you simply cannot criticize him for are the results that he has produced between the white lines.

Upon earning his 113th career Save in red pinstripes against the Pittsburgh Pirates last night, Papelbon became the all-time Phillies franchise Saves leader, breaking a record previously held by former closer Jose Mesa. In an interview with CSN Philly’s Gregg Murphy after the game, a humble Papelbon talked about breaking that record.

It’s hard for me to really put in perspective. I think when my career’s over, I’ll think about all that. I just toe it up every day and come to work…be ready to play every day and that’s all I really necessarily worry about,” Papelbon said.

Papelbon has been lights-out thus far in 2015 once again. He has appeared in 14 games thus far, and in those games, Papelbon holds a 1.26 ERA. He has allowed just two runs and four walks, while closing out all seven of his save opportunities.

Even with decreased fastball velocity that has been widely discussed dating all the way back to spring training of 2014, Papelbon has found a way to shut down opposing teams in the ninth inning without issue.

Since coming to Philadelphia, the big righthander has appeared in 211 games. In those games, “Cinco Ocho” has struck out 228 batters in 212.1 innings, and pitched to a fantastic 2.37 ERA. He was an NL All-Star in 2012 when he saved 38 games—good enough for third in the league.

Drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the fourth round of the 2003 MLB amateur draft, the Baton Rouge, Louisiana native was an American League All-Star with the BoSox four times. He came in 2nd in the AL Rookie of the Year vote in 2006.

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His seven years in Boston saw him record 219 saves in 396 games, including Game 4 of the 2007 World Series against the Colorado Rockies, which allowed the Red Sox to win their 7th World Series championship. During this time, Papelbon struck out 509 in 429.1 innings and owned an impressive 2.33 ERA.

With that record-setting Save for the Phillies last night, Papelbon also became just the second pitcher in MLB history to hold the all-time Saves record for two teams, as he also holds Boston’s franchise mark. Excluding his 2005 season, when he worked as both a starter and a reliever, Papelbon has surpassed 30 saves in all but one (2013) season. His 332 saves puts him 13th on MLB’s all-time Saves list.

Often criticized for controversial comments about the Phillies and their fans, including a recent highly publicized quote in which he said he didn’t “feel much like a Phillie,” Papelbon is arguably the best closer in the team’s history.

Phillies fans still fondly remember Brad Lidge’s perfect 2008 season in which he went 48 for 48 in save opportunities. But that result was at least partly due to his performing with a multi-talented winning team that was in the midst of 5 consecutive division titles. What Papelbon has been able to accomplish on teams that have never finished better than .500 is nothing short of remarkable.

Papelbon has certainly been outspoken in saying that he wants to play for a winner, and knows Philadelphia isn’t the place where that’s going to happen—at least not anytime soon. Can you really criticize a guy for wanting to win who, now at age 33, doesn’t have much time left to do it?

A fierce competitor who has always given his best effort, Papelbon has never shied away from the spotlight. The Phillies have unsuccessfully tried to find a trade partner for Papelbon for months now, though they have reportedly come close, particularly with Toronto just before the season opened.

That difficulty is perceived by some to be due to Papelbon being regarded as a clubhouse cancer around the league. Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg and many of the team’s players say exactly the opposite. Hurlers Ken Giles and Jake Diekman have raved about how Papelbon has served as a mentor for the young pitchers, and both credit him with their development.

As for his contract, when you look at Papelbon’s total body of work, can you really say the contract given to him was a bad one, given the return that he has delivered? If the Phillies would have been successful these past three seasons and potentially have won a World Series, Papelbon could be Mayor of Philadelphia. But since the teams have been mediocre, and Papelbon hasn’t always said the right things, he’s public enemy number one in the eyes of many Phillies fans.

It is likely that Papelbon will be traded before the 2015 season is over, and many Phillies fans will gladly drive him to the airport if and when that happens. But what some will never admit is that Papelbon was better than anything they could have expected when the club signed him.

In a league where relief pitchers are so unpredictable from one year to the next, Papelbon has been a model of consistency during his time with the club, and overall across his entire career. In recent years, a number of closers who once led their league in Saves ultimately flamed out, some rather quickly. Players such as Eric Gagne, Jim Johnson, Heath Bell and John Axford are prime examples. Papelbon, on the other hand, has had sustained success.

While I do believe it’s necessary to trade Papelbon in order to get some prospects back in return, I also believe fans will covet a closer like Papelbon the next time the Phillies return to playoff contention. This could prove especially so if Giles doesn’t live up to being an MLB closer. Papelbon should be a positive asset for any team that acquires him.

We should appreciate what Cinco Ocho has been able to accomplish as a member of four bad Phillies teams, and congratulate him on his new record. While Phillies fans don’t have to agree with what Papelbon does or says in all situations, it is certainly time that they give credit where it is due – for what he has accomplished on the field.