Hindsight, Foresight Favorable to Papelbon Acquisition – Phillies Nation

Hindsight, Foresight Favorable to Papelbon Acquisition

Has Papelbon been the best free agent closer pick up? Photo (AP)

Jonathan Papelbon sits atop the Major Leagues as its saves leader, closing the door in 9 out of 9 save opportunities. Papelbon is sporting a miniscule ERA, a strikeout per inning pitched, and has provided a stop-gap solution in the back end of the bullpen.

In the off-season, Papelbon received the second-highest salary per year a closer has ever received. A lot of folks, both Phillies Nation commentators and commentors a like, were critical of the move. The money spent on Papelbon, they argued, would be better spent addressing shortstop, left field, and finding a viable fill-in for Ryan Howard at first base. And at the time, and even now, it is argued that the money spent on Papelbon would prohibit them from extending Cole Hamels, Shane Victorino, and/or Hunter Pence or finding a 3rd baseman for 2013.

Yet, Papelbon has delivered. Among NL relievers whose primary job description is closer, Papelbon is tops in ERA and has yet to blow a save. While his peripherals, particularly FIP, xFIP, and K/9 IP, put him in the upper-middle class of NL closers, Papelbon has gotten the job done. Was the decision to sign Papelbon wise? Let’s compare his performance to other current closers who were available free agents in the off-season.

Right out of the gate, it is instantly clear, and I’m not sure that it’s ever been argued, that Papelbon is and has been a better closer than Kyle Farnsworth, Frank Francisco, Brad Lidge, and Jon Rauch. Next, Heath Bell‘s absolute Miami Meltdown should be tossed from the pile as his stats, both regular and peripheral paint an ugly, “Petco really helped support his middle-of-the-road peripherals” picture. And to think, the first conversation I had with Pat Gallen was “Is Papelbon, Jimmy Rollins, and Ty Wigginton a better deal/fit than Heath Bell, Jose Reyes, and Michael Cuddyer?” All other players aside, Bell has cost his team at least three games and does not look comfortable on the mound.

The main contender to sign with the Phillies before Papelbon signed? Ryan Madson. Hindsight is required to properly judge this decision because of Madson’s untimely injury. Madson signed a 1-year deal with the Cincinatti Reds for $8.5 million, nearly half the price per year than Papelbon, but now requires Tommy John surgery and may miss the entire season.

Of the remaining free agents, Joe Nathan, 37, and Francisco Rodney,35,  are the most comparable to Papelbon in terms of 2012 success. Both were major question marks heading into 2012 – Nathan had a 4.84 ERA and was 14 of 17 in save opportunities and was coming off an elbow injury, while Rodney was 3 of 7 in save opportunities with a 4.50 ERA and was also coming off of a back injury. Rodney has been particularly impressive, with the lowest ERA, FIP, and xFIP amongst the group while pitching in the AL East. Nathan has pitched well in a barren AL West for its top dog.

Was the risk in signing Papelbon worth it? When comparing to the options available at the time using hindsight, while an overpay, the Phillies did get the best closer, with the best mix of favorable age and injury history to take the closer role, particularly if they were looking to secure the position long-term. We will know for sure if and when Papelbon is tested in October.

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  1. TheDipsy

    May 2, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    Eh. Ya know. Closers run hot cold and they are pretty easy to get in July and August when the shitty teams are dumping theirs. Papelbon is great, no question, but I just don’t think an elite closer is worth that kinda money/years. Papelbon is the best there is but the best there is doersn’t justify that type of investment. I suggest everyone look at the list of closers that have been on the teams that have won the WS the last 25 years and you might agree that its just not all that important.

    The Dipsy

  2. Jeff Dowder

    May 2, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    We’re judging a five year deal after the first month? Nobody had problems with Papelbon on a two or three year deal. They had concerns for 2015 & 2016 (vesting option). They’re still valid concerns.

  3. branderson925

    May 2, 2012 at 3:42 pm

    Yeah like Jeff is saying it is really hard to judge. I woulda still like Mad-Dog better. Homegrown and the injury is just crappy luck. Madson would have went for much cheaper.

    BUT…This Phils offense is meh, as everyone knows and 9/9 in SVO is HUGE for a team that doesn’t score many runs.

    So right now it makes for a really tough argument. I’m sure we as fans will have mixed feelings throughout out Pap’s (hopefully long and successful) career in Philly

  4. Dave Lerch

    May 2, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    As long as you rely so heavily on starting pitching the way we do,it makes sense to overpay and get the best closer, arguably in baseball or else all the dollars you overpaid for Doc, Lee and what you’re likely to pay for Hamels is wasted. I wish we wouldn’t sign offensive players on the downside of their careers to extensions. Shane is coming up and hopefully we walk away. BTW, the Phils will win this division going away , despite the anemic offense and regardless if Utley and Howard produce when and if they come back. The NL East isn’t very good. We have great pitching,solid defense and eventually mediocre offense. More than enough to win the NL East.

    • schmenkman

      May 2, 2012 at 4:36 pm

      NL East = best division in the NL

  5. frank riccard

    May 2, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    Paps is growing on me.

    Between using “Antichrist Superstar” by Marilyn Manson as his entrance music, and starting the season 9-for-9 w/ a nearly non-existent ERA, it’s hard not to be high on the guy at the moment. He’s the right mix of talented and batshit crazy, and he’s been one of the few truly bright spots (along w/ Halladay, Hamels, Worley, and, to some extent, Galvis of course) through what was an otherwise dismal April.

    I also want to express how bummed I still am for Madson. I hope he comes back better than ever. I also hope Ruben brings him back to Philly in the Spring on a minor league deal or something. Let him prove himself in the Spring, and if he does well and can find a job as a closer elsewhere, we’ll do the right thing and let him go. If he does alright and needs some more time to work things out, we can stash him in AAA for a bit, and then let him re-establish himself at the back of the bullpen later on.

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