Papelbon’s Surprising Place Among Phillies Closers – Phillies Nation

Papelbon’s Surprising Place Among Phillies Closers

As Jonathan Papelbon made his desires of wanting to play for a contender public yesterday evening, I immediately looked at his stat line. The surface numbers look nice, like his 1.24 ERA or his 22 saves in 24 chances. Some might even point to the fact that he has not surrendered a homer in 2014 as a solid accomplishment, as well.

But Papelbon’s successes this year are part of a much larger, more complex body of work. Papelbon’s 7.93 K/9 IP is easily a career-low, nearly 2.5 K/9 IP under his career average and almost a half a strikeout less than his rate from last year. If Papelbon’s decreasing velocity was the elephant in the room last year, this year it is more like a hippo, once again present, but not quite as large. Papelbon has a career-low 91.4 MPH average on his four-seamer, a 0.6 MPH drop from last year and a 3.4 MPH net drop from his career high in 2011 with the Red Sox.

Yet, to Papelbon’s credit, he is somehow weaving in and out of games and successfully closing the door on opponents when the opportunity arises. Were it not for a pair of historically-good National League middle-relief performances from Pat Neshek, who I suggested the Phillies pick up twice, and Tony Watson, Papelbon may have been named an All-Star with the Phillies for the second time in his third season. That accomplishment would have made him the most decorated Phillies closer of all-time in terms of All-Star appearances.

Weird, isn’t it? Papelbon doesn’t exactly jump out as an all-time great Phillies reliever, but he has been. Papelbon earned his 89th save as a Phillie last night, moving him to just one behind Ron Reed for sixth place in club history and just five behind Tug McGraw for fifth. Papelbon is within striking distance of first place, too, sitting just 23 behind Jose Mesa. Among Phillies’ relievers with at least 150 appearances, Papelbon leads all in ERA, is third in K/9 IP, and is second in BB/9 IP. In short, minus World Series hardware and longevity like Reed and McGraw have, Papelbon is neck and neck with Billy Wagner for best reliever in Phillies history.

Papelbon’s eccentricities and candor have made him unlikable at best and unbearable at worst to some Phillies fans. But very quietly, Papelbon undeniably has carved a spot on the shortlist of all-time great Phillies relievers.



  1. deLEARYous45

    July 10, 2014 at 11:14 am

    How is there not at least a mention of Brad ‘Lights Out’ Lidge? He’s the only one other than Tug to ever bring home a ring

    • Ian Riccaboni

      July 10, 2014 at 11:19 am

      Aside from the World Series ring and 2008, Papelbon’s overall performance is significantly better than Lidge’s. I would say Lidge is a “better Phillie” and certainly more memorable and have been a part of more memorable seasons, but Papelbon has been, by far, a better pitcher, as weird as that all sounds.

  2. Lefty

    July 10, 2014 at 11:29 am

    Just my opinion Ian, but I think with relievers- it’s more about the legend they leave behind, so in this case I have to overlook the proof in numbers.

    The legend of the man they called “lights out” with his perfect 2008, 41 for 41 regular season, and 7 for 7 postseason are what will make Lidge the best Phils reliever all time for me, with the Tugger a close second.

  3. Bellkirk

    July 10, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    You can’t discuss Papelbon’s achievements without addressing the gross overpay RAJ gave him as a free agent. He’s been pretty good on the whole. But the trend in baseball now is away from the elite closer; it’s a role that increasingly can be done by almost anyone – the mental edge seemingly needed at one time now a thing of the past.

    You need to put Tug McGraw #1, as a lifetime achievement award and closing out the 1980 series. Brad Lidge is #2; the game was over (literally) when he entered with a lead, and without his perfect season there was no 2008 title. Remember, the Phils only qualified for the playoffs by a game or 2. Lidge’s other seasons in pinstripes are irrelevant – he was bad (and injured) in 2009, but very good (when not injured) thereafter. Billy Wagner is a top 5 all time closer, but wasn’t here that long and pitched on mediocre teams. Ron Reed was good before the era of the closer. And don’t forget 1950 MVP Jim Konstanty. Get Mitch Williams on the list somewhere; yes he broke our hearts with the softball to Carter but he was out of gas at that point. Jose Mesa was a stat compiler. So here’s my list:

    1. Tug McGraw
    2. Brad Lidge
    3. Billy Wagner
    4. Ron Reed
    5. Mitch Williams
    6. Jonathan Papelbon
    7. Jim Konstanty
    8. Jose Mesa

    • Ken Bland

      July 10, 2014 at 3:37 pm

      Nice list at first glance. Wondered where Ryan Madson fit in that picture at first, but his closing time was short, and at times, ineffective. One name that I’d at least wonder if maybe he doesn’t merit consideration would be Jack Baldschun. Phils lost a lot while he was here, but he pitched for them for a while. Maybe you looked at him, and eliminated him.

      I don’t remember Reed closing much, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t. Tug came in during the bottom of the 5th in the 23-22 game…not to mention pre 9 a lot. Different game these days.

      It’s depressing that Paps might leave without giving fans a view of his first MLB at bat. At least he got close to it a couple times while here.

      • Bellkirk

        July 10, 2014 at 6:07 pm

        I thought about Madson right after I hit submit. He should replace Mesa at least, if not higher.

  4. bacardipr05

    July 10, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    Amaro did over pay for Papelbon this is true. However, i did not complain as much because Rube picked up arguably the best closer at the time. If the Phils would of won another WS i bet not many will be harping on the over pay so much. Lidge was paid not much less than Papelbon. Lidge made over 44 million in his stay here as a closer. Yet hardly anyone ever mention it was a over pay?

    • Bellkirk

      July 10, 2014 at 6:03 pm

      I hated the Papelbon signing at the time. I would have preferred they bring Madson back, and remember something about RAJ going back on a verbal agreement with him. Lidge was a free agent at the time too, and was passed over for Chad Qualls…

      I always thought Papelbon was overrated, even before Philly. At least he used to throw hard, but what was his second pitch, again? Lidge signed his extension during the 2008 season, and as I mentioned above if he’s not perfect the Phillies don’t even make the playoffs.

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