Last night, Jonathan Papelbon recorded his 113th save for the Phillies, passing Jose Mesa for the franchise record. It wasn’t any ordinary save, though. After walking Francisco Cervelli to begin the inning, a throwing error on a pickoff attempt allowed pinch runner Steve Lombardozzi to reach third with just one out. Two pitches later, Jordy Mercer hit a fly ball in foul territory that looked like it could be a game-tying sacrifice fly. Jeff Francoeur had other ideas, as his monster of a throw home ended the game with a double play. It was an incredible way to get the record. Papelbon even said in his post game interview “what just happened?”
Now, 113 saves with one team is a lot. Brad Lidge had 100 with the Phils. Tug McGraw had 98, Ricky Bottalico had 78. Ryan Madson had 52. As far as Phillies closers go, Lidge, Tug, and Papelbon are all at the top. But only one of those guys makes Phillies fans blood boil.
And I get it, Papelbon has said–and grabbed–some things in the past that haven’t sat well with the fan base. I’m not defending any of that. But like it or not, he’s probably the best closer the Phillies ever had. And when I say “best”, I mean how much he’s tangibly contributed to the team. Tug and Lidge helped the Phillies win the franchise’s last two World Series championships. I understand that means a ton. And for some fans, there’s nothing that can beat that.
I, however, am not one of them. At least not with a closer. A closer usually pitches just one inning when the team is ahead by three or less. The position is unique and specialized. So, while Lidge and McGraw helped win championships, I’ve got to look at the big picture when it comes to analyzing who has been the best.
And the big picture, to me, says that Jonathan Papelbon deserves that title. Now, I’m going to backpedal for a second. “Best closer” is different than “the closer who I liked the most”. That would be Brad Lidge. But his–and McGraw’s–contribution has been more than what’s tangible. The joy that they helped bring fans isn’t something that can be measured. But I digress.
Papelbon has appeared in 211 games for the Phillies, with 212.1 innings pitched. Lidge appeared in 214 games, with 193 innings pitched. McGraw threw 708 innings in 460 games for the Phils. Papelbon’s ERA with the Phils is 2.37. Lidge? 3.73. McGraw? 3.06. Papelbon and Lidge have just about the same K%, but Papelbon’s BB% is decidedly lower. He also has the lower WHIP by a large margin. Lidge has been hit a lot harder than Papelbon as well. As far as success rate of saves, Papelbon is at 88%, Lidge is at 86%, and McGraw is at 77%. I could go on and on–the numbers say that Papelbon is the best of the three.
So, Jonathan Papelbon has been, in my opinion, the best closer in Phillies history. And even if you disagree, he’s definitely in the discussion. He deserves plenty of praise for his contributions on the field. You don’t have to like the guy, but you should at least appreciate what he’s given to the Phillies.