Jonathan Papelbon was a huge mistake for Phillies

Jonathan Papelbon was a huge mistake for Phillies
April 3, 2014, 3:00 pm
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Last season, Jonathan Papelbon struck out 8.3 batters per nine innings and converted just 81 percent of his saves, both career-lows. (AP)

The Phillies splurged on a closer during the 2011 offseason. They signed him to big money for four years. Maybe Ruben Amaro Jr. kept the receipt. He should see if he can return the pitcher, because the product is clearly defective.

Jonathan Papelbon is owed $13 million this season. He’s owed $13 million next season. That makes him the highest-paid closer in baseball. It also makes him untradeable. Tough to unload an overpaid, underproductive pitcher who can’t shut his mouth or shut down opposing hitters.

The Phillies are almost certainly stuck with him. That’s not good news, as everyone realized once again on Thursday evening. Kyle Kendrick started and pitched a good game against the Rangers. Ryan Howard hit a home run. The Phils had a lead in the ninth. It should have been a comfortable win. Instead it was another discomforting blown save.

In Papelbon’s first save opportunity of the season, he surrendered hits to three of the first four batters. Not good. He faced seven Rangers and retired one. Not good. He allowed Texas to extinguish the Phils' two-run lead. Then he walked in the winning run. Really, really not good.

That’s what the Phillies got from their $13 million man. You don’t have to be a Wharton grad to know they could have gotten the same result for a lot less.

This is the new Papelbon. The old version, the one with the mid-90s fastball that the Phillies thought they purchased, is a distant memory. A year ago, Papelbon struck out 8.3 batters per nine innings and converted just 81 percent of his saves. Both were career lows.

As our resident baseball number head Corey Seidman pointed out, Papelbon has eight blown saves since 2013, which ties him for the second most in the majors (see story). Half of those blown saves have come with him spotted to a two- or three-run lead. That’s what the layman (or the columnist) would call not good. (Have we mentioned how not good he's been?)

Jim Johnson, who is equally overpaid, is the only other pitcher since 2013 to blow more saves than Papelbon. Papelbon should send him a thank you note for making him look good by comparison. That’s a hard thing to do. No wonder Twitter went mad with frustration after Papelbon’s latest implosion.

Papelbroken.

Papelbomb.

Papelblown.

Papelboooo.

So what’s wrong with him? Early in his career, his fastball pushed into the mid-90s. Those days are long behind him, as outlined by Fangraphs.com. According to CSNPhilly.com Phillies Insider Jim Salisbury, Papelbon’s fastball on Thursday was somewhere between 90 and 92 mph.

It made you wonder whether there’s something physically wrong with Papelbon. At times, it appeared as though he was throwing from different arm slots -- which is essentially what Papelbon told the media after the game. The closer said he was having mechanical issues. No kidding.

“I was definitely flying open a little and coming out of my delivery,” Papelbon said. “Obviously, it’s a disappointment.”

Obviously.

But, being the super-swell team player he is, Papelbon couldn’t prevent himself from laying some of the blame on others. Because that’s all part of the Papelbon Leadership Program. All caps. PLP for short.

“Obviously, I’m not going to second-guess my teammates or my coach,” Papelbon said.

Obviously. Except for the part where he second-guessed his teammates and the manager about the infield depth on a play where Leonys Martin hit a ground ball up the middle to drive in the tying run. Papelbon threw his arms in the air after the play.

“Obviously, I don’t know whether that’s called from the bench or by the middle infielders,” Papelbon said after the game. “But less than two outs, I’m thinking ground ball and I’m thinking let’s get this double play and go home.”

But, you know, he’s not going to second-guess his teammates or his manager. Obviously.

Should make for a fun season. And all for the low, low price of $13 million. That’s quite a bargain.

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