Papelbon living up to his side of huge contract

Papelbon living up to his side of huge contract

May 13, 2013, 12:00 pm
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Closers don’t routinely sign four-year deals with fifth-year options or earn eight-figure salaries. In fact, Jonathan Papelbon’s four-year contract worth just over $50 million – which extends to five years, $63 million if his option vests – was the largest ever signed by a closer.

The deal was met with skepticism, but Papelbon has certainly done everything in his power to meet his end of it.

On Sunday, Papelbon pitched for the second straight game, earning another save the night after throwing 29 pitches to get five outs. He put Diamondbacks on second and third with one out but picked up a huge strikeout of Eric Hinske (sound familiar?) and then induced a game-ending flyout.

Papelbon has seven saves in as many opportunities this season, and he hasn’t allowed a run since the second game of the year. He’s made 14 straight scoreless appearances to lower his ERA to 1.15. His 0.57 WHIP is the lowest in the National League among pitchers with at least 15 innings.

When contracts like Papelbon’s get signed, the new team is often paying for past performance and hoping the player duplicates his success or comes close to it. But Papelbon, who joined the Phillies at age 31, has been even better with the Phillies than he was with the Red Sox.

In seven years with Boston, Papelbon had a 2.33 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP, with 10.7 strikeouts and 2.4 walks per nine innings.

With the Phillies, Papelbon has a 2.21 ERA, a 0.97 WHIP, with 10.9 strikeouts and just 2.0 walks per nine.

His velocity is down – from 95 mph to 93.8 last season and 92.3 this year – but his control has been better. Papelbon’s first-pitch strike rate this season is nearly 70 percent.

With problems in so many other places in the bullpen, Papelbon’s consistency has been one of the most important advantages the Phillies have had. If the All-Star Game were to take place tomorrow, he’d almost certainly be representing the Phils for the second straight year.

If you haven’t noticed, the Braves and Nationals are again on losing streaks, leaving the Phillies just four games out of first place in the NL East despite how poorly and inconsistently they’ve played.

The division looks winnable with the Braves’ glaring flaws and the Nationals’ injury problems, but the Phillies will have little margin for error if they want to make it a three-team race this summer. Luckily for them, Papelbon doesn’t err very often.