2013 Phillies Exit Interview: Jonathan Papelbon

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Papelbon made a lot of people very mad in 2013. And the declining closer proved to be a huge waste of money. But was he as bad as everyone made him out to be?

Jonathan Papelbon at Fangraphs

Jonathan Papelbon at Baseball Reference

Jonathan Papelbon's 2013 season was one big huge crapburger.

Not a lot went right for Paps. He blew a bunch of saves, said a bunch of nonsense, and incurred the wrath of pretty much every Phillies fan alive. Happily for him, he pocketed $13 million this year, and he'll do the same thing in 2014 and 2105 too. So, let's not go searching for sympathy cards just yet.

But how much of what went wrong this year was Papelbon's fault? And how bad was he really?

Maybe not as bad as you think.

If you look at his traditional stats, he didn't have a bad year. He pitched in 61 games, posted a 2.92 ERA and had 29 saves in 61 2/3 innings. He struck out 8.3 batters per nine innings, gave up just six home runs, had only 10 unintentional walks and posted a WHIP of 1.135 and an ERA+ of 131. And, his bWAR of 1.5 was right in line with the 1.7 and 1.6 bWARs of the two previous years.

Looking at that data, you'd think Papelbon did OK. So why are you all up in his junk?

Well, as we all know, traditional stats are not always a true indicator of how good someone is pitching.

His K/9 of 8.32 was way down from the year before when he struck out 11.83 batters per nine, and way below his career average of 10.56. He struck out 22.4% of the batters he faced, down from 32.4% in 2012 and his career number of 29%. The result was a higher batting average allowed of .244, and a FIP of 3.05, way up from the 2.89 of 2012 and 1.53 of 2011.

As mentioned once again by the Inquirer's Matt Gelb a few weeks ago, Papelbon's diminishing velocity was the culprit. His fastball averaged 92 mph this year, down from 93.8 in 2012 and his career number of 94.4. All those high fastballs he used to blow people away with all of a sudden weren't as enticing to hitters, leaving him without a second put-away pitch to accompany his splitter.

Those numbers reflect a career worst 10.6% of pitches swung at and missed. Last year, his swinging strike percentage was 12.2% and the year before it was 16.8%.

Fewer swings and misses means more balls hit into play, which can lead to a lot more bad luck, as evidenced by some of his blown saves this year.

That said, there were stretches were Papelbon simply wasn't very good, and he certainly didn't endear himself to the populace with some of the more eye-brow raising statements a player uttered during the 2013 season, including the now-famous...

"I definitely didn't come here for this."

And he followed that up with this chestnut...

"...I would like to stay here. But if I'm going to have to put up with this year after year, then no, I don't want to be here. Why would you? Why would anybody?"

Now, you can applaud the player for being honest if you like, but sometimes, diplomacy is more helpful than honesty. And this was one of those times. After losing 12-4 to the Tigers at home, the team's eighth-straight loss, with trade rumors swirling in late July, Papelbon made the comments that seemed to indicate, all things being equal, he wouldn't mind being somewhere else.

Let's face it, the guy just has a tendency to say things that get some people upset.

But the main reason Papelbon has drawn so much ire is for something that's not really his fault.

His contract.

Ruben Amaro is wasting $13 million a year on a pitcher who pitches in a scant number of the team's actual games.

This year, the Phillies played 1436 1/3 innings. Papelbon pitched in 65 of those innings. Meanwhile, he was the 7th highest paid player on the team at $13 million, yet he participated in just 4.5% of the team's innings.

That's market inefficiency.

So as we watched Papelbon blow seven saves, second-most in the NL behind only Chicago's James Russell, we watched money being figuratively flushed down the toilet by a pitcher who didn't seem to even want to be here.

Hey, perhaps there will be a team in the off-season that will see his 5-1 record, his 2.92 ERA, his 29 saves and agree to take him in a trade. What the Phillies need to do is target a team that does not utilize analytics and ignores non-traditional statistics in order to make this happ...

Oh, wait. There's only one team that...


Still, at the end of the day, Papelbon was not as awful as everyone thinks he was. He had a decent season as a closer. It's not all his fault that Charlie Manuel didn't use him enough and the team had so few save opportunities.

The rage many of you feel at Papelbon really should be more directed at Amaro, for overpaying a closer $13 million.

Although Paps could help himself out by not being such a doofus anymore.

This season was an unmitigated disaster. How did you contribute to the disaster?

"I didn't come here for this, dude."

If I had traded you mid-season, would the team have done better or worse?

"Dude, I didn't come here for this."

All of my options are open for next year. Should I trade you, release you, or keep you?

I think I was quite clear on this point a couple months ago. But I'll refresh your memory, dude.

"...I would like to stay here. But if I'm going to have to put up with this year after year, then no, I don't want to be here. Why would you? Why would anybody?"

Some people have questioned whether I should keep my job. Tell them to go "blank" themselves by explaining why I should keep it forever.

"Dude, I'm one of your biggest mistakes. I don't think anyone would listen to me. Besides...

"I didn't come here for this."

Overall, explain to me how your time with the Philadelphia Phillies has been the highlight of your life.


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