From the day the Phillies signed him to an outrageous four-year, $50 million deal with a fifth year vesting option in the winter between the 2011 and 2012 seasons, Jonathan Papelbon had no chance.
We all reacted negatively to the contract. Paying a closer, someone who pitches just 60-70 innings a season, an average salary of $12.5 million, was just silly and ridiculous. And so, before he even threw a single pitch in a Phillies uniform, Papelbon was cast in a negative light.
Fast forward to Wednesday night, when Papelbon came into a 3-2 game in the 9th inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates and, aided by a phenomenal throw by outfielder Jeff Francoeur to cut off the tying run at the plate, recorded his 113th career save with the team, breaking Jose Mesa's record for career saves.
That's when it dawned on me. Jonathan Papelbon is the greatest closer in Phillies history. And virtually no one is going to remember him fondly.
Oh sure, he's said a lot of stupid things that have helped earn him the scorn of the fans. He's talked about wanting to leave, believing in his heart he's still a Red Sox, grabbing his crotch in anger at fans as he walked off the field last year, and various other PR goofs that did not endear him to the public. But there's no denying one immutable fact.
Jonathan Papelbon has been worth the money. He's been incredibly good.
In his four years with the team, he is 12-10 with a 2.37 ERA in 212 1/3 innings. He has struck out 228 batters and walked just 48, and has maintained his outstanding numbers even as the velocity from his fastball has waned.
This year, he has a 1.26 ERA, giving up just two earned runs in 14 appearances coming into Thursday, striking out 10 batters per nine and walking just 2.5. That comes off a 2014 season in which he recorded 39 saves, his most since 2008, with a 2.04 ERA, his lowest since 2009.
Far more often than not, when Jonathan Papelbon enters a game, the Phils end up on the winning side.
When Ruben Amaro signed him, it seemed nutty. Closers in baseball are so volatile, and it seemed crazy to give a closer entering his 30s a $50 million contract. Surely he wouldn't be worth it by the end of the contract. That's where a lot of the scorn began, but instead of it all being directed at Amaro, Papelbon got some by osmosis.
Of course, he's still one of the best closers in baseball, which makes it interesting why so many teams with a need at the back of the bullpen have been reluctant to deal for him. Sure, he's expensive, but he produces results. Would the Detroit Tigers have made it to the World Series with him last year? It's possible. Could he help teams like the Washington Nationals, Miami Marlins and Tigers now? Absolutely.
And yet all you hear about are his negatives. "He's a bad guy to have in the clubhouse." "His fastball isn't as fast as it used to be." "He's too expensive."
Here's the reality. For many teams, he's a lot better than what they currently have.
As for his legacy here in Philadelphia, he won't be remembered fondly, and his saves record has largely been ignored. The Phils held a minor celebration for him before the game, but fans simply aren't talking about it. A lot of that is his own doing, and the fact that the guy who held the record before him (Mesa) isn't remembered all that fondly either doesn't help. It was not a revered record, unlike when Rollins broke Mike Schmidt's all-time hits record.
The "save" statistic is kind of a garbage stat, too, and has been minimized by other analytics.
Still, Jonathan Papelbon is going to go down as the best closer in Phillies history. And yet, when he leaves, virtually no one is going to remember his time here fondly.
And that's kind of sad.