Jonathan Papeldone?

Nearly five seasons ago, Jonathan Papelbon was awarded a $6.25M figure in arbitration, which at the time, was the largest deal in history awarded to a closer in the first year of arbitration. At that point in his career, he had saved 113 games with a 1.84 ERA and the arbiters rewarded him nicely for those figures. He would pitch three more seasons in Boston and left the Red Sox having been worth 16.4 RA9-WAR while converting 88% of his saves.

Philadelphia handsomely rewarded the closer with a four-year deal with a vesting fifth option. Thus far, Papelbon has been worth 4.4 RA9-WAR and has converted 86% of his saves. Yet, two years into the four to five-year commitment, the Phillies are reportedly looking to move him. A quick search of MLB Trade Rumors has Papelbon mentioned in rumors regarding the Orioles and both local and national writers hearing the team is actively attempting to move the closer.

GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has his work cut out for him as Papelbon is guaranteed at least $26M with the potential of a very achievable trigger option pushing the contract to a $39M value. That is well above the money that has been doled out to any free agent closer this offseason.

On Sunday, Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer laid out some of the challenges in front of Amaro Jr.

Gelb’s story did not pull any punches, starting with the title, “Papelbon problem is on Amaro.”  The problem being Amaro gave a very large contract to a closer and has been the last GM to guarantee four years and that amount of money to a closer.  Since Papelbon inked his deal, Rafael Soriano, Jason Grilli, Koji Uehara, Jose Veras (twice), Joe Nathan, Joaquin Benoit, Chad Qualls, and Jon Axford each has signed a free agent deal for two years or fewer and only Nathan and Soriano’s deals had an AAV of at least $10M.  The only other reliever to receive three or more guaranteed years from a team to be the team’s closer is Brandon League. League’s deal over three years guarantees him less than Papelbon’s does over the next two.

Papelbon’s contract would not be such an immovable object if it were not for the warning signs that are popping up from those who are watching him and watching his indicators. As Gelb goes on to point out in his story,

“Any scout who watched Papelbon last season noted his 2.92 ERA was a mirage. One called him a “so-so closer” with “limited” future value. Papelbon’s fastball lost life. Recording three outs became a painstaking task. His strikeout numbers plummeted. His luck was sky high. The brutal reports were filed.

The loss of life on Papelbon’s fastball was obvious last season. His fastball velocity at season’s end was 5mph slower than where it was at the end of the 2012 season. His velocity peaked near Memorial Day and continued to taper off as the season wore on.

jpvelo

Recognizing the drop in velocity, Papelbon utilized more two-seam fastballs in 2013 than he had in previous seasons. That adjustment allowed his fastball to maintain a positive runs above average value on his fastballs while both his breaking ball and splitter had negative values last season. The changes in both his fastball velocity and fastball implementation have led to negative trends in his outcomes against the pitch.

Year Contact% Z-Contact% O-Contact%
2011 67.8 73.2 54.8
2012 73.2 74.2 71.2
2013 80.6 84.2 73.1

Batters have made increasing amounts of contact off Papelbon’s fastball both in and out of the strike zone, and the difference is more prevalent within the strike zone. To some extent, the same issue carries over to his splitter.

When Papelbon keeps the splitter down and out of the strike zone, his O-Contact% is still slightly above league average over the three-year sample size.  Yet, when he makes a mistake with that pitch and leaves it in the zone, batters have had an easier time making contact with the pitch.

Year Contact% Z-Contact% O-Contact%
2011 59.3 77.1 45.6
2012 68.1 80.0 60.7
2013 70.6 88.1 58.3

The decreased effectiveness of that pitch combination could be problematic moving forward for Papelbon as he attacks left-handed batters. Papelbon throws fastballs and splitters 97% of the time to lefties, and the increase in fastballs in play last season led to more BABIP fluctuation in his numbers.  In his final year before free agency, lefties had a .228 BABIP against Papelbon, and that number has risen to .275 and .294 over the past two seasons. That increase in BABIP has allowed lefties to raise their batting average against him each of the past three seasons from .156 to .208 to .241. On the plus side, his wOBA against lefties has been nearly identical each of the past two seasons at .273 and .279.

Lastly, there is the issue of how Papelbon compars to his peers. For all closers with at least 30 saves over the course of the past two seasons (sample size = 32), here is how some of his outcomes compare to his closing peers.

Outcome Papelbon Closer Avg
wOBA 0.274 0.270
Contact% 74.1% 72.7%
Zone% 45.7% 50.0%
BABIP 0.299 0.277
K% 27.7% 27.6%

While Papelbon’s numbers line up with the average figures for his peers, his salary is anything but average. Papelbon certainly retains the ability to be an effective closer for Philadelphia, or perhaps another team over the next two to three seasons. That said, the market certainly views the pitcher differently than he was when he signed his current deal two years ago.

Papelbon is paid like an elite closer, yet his numbers are anything but. There are still opportunities for Amaro Jr. to trade Papelbon, but the likelihood of that happening will depend on how much of a loss he and ownership are willing to take in a deal. In short, the Phillies will need to adjust their perceived value of their overpaid asset to where the rest of the league views him.




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55 Responses to “Jonathan Papeldone?”

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  1. nik says:

    The best part of the Papelbon signing to me was Amaro signing him days before the new CBA would have allowed the Phillies to keep the draft pick they had to surrender for him. Amaro is a failure beyond words.

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    • Joe says:

      Was that ever true? Teams still loses its 1st rounder today for signing free agents who got a qualifying offer. What Boston got was the Phillies’ 1st rounder from the 2012 draft. Today that draft just got voided and skipped to the next team.

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      • AMB says:

        Joe-

        You are correct, the Phillies would still have lost their 1st round pick had they waited until after the CBA was modified. Nik, like many others (including other posters, some writers on this site and other national and local media in Philadelphia) like to pile on and have decided that every move RAJ makes must be terrible and has to be ridiculed.

        RAJ has made plenty of poor choices/signings/extensions as GM but this site, in particular, should be a place where each move is objectively analyzed, not thrown into a pot of ‘GM 1 made a signing so it must be good’ and ‘GM 2 made a signing/trade so it must be bad’.

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        • hk says:

          Doesn’t the issue of whether or not the Phillies would have lost their pick depend upon whether Boston would have made Papelbon a qualifying offer?

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        • AMB says:

          hk,

          You are correct. But considering the Red Sox just made Stephen Drew a QO I don’t think it’s to much of a stretch to assume they would have made Papelbon one.

          (And yes, I realize assuming is never a good idea)

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        • hk says:

          AMB,

          I would not assume that. The Red Sox were coming off of their dramatic collapse, which ended with Papelbon on the mound losing to the (then lowly) Orioles. In thinking back to everything that went down with the 2011 Red Sox, I think it is at least possible (and maybe likely) that they were ready to move on from Papelbon and would not offer ~$13M for a closer.

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        • Jason Collette says:

          some thought the Phillies actually saved money by signing Papelbon as early as they did that season.

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        • AMB says:

          I don’t think Papelbon being on the mound for the last pitch of the 2011 season would have factored into the decision at all. We are talking about a system in which Kendry Morales, Jarrod Saltilmachialsjddkdkdkalsj (Yes, I have no idea how to spell that and yes I’m to lazy to look it up) and Stephen Drew receive Qualifying Offers.

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        • Jackson says:

          I mean, the CBA went into effect the following offseason, right? No way it goes into effect immediately.

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        • hk says:

          From the article that Jason Collete linked to above: “Once upon a time, the Philadelphia Phillies signed Jonathan Papelbon to four-year, $50 million contract with a $13 million vesting option for 2016. Since Papelbon was a Type-A free agent, the Phillies also surrendered their first-round pick—31st overall—to the Boston Red Sox as part of the signing.

          A short while later, the owners and players agreed to a new five-year Collective Bargaining Agreement which called for several substantial changes, which included releasing all relievers from traditional Type A status. Clubs would not have to give up a draft pick in return for signing a Type A reliever.

          Formerly, Type A status was best viewed as a tax. Teams might view a particular reliever as worth $6 million for one year, but if Type A status was attached, the reliever would be paid considerably less. The value of the lost draft pick offset a chunk of the reliever’s value. In that sense, the new CBA was a boon for all relievers who would have unfairly lost income due to arbitrary rules.

          However, the rule change was not retroactive. The Phillies must still surrender their first-round pick.”

          Apparently, the new CBA did not go into place, but the old CBA’s Type A free agent rule was eliminated. Therefore, as nik suggest above, by jumping the gun to rush and overpay Papelbon, Amaro squandered a first round pick. If he had waited a few days to overpay Papelbon, he would have at least kept the first round pick.

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        • Darryl says:

          Neither Jarrod Saltilmachialsjddkdkdkalsj or Jarrod Saltalamacchia received a QO

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        • derekcarstairs says:

          You are incorrect, sir.

          The 2011 off-season was a year of transition from the old CBA to the new one.

          There were no qualifying offers at this point. There were Type A free agents and modified Type A free agents.

          Papelbon was treated as a Type A free agent because of his early signing. That meant loss of the Phils’ first-round draft pick.

          Had Amaro waited a few days, Papelbon would have been grouped with other free-agent closers as a modified Type A free agent, and the Papelbon signing would not have caused the loss of the draft pick.

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    • ankle explosion hr celebration says:

      oh man. Where’s those guys who always say GMs are really brilliant and never make stupid mistakes? I want to show them this.

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      • Straw Man says:

        Does anybody say that ever? I think the opposite would be more true (that a lot of GM’s are thought of as nimrods or worse).

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        • ankle explosion hr celebration says:

          OK maybe a slight overstatement. See this recent comment, however:
          “Two of the most revered GMs this off season made deals you wouldn’t expect money wise. Usually they know what they are doing, doesn’t mean its always right, but these guys aren’t stupid.”

          My point being: nope, sometimes they are just plain stupid. In RAJ’s case, often.

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  2. Antonio Bananas says:

    Papelsmear

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  3. He’ll have to give away Dom Brown *and* a wad of cash to get rid of Papelbon.

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    • Ns says:

      Cash alone will do it.

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      • Jonathan says:

        Reports around baseball have been that Amaro refuses to eat money in any deals he makes. This is not just his public stance, but something that a lot of other people have been saying is the way he’s operating.

        Which would explain why a non-contender still has multiple usable pieces that could be moved.

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        • hk says:

          Reports around Philadelphia have been that Amaro has softened that stance. However, I don’t think Amaro fully understands how much cash he’ll likely have to pay just to give Papelbon away for no return. The vesting option is the killer because, even if Amaro’s lucky enough to find a team that wants Papelbon for this year, barring an injury to Papelbon, that team is probably going to have him for $39M over the next 3 years. I would think that the Phillies would have to commit to paying ~50% of the remaining money to give him away and more to possibly get an asset in return.

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  4. jim says:

    “Orioles contemplating deal to receive Amaro’s baby daughter and Papelbon for a bag of peanuts” – The onion

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  5. RA Rowe says:

    An article on Dom Brown’s awful second half is the only thing I can think of that would be more bonerizing than an article about Papelbon being garbage. Oh, how I’ve come to hate the Phillies.

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    • Jason B says:

      …………..bonerizing?

      ………………..

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      • Franklin Gutierez says:

        Yeah, bonerizinbg. You know, like when you signed a 4 yr $66 mil contract with the Mets and then was worth -.5 WAR over the next two years before being traded. That’s bonerizing.

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    • nik says:

      Brown still had a 104 OPS+ in an injury-riddled second half. “Awful” is just incorrect.

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      • bjsworld says:

        Coupled with his horrid defense and playing a premium offensive position pushes him well into negative WAR territory.

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      • derekcarstairs says:

        In describing Brown’s 2013 offensive season, many point out that Brown had a hot May and that the rest of his season was so-so. Actually, much of Brown’s offensive success was concentrated in an even shorter period.

        From May 25 through June 3, Brown hit nine homers in ten games. Before pitchers could adjust, Brown had a remarkable streak, hitting 1/3 of his homers in 1/16 of the season (or 1/14 of the games in which Brown played).

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  6. Robbie G. says:

    Even if Amaro were to cough up, say, $27 mil cash to whoever bails him out on the Papelbon contract (which means Amaro is saving the team $12 mil, as $39 mil – $27 mil = $12 mil), I can’t say that I have a whole lot of confidence that he won’t make exactly the same mistake next offseason (i.e., throwing a massive amount of money at a relief pitcher entering the decline phase of his career). Which is, of course, very cynical, and presumably very typical of a Phillies fan circa 2013.

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  7. PhilzN says:

    They won’t get anything for Papelbon and will have to pay…so getting rid of him is just stupid. Just keep him and make sure the third year doesn’t vest! They won’t be contending so shutting him down I he gets close to vesting numbers is the way to go.

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    • Simon says:

      Can he not file a grievance if it’s obvious that the Phillies are just shutting him down to avoid the contract vesting?

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      • hk says:

        I suspect that the determining factor is how he’s pitching. I have to think that teams are allowed to replace their closer if he’s pitching poorly. If they take him out of the role while he’s pitching well (just to avoid the vesting of the option), a grievance would most likely be forthcoming.

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    • derekcarstairs says:

      I agree that the Phils should keep him.

      If Papelbon pitches well, then he’ll keep his closer job, and the ’16 option will vest. If he doesn’t pitch so well, the Phils may be able to justify replacing him as closer so that the option doesn’t vest.

      Other than the facts that a) the Phils are paying too much and too long for a closer, b) negligence in the timing of the signing caused the loss of their 2012 first-round draft pick, and c) as a non-contender, they no longer need him, I see no reason to complain.

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  8. Johnny Ross says:

    I personally wouldve went with the headline, “Jonathan Papel-Gone!”

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  9. MrKnowNothing says:

    He’s getting like $13/year for the next two years. He’s entering his age 33 season but has bee remarkably healthy. He has a proven track record. He may not be what he once was but he still has a solid ERA/FIP. And for whatever it is worth, he’s a name. It’s a bit high but seeing as how Nathan got $20/2 and he’s nearing 40. I don’t think it’s ludicrous that if Pap was a free agent this year it wouldn’t be crazy.

    If the A’s are willing to pay someone $10/1 and give up a player I could see other teams doing go to $26/2.

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    • Darryl says:

      Whoops, always read all posts first! You beat me to it.

      Also: reading Fangraphs opine on relievers is counter-productive to knowing baseball. Beane, Friedman and Cherington may love them but FG thinks they’re a waste of money.

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    • ankle explosion hr celebration says:

      $13M isn’t a lot. It’s not worth it, though.
      This upcoming year, Papelbon is predicted to be worth ~.5WAR (not unreasonably, since last year he was worth 1, and he’s clearly in serious decline–see above). Assuming that WAR should be doubled for relievers on account of leverage–very charitable, I think–then he’s a 1WAR equivalent player. 1WAR on the market these days is worth $7M, so Mr. RAJ is paying roughly double the market value for wins on an utterly non-contending team.

      That seems… not good.

      Re: Beane, Cherington, and Friedman–The Sabermetric Council of Heroes: Jim Johnson is predicted to be worth about the same WAR, but will be getting paid a little less (10?), and is probably a little better at pitching, and is on a contending team. That seems nearer to a market rate cost of WAR. Koji Uehara is getting paid just about nothing, despite being worth more than 3WAR last year. And I don’t know what to say about Friedman–only Heath Bell is well-paid on the Rays, and I feel pretty confident calling that contract a mistake since he offers replacement level pitching for the low, low price of only 9M a year.

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  10. Dean says:

    I am simply in awe that RAJ hasn’t lost his job yet. Why the Ryan Howard extension?? That contract single-handedly ruined all chances of getting younger talent to supplement the rotation he worked so hard to keep elite. Old, but still, elite.

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  11. pft says:

    One thing to consider with Papelbon is he admitted to being a frequent user of Toradol with the Red Sox which made his shoulder feel great. The Phillies banned its use, at least they did when he signed with the Phillies, so Papelbon could regain some of his stuff if he goes to a team that allows its use.

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    • faux says:

      Or he irreparably damaged his shoulder from abusing a drug and this is the consequence.

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      • pft says:

        Throwing a baseball is abusive too. Over 50% of pitchers have abnormal MRI’s. Toradol helps pitch through the damage. Obviously, given the velocity drop and his performance last year, we know he is not very good now w/o Toradol, but he could have some upside w/Toradol, at least for a time. Toradol is of course administered by a Dr and he would take care to prevent abuse.

        I also wonder if conditioning and motivation are part of the equation. Phillies have not been a good team and after a big contract some athletes slack off on conditioning. Papelbon had to do a lot of shoulder strengthening exercises with the Red Sox to maintain his shoulder after the subluxation. So he may just be 1 contract year away from rebounding.

        He also goes through periods where his split is not as effective. This is common among pitchers who throw a splitter. Something to do with the finger cartilage and ligaments gets over stretched and the pitcher loses a feel for the pitch for awhile. Of course, the 4 seamer is necessary to keep hitters from sitting on a hanging splitter, so reducing the use of this pitch also reduces the effectiveness of the splitter.

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  12. triple_r says:

    That adjustment allowed his fastball to maintain a positive runs above average value on his fastballs

    Seems a bit redundant.

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  13. George says:

    A few thoughts, use Papelbon as a reliever possibly increasing his trade value. Sign Ryan Madson to a minor league deal and make him the closer. Focus on moving Ryan Howard to an American league team and Jimmy Rollins to a West Coast team. Get some decent prospects and move on. Put Ruff at first, Ashe at short and Franco at third. You’ll only need one or teo solid players in the outfield and your good to go. The pitching staff is very respectable. Just my thoughts. Thanks for the time.

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    • Jason B says:

      If Papelbon is moved out of the closer role into middle relief, I think it would torpedo what’s left of his trade value. Not that there’s not value in being a good middle reliever (if he were to become one), just that they don’t get paid anywhere near what Pap is being paid.

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    • hk says:

      A few thoughts:

      1. I think it would be great if they sign Madson and he shows he’s healthy. However, Papelbon will have to start the season as the closer. If he falters and Madson shows he’s ready to retake the closer role, I’d move Papelbon to a set-up role. More than anything else, doing this will allow them to avoid having Papelbon’s option vest and rid them of his contract after next season.

      2. If Asche could play SS, they would have moved him there in MiLB to prepare him as Rollins’s eventual replacement.

      3. Rollins has 10 and 5 rights and can reject any and all trades. I suspect the earliest that Rollins will accept a trade is after he becomes the team’s all-time hit leader.

      4. Howard has to prove he’s healthy and, at a minimum, still able to hit RHP’s to have any value. If he proves that much, why trade him for cents on the dollar? Why not just platoon him with Ruf?

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  14. snack man says:

    Surprised the Twins aren’t trying to hire him. He’s got a proven closer record, and who needs a K to get out of an inning?

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  15. fjtorres says:

    No contract is immovable.
    Amaro can move Papelbon’s contract easily if he solves somebody else’s problem.
    Like: Papelbon for Ethier, straight up. :D

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    • hk says:

      I have to think that the Phillies and Dodgers discussed Papelbon before the Dodgers signed Brian Wilson, Chris Perez, Jamey Wright and JP Howell. Now that the Dodgers have those four plus League under contract to go with Jansen and the other minimum salary guys, I don’t think LA would trade Ethier for Papelbon. They would probably trade League for Papelbon if Philly was just looking for some salary relief.

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