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.

We hoped you liked reading Jonathan Papeldone? by Jason Collette!

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nik
Guest
nik

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.

Joe
Guest
Joe

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.

AMB
Guest
AMB

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’.

hk
Guest
hk

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?

AMB
Guest
AMB

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)

hk
Guest
hk

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.

AMB
Guest
AMB

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.

Jackson
Guest
Jackson

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

hk
Guest
hk

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.

Darryl
Guest
Darryl

Neither Jarrod Saltilmachialsjddkdkdkalsj or Jarrod Saltalamacchia received a QO

derekcarstairs
Guest
derekcarstairs

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.

ankle explosion hr celebration
Guest
ankle explosion hr celebration

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

Straw Man
Guest
Straw Man

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).

ankle explosion hr celebration
Guest
ankle explosion hr celebration

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.