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Posted by Andy on January 28, 2009

Jonathan Papelbon has had a fantastic career so far and appears likely to become one of the best closers of the next decade, taking over for Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman. But I have to say that the guy is a complete jackass. While I don't think it's his job to be a role model and do the job that parents are supposed to do, he has behaved like a complete idiot on numerous occasions. I think he would do better to shut his mouth and keep his inappropriate behavior limited to when there aren't TV cameras or journalists around. (FYI a few examples of his behavior are drunken rants after the Red Sox won the World Series in 2007, many public comments about how great it is to drink beer and get drunk, how "closers gotta get paid", and numerous other comments about how important money is.)

Anyway, during his recent negotiations with Boston that ended in a record contract for a relief pitcher with so little experience, I heard someone argue that Papelbon was overused by the Red Sox in 2008 and was lousy when he had to pitch on back-to-back nights. That's an easy thing to check just by looking at his 2008 pitching splits, specifically for pitching by number of days of rest.

 I Split         G   GS GF  W  L  S CG SHO   IP    ERA   H   R   ER HR  BB IBB  SO HBP
   0 Days,GR     18   0 17  2  1 14  0   0  18     2.00  16   5   4  1   1   0  13   0
   1 Day,GR      20   0 19  1  3 13  0   0  21     1.29  11   5   3  0   2   0  21   0
   2 Days,GR      8   0  6  1  0  3  0   0   8.1   6.48  10   6   6  2   2   0  12   0
   3 Days,GR      8   0  7  0  0  4  0   0   8.1   1.08   9   4   1  0   1   0  14   0
   4 Days,GR      5   0  5  0  0  2  0   0   5     1.80   4   1   1  0   0   0   8   0
   5 Days,GR      2   0  2  0  0  0  0   0   1.2   0.00   2   0   0  0   0   0   3   0
   6+ Days,GR     6   0  6  1  0  5  0   0   7     3.86   6   3   3  1   2   0   6   0

It's true that he was only a little worse on back-to-back days. He allowed 1 more earned run in 3 fewer innings, and his hit rate was higher, and his strikeout rate was lower. But his numbers with zero days rest were still excellent. Interestingly, his numbers with 2 days rest were pretty bad, thanks I'm guessing to those 2 HR he allowed. I doubt that has much to do with how much rest he had.

Going back to 2007, we can learn a few things:

 I Split         G   GS GF  W  L  S CG SHO   IP    ERA   H   R   ER HR  BB IBB  SO HBP
   0 Days,GR      8   0  8  0  1  6  0   0   8     1.12   2   1   1  1   2   0  12   0
   1 Day,GR      13   0 11  0  1  9  0   0  13     3.46  10   5   5  1   6   0  19   1
   2 Days,GR     18   0 16  1  1 11  0   0  18     1.00   7   2   2  0   2   0  23   1
   3 Days,GR      8   0  7  0  0  6  0   0   8.1   3.24   6   3   3  2   2   0   9   0
   4 Days,GR      8   0  7  0  0  3  0   0   7     1.29   3   1   1  1   3   0  14   1
   5 Days,GR      3   0  3  0  0  1  0   0   3     0.00   2   0   0  0   0   0   5   1
   6+ Days,GR     1   0  1  0  0  1  0   0   1     0.00   0   0   0  0   0   0   2   0

Firstly, he was used a lot less on back-to-back nights, although his pitching was awesome in those cases. He was used on 2 days' rest a lot more as well. My guess is that the Red Sox management felt that he had gotten stronger in 2008 (he had an arm injury previously) and were willing to pitch him more frequently last year.

Anyway, sorry about the rant on the guy. Great pitcher, just a total jerk. He may match Rivera and Hoffman in performance but I don't think he'll ever match either guy in class.

11 Responses to “Papelbon”

  1. Jgeller Says:

    I go to college in Boston. Born a Yankee fan. There were Red Sox fans at my school who felt Papelbon was already the greatest relief pitcher of all time after 2006. I'm not saying greatest young relief pitcher, which he makes a case for. I'm saying better than Rivera, Hoffman, Gossage, Sutter, Eckersly, Fingers, and Wilhelm. You may call Papelbon a jerk, but he's the same as every single one of his fans.

  2. Andy Says:

    While I don't think it's fair to characterize EVERY one of his fans as a jerk, I do think there are quite a lot of jerks (and poorly educated baseball-wise) among Boston fans. The ratio seems a bit higher than among fans of other teams. I've never gotten over the whole "YANKEES SUCK" thing. That cheer was hugely popular when the Yankees clearly didn't suck, and all the proclamations to the opposite effect just made the fans proclaiming it seem really dumb and petty.

  3. wrobelmj Says:

    I have read plenty of papers by Bill James and of course have read the holy grail Moneyball, so I can't wrap my head around the huge contracts still going to closers. Time and time again it has been shown that closers are a glorified and overpaid position that could be better used in non-save situations on a regular basis. Why, with all the information out there about this trend hasn't at least one manager tried to employ the idea of not having a closer in the traditional sense to save his club money, or if such an example exists, what is it?

  4. Andy Says:

    This subject is far too heady for me to write a lengthy reply, but I think the answer boils down to two things:

    1) Expectations and

    2) How pitching staffs are assembled

    Management, fans, and even the players themselves expect the closer model to be followed. When it's not followed, such as by using closer-by-committee or using the best relief pitcher earlier in the game, these groups get antsy and angry at the manager. Patience for failure in these non-standard situations is much less than when a traditional closer blows the occasional save, which is chalked up as being part of the game. The pressure, therefore, is enormous, to use the best relief pitcher as the closer.

    As far as makeup of the staff, pretty much all teams have subscribed to the idea popularized by the 1996 Yankees, that the game can be shortened with an excellent closer and setup man. (Mind you, I don't think this argument can defeat James' assertions, I'm just stating the argument.) In 1996 the Yankees used Wetteland as their closer and Mariano as their setup guy. If they had a lead after 6 innings, the won a high percentage of the time. If they were tied or behind after 6 innings, they still had a chance to come back on offense. The model proved very successful for them that year, at least in the sense that they won the World Series. But I think if they played 100 seasons using that model, they would find that using those two guys in other ways would be slightly more optimal.

    But screwing the natural order of things causes so many problems. Do you think Papelbon would be happy to be used in the 6th or 7th inning, getting no saves during a season but getting a lot the highest Leverage Index outs, with regards to Win Probability Added? I doubt it. That stuff doesn't help in arbitration or free agency, at least not yet.

    And that brings me to how things will change. When Bill James starts going in and arguing arbitration cases for middle relievers and showing that a particular guy got the biggest outs for his team (as determined by LI and WPA.) That's when people will start paying attention to the stat. If LI and WPA ever started getting used by the general public, a lot of stuff would change.

  5. tomepp Says:

    Let's keep this about the player, and not start start ranting on team's fans. I am a Mets and BoSox fan, and an avowed Yankees hater (at least in the Steinbrenner era - not the Yankees of old...) I consider myself reasonably knowledgeable about baseball and am willing to research the facts before rendering opinions. In my experience, there are three types of Yankees fans -- the jerks (disproportionately larger than other teams' jerky fans in my experience), the "bandwagon" fans who glom with whatever the winning team du jour happens to be (not as many of these as there used to be), and the real/civil Yankees fans (whom I actually respect). Unfortunately, the last type seem to be few and far between.

    Anyway, I own Papelbon in my simulation baseball league, and have no plans of getting rid of him in the foreseeable future. Since releif pitchers -- especially closers -- tend to pitch fewer innings, I think that Pap's career numbers provide a more significant and relevant sample size. Since he's fairly young, those numbers are all "recent history". I do not know how to import data tables from the site into comments, but here's what you find:

    He has between 29 and 60 IP on 0, 1, 2, and 3 days rest, and 37 IP on 4 or more days rest (lumping them together). His numbers are uniformly excellent in each situation -- ERA < 2.50, H/9IP < 7.50, OB/9IP <9.00 (once IBBs are removed), HR/9 10.0 (except on 0 days rest when it is "only" 8.87 K/9IP)

    His numbers are better across the board on 0 days rest than 1 day rest, except in strikeout ratio.

    DR ERA H/9 OB*/9 HR/9 K/9
    -- --- --- ----- ---- ---
    0 1.21 6.25 7.86 0.60 8.9
    1 2.43 6.37 8.95 0.61 10.2

    By and large, he seems to do best on either 2 days rest or on 4+ days rest -- but I'd take his numbers in any of those situatuions!

    As to the character of the man himself, he may not be in the class of Rivera or Hoffman, but then he's not quite a John Rocker, either.

  6. wrobelmj Says:

    Thanks for the response, and I understand all the things you have said, James has even supplied those ideas in his, and his associates', writings (I am specifically referring to Baseball Between the Numbers), but how haven't any managers realized the importance of what James is saying? James is even employed by the Red Sox and they just signed Papelbon to an outrageous contract (in my mind at least). I guess what it boils down to is an answer nobody can provide, namely why haven't managers realized that stats like the save are totally useless and provide no insight into how a player actually preforms. It just fascinates me that no manager has ever refused to pay a closer on the basis that so much research now shows they aren't as important as a staff ace to be used at any point, not just in saves.

  7. Andy Says:

    I don't think that saves are a USELESS stat--there is something to be said for how a guy performs when trying to close out a game. In general I agree with your feeling. I also do think that some teams have tried to do what you say--many teams have a "middle relief ace" who is essentially filling the role that James describes. Ryan Madson comes to mind. One issue is that if the "middle relief ace" becomes an adopted position on all teams, then that guy is going to start earnings $10 million+ per year in addition to the closer--just more ballooning of salaries and payrolls. I'd be shocked if there aren't teams doing this type of analysis and trying to use capable pitchers in this fashion, but are just trying to keep it quiet.

    tomepp--this is what it boils down to me as far as Papelbon's character. When you look at celebrities, such as athletes, musicians, and actors, many of them have lifestyles that I personally would not want my own child subjected to. Many athletes carry guns, hunt, and use tobacco and alcohol more than in moderation. But you know what? It's their right to do those things. As long as they aren't doing it in public and talking about how great these things are during interviews, I don't care and I feel that I have no right to judge them. I don't hold them responsible for doing anything other than trying their best at their profession. But as soon as they start discussing these things by using their fame to spread the message, I have a problem with it. I have a problem with John Rocker disrespecting people of certain race, religion, or sexual orientation. I have a problem with Jonathan Papelbon talking about how wonderful it is to get drunk. I have a problem with Dave Matthews (musician) encouraging his fans to smoke marijuana. Mind you, I don't care what any of these guys does in his spare time or thinks in his head. I just have a problem when they try to use their fame to get others to do the same.

  8. JohnnyTwisto Says:

    I think you'll find that modern closers do have the highest Leverage Index on their teams. There are occasional situations when the key AB comes before they enter the game, but there aren't any setup guys who have higher LI overall. And there's no question that using closers for shorter and more predictable stints has increased their effectiveness.

    But the use of the bullpen and pitching staff will continue to change, as it has throughout baseball history, though I can't predict what the next trend will be. I do hope that teams don't start begging for 30-man rosters to fit their 10-man bullpens. With innings pitched by both starters and relievers continuing to fall, the best managers will be the ones who can maintain an effective staff without giving up their entire bench for even more pitchers.

  9. Jgeller Says:

    I was wrong to say all Red Sox fans are jerks. I'm sorry. But the ones who are are REALLY BIG JERKS so it's creates a stereotype.
    I wasn't saying Papelbon isn't good. He's phenomenal. I'm just saying for any player in baseball you gotta get at least 7 strong seasons before the talk can begin about him being of the best ever.
    I also think it's wrong to compare Papelbon to John Rocker. Rocker has something wrong in his head. Papelbon's attitude is more like a crazed frat boy. If you remember your college baseball teams, most players are like this. Most are compensating for a lack of elite talent. Those that spend their time improving themselves instead of partying make it to the big leagues. Papelbon just happened to make it to the majors and be a frat boy.
    Finally, there's a reason teams stick to the closer model instead of using your best reliever at the highest leverage situation. All baseball players like to follow a set routine. Players who start games have the luxury of knowing when they are playing. In order to prepare correctly, a reliever has to have an idea when he's gonna pitch, whether it's regularly the 7th inning or the 9th inning. That's why pitchers revolt against closer-by-committee. It throws them off their routine and screws with their heads. And with the big bucks they get now (several million a year for a middle reliever?) they can afford to be prima-donnas about how they are used.

  10. whiz Says:

    Some closers are used in high LI situations, others not. Brad Lidge pitched only in the 9th and had one (that's right, only one) inherited runner all season -- and he allowed him to score. I think this was a big factor in his perfect saves record.

    Mariano Rivera on the other hand had 20 inherited runners and allowed only 4 to score, and only had one blown save. To me that is more impressive than Lidge's feat. (Don't get me wrong, Lidge was still one of the top closers last year.)

    For a different way to measure closers that uses Win Probability Added, check out my recent article at Dugout Central:

    There will be some follow-up articles, but they are not submitted yet.

  11. JohnnyTwisto Says:

    Yet according to, Lidge still had the 6th highest LI when entering games in the league. (Two teammates, Romero and Durbin, were narrowly behind him. Maybe Philly had a lot of close games.)

    Might be interesting to see if there is a difference in the spread of LIs. Maybe every time Lidge pitches, closing a game, his LI is somewhere from (say) 1.2 to 2.0. Meanwhile perhaps Romero and Durbin were facing the really tough situations, LI of 3 or 4, but also had more "mop-up" work which dragged down their average.