Key Stats: There’s a reason that Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon said that he was not sad to see Jonathan Papelbon take his talents to the National League. In the best offensive division in baseball since Papelbon entered the league in 2005, Papelbon has a 2.33 ERA and has finished with more than 30 saves 6 times. He went through a rough stretch in 2009 and 2010, but bounced back in a huge way last year. Papelbon’s walk rate went down from 3.8 BB/9 to 1.4 BB/9. All the while his strikeouts went up exactly 2 batters per 9 innings. The command of the strike zone and rediscovered dominance of the hitters he faces looks even better as Papelbon ditches the DH for the first time in his career.
Skeptics Say: Last season was a contract year, and comparing 2010 to 2011 it looks like Papelbon knew about it. The two seasons are huge contrasts to one another.
Peer Comparison: What Ryan Madson ends up getting for a contract is still uncertain, but Scott Boras should look no furthen than Papelbon to tell clubs how much he’s worth. Papelbon got the most money ever for a free agent reliever thanks to the body of work he’s had in his whole career (beyond the numbers he’s closed high pressure games in a high pressure city). Madson hasn’t been a closer for his whole career as Papelbon has, but has also won a World Series in a tough place to play. Madson is the same age as Papelbon, and over the last two years is the better pitcher.
Madson since 2010: 2.45 ERA 1.10 WHIP 126 K
Papelbon since 2010: 3.43 ERA 1.10 WHIP 163 K
In terms of fantasy value, Papelbon is probably going to end up with the greater value (depending on where and what role he ends up with), but the two are very close. CBS ranks Papelbon as the second best closer, but has Madson as the 14th best closer. That gap is way too big. Wait on Madson and pass on Paps.
Team Outlook: Fenway Park was the third best park in the majors for hitters last year while Citizens Bank was 11th. Philadelphia was slightly more conducive for home runs though – a big issue for Papelbon in that subpar 2010 season. Also keep in mind, that the Phillies were first in complete games last year (Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, and Cliff Lee combined for more CGs than any staff in baseball). The Red Sox had just two complete games all season compared to the Phillies’ 18. In close games Papelbon was in last year. It won’t necessarily be the case this season.
Projection: Papelbon’s fastball was thrown about 75% of the time last year. It’s not exactly Mariano Rivera’s cutter, but hitters knew it was coming and still couldn’t hit it last year. Facing a new league Papelbon will have the advantage. Look for more strikeouts.
4 wins 34 saves 2.80 ERA 1.09 WHIP 83 K in 69 innings