Jonathan Papelbon: Phillies Lacked Leadership

Via Hardball Talk via

Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon did not mince words this week when asked about what it is that his team lacks.

“Since I’ve been here I haven’t seen any leadership,” Papelbon said.


“I felt like I could have been a little bit better leader than what I was, and I held back at some times,” Papelbon said.

Is there one example, at any point in baseball history, where a team was considered to have great leadership but was a disappointment? Or a very successful team that completely lacked leadership? Ostensibly, there is a perfect one-to-one correlation with the presence of leadership and regular season and post-season success. What a coincidence!

Of course, most of these intangible qualities are applied after the fact. If you had kept the Phillies’ record and place in the standings secret from Papelbon throughout the season, do you think he would feel the same way about the lack of leadership? If he was told the Phillies were 110-52 and won the division by 25 games, he likely would have praised the presence of leadership — remember, the 2007-11 teams apparently had it in spades.

Regardless of its legitimacy, it is an eyebrow-raising statement from Papelbon, whose teammates last year included Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Roy Halladay. Though injured, the three are considered the parental units and spokespeople of the team. Even beyond those three, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Juan Pierre, and Placido Polanco have been praised at one point or another for leadership qualities. This off-season saw the addition of Michael Young, who leaks leadership out of every orifice. Searching Google for “Michael Young” and “leadership” yields nearly 260,000 results.

The Phillies faltered last year because of older players succumbing to injuries and handing their playing time to sub-optimal replacements. Going from Howard (career .381 wOBA) to Ty Wigginton (.330). John Mayberry and his .303 wOBA getting 479 plate appearances. Polanco (.279) and Freddy Galvis (.267) unable to hit their way out of a wet paper bag when they weren’t on the disabled list. Bad luck in the bullpen, and Cliff Lee‘s personal bout with misfortune. Change any of that and Papelbon is singing a completely different tune.

The worst part about Papelbon’s comments, even beyond its questionable accuracy, is the timing. He is likely being critical to motivate his teammates, but the comments just off as whiny and accusatory, and the most likely scenario is that many of his teammates bristle at the notion that they were spineless en route to the team’s first uneventful October since 2006. But would you expect anything else from Papelbon?

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  1. Phillie697

    February 22, 2013 10:33 AM

    Leaders lead, whiners whine. Ladies and gentlemen, our 50 MILLION DOLLAR closer!!!

  2. TomG

    February 22, 2013 10:53 AM

    Michael Young […] leaks leadership out of every orifice.

    If Michael Young tried to leadership me, I’d be all: “Hey Michael Young! Shut yer leadership hole! No, not that one … the other one. By the way, how did you do that?”

    ^^The only reason that comment doesn’t make it first ballot into the Crashburn comment hall of fame is I was on steroids when I made it.

    I like how Pap says there were times when he himself didn’t step up and take a leadership role. I think he’s a great closer, but I’m even more convinced he’s a bit of a head case – and I don’t mean that in the good sense – and I can’t imagine anyone listening to him when he gives “leadership-y” advice.

    Except Jim Thome, who did hit that walk-off homer when Pap told him to. Why didn’t Pap tell more people to hit walk-offs? That seems a no-brainer. I guess he lacks that kind of leadership ability.

  3. Dan

    February 22, 2013 11:09 AM

    Professional baseball players come prepared to play at the highest level every single day, regardless of the amount of “leadership” on the team. That’s one of the reasons why they’re professionals.

  4. BobSmith77

    February 22, 2013 11:16 AM

    Dan- BS especially over a season that now stretches from mid-Feb to early Nov, with tons of travel, and 162 games in between.

  5. Phillie697

    February 22, 2013 11:22 AM


    That’s what we pay coaches and managers and the medical staff and trainers for, no?

  6. Pat

    February 22, 2013 11:25 AM

    So if Rowand was the last vocal leader of the team and he left before we won a world series, doesn’t that show that you don’t need a vocal leader to win?

  7. Jesse

    February 22, 2013 11:37 AM

    Manuel is senile. Wasn’t Burrell notoriously outspoken as a leader? Either post or during Wagner’s exit I remember Burrell spokesmanning for the team as a whole saying Wagner was a chump.

  8. BenJah

    February 22, 2013 11:38 AM

    papelbon’s MOUTH has always bothered me more than his contract

  9. SJHaack

    February 22, 2013 11:58 AM

    I find it patently hilarious that anyone in, around, or aware at even the most nebulous levels of a team with Jimmy “Swag-O-Meter” “Team To Beat In The NL East” Rollins on it for 13 straight years would suggest that it lacks vocal leadership.

  10. whatmighthavebeen

    February 22, 2013 12:02 PM

    must be spring training

  11. Jim

    February 22, 2013 12:05 PM

    I remember the teams when Mike Schmidt was the only real superstar left and it fell on him to be the clubhouse leader. I recall it not going too well. As good as he was (and the idiots that booed him should be flogged) he just wasn’t good at being a vocal leader. Sometimes excellent players think that anyone that doesn’t reach their level needs to be brow-beaten to raise their game and therefore “vocally lead”. Other times excellent players realize they are good without having to be coddled and expect others to just man-up and act like men (practice, train, ask for advice…) without being told.

  12. BobSmith77

    February 22, 2013 01:02 PM

    Players are still human and even the most competitive players i would bet admit that there are at least a handful of games a year where they are 100% prepared and 100% mentally into a game.

  13. BobSmith77

    February 22, 2013 01:11 PM

    His is Manuel senile? He gave his opinion on the topic which would be almost impossible for an outsider to judge unless they were granted insider access daily and were able to collect data/opinions anonymously.

  14. Cutter

    February 22, 2013 01:36 PM

    I don’t know what Papelbon hoped to accomplish here.

    Did he think that Chase Utley or Roy Halladay were going to react by saying, “By golly, he’s right! We need to be better leaders! Gather round, everybody while we share some inspiring words!”

  15. Ryan D

    February 22, 2013 02:00 PM

    I think he meant “declining walk rate.”

  16. JM

    February 22, 2013 02:05 PM

    Maybe he meant Bullpen leadership….

  17. JM

    February 22, 2013 02:18 PM

    since it is Papelbon, i will offer another point of view. He also could have meant there were no ocean going vessels captained by the leaders of the team…

  18. JM

    February 22, 2013 02:19 PM

    Because if there were, you can bet JMJ would have been mermaid fishing!

  19. NitWitFirstResponder

    February 22, 2013 02:29 PM

    Not a lot of experienced athletes in these posters.

    1.) I don’t care how good you are it was not Pappelbon’s “place” coming to a team with Roy Halladay, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins and attempting to take over a role as a team leader on a team that didn’t belong to him BEFORE Feb 2012. Except for the rare example, 99% of the individuals that come into an environment that has already established leaders and a winning atmosphere. Jayson Werth was able to move onto the Nationals because they were a team that also lacked any leadership and before last season had not experienced a winning environment. I don’t care what anybody says, I give Pappelbon a pass for the 2012 season. He has been a full year, did not attempt to step on anyone’s toes and now has the opportunity to more fully assert himself into a role that he states was nonexistent last season.

    2.) a main reason the team didn’t have the leadership last year was due to the absence of Utley, Howard and Halladay – the teams try leaders. Being out with the various injuries KILLED the team last year. When a teams best pitcher, three & four hole hitters and also team leaders are missing and not a part of the equation guess what happens? The 2012 season.

    3.) Pappelbon’s comments – at least to me – spoke volumes regarding Jimmy Rollins roll on the team. It seems that at a time when the teams best hitters and leaders were unable and unavailable to help to team Jimmy Rollins apparently failed pretty miserably at attempting to fill that void in the lineup and in the clubhouse.

  20. amarosucks

    February 22, 2013 03:24 PM

    I’m sick of the 2012 injuries being used an excuse. The nats had more injuries than the phils and it didn’t seem to bother them.

    papelbon is a tool. always has been, always will be. he’s not as dislikable as billy wagner was, but it’s close.

  21. JCB

    February 22, 2013 03:25 PM

    NitWit, it’s not Papelbon’s place because he’s a reliever. I don’t care if he’s been here for 10 years. He doesn’t have the skill and knowledge to really give advice to Dom Brown, John Mayberry Jr, and anyone else who is young enough to seek leadership. Essentially, the only thing Papelbon could do with those players is to lead by example by working hard. We have enough of those guys on the team.

    The bullpen was full of really young guys who could have benefited from any wisdom Papelbon could have bestowed on them. For me, that doesn’t get a 2012 pass.

    With that being said, the “leadership” quality is a fabricated trait in my eyes to give writers something to talk about. Jimmy Rollins “failed pretty miserably” while being a gold glover and one of the best hitting shortstops in the game.

  22. NitWitFirstResponder

    February 22, 2013 03:50 PM


    Wrong about the injuries! We’re not talking bout any injuries, we’re talking about three perennial All-Stars, team leaders, your staff’s #1 starter and the meat of your batting order!!!! I’m sorry, if you take Harper, Strasburg and Zimmerman off the Nats for 3/4 of the season they are making the same excuses.

  23. amarosucks

    February 22, 2013 04:05 PM

    nats lost heart of their order as well (morse/werth…zimm also missed some time). storen. desmond. ramos.

    nats had more injuries. phils problem is they didn’t have any depth. thanks to amaro, they still don’t.

    bottom line is that the phils roster is built to fail. people can blame injuries, but that’s a cop out. the gm has built something that’s destined to fail.

  24. Cutter

    February 22, 2013 04:53 PM


    Yes, the Phillies have less depth than the Nats as they have a top heavy roster. But sometimes that works out very well (See 2011)

  25. Scott G

    February 22, 2013 05:23 PM

    In 2011 the phillies depth didnt matter. Chase utley was really the only significant regular to miss significant time. Their top 3 starters all pitched in 32 games and had insane years. Their closer pitched well and pitched often.

    Everythiing went well on the field, and I don’t know about their place historically, but id say not many teams had fewer missed games by the number 1 on their depth chart on defense.

  26. futties

    February 22, 2013 06:01 PM

    enjoyed reading these responses to pap’s rap mainly coz nowhere did i have to read about bloody sabershmetrics and wars and blah-de-blah-blah that (to me) has nothing to do with my love of the game & phillies. find it curious those who comdemn him for, ahem, speaking out of turn. problem with reading crap on the straight sites is all the laundered raves and careful tippy-toeing around (aka bullshit). team badly needs a poo-stirrer. now, if pap only pitches as well as he bitches…

  27. Hog

    February 22, 2013 07:58 PM

    I don’t think the statement is too far off, when the clubs leaders were all injured at some point during the season, it’s not much of stretch that the leaders were too busy with their own issues to put much into anyone elses

  28. hk

    February 23, 2013 07:39 AM

    Jon Papelbon, discussing the leaking of stories about players drinking beer and fried chicken in the Red Sox clubhouse in 2011: “I was surprised,” he said. “I thought a lot of it was kind of unnecessary and a lot if it kind of didn’t really play into the fact that there is still a game to be played and there is still baseball to be played besides what is going on in the clubhouse and the private things going on between players and coaches in the clubhouse.”

    Jon Papelbon discussing 2012: “It was an all-around leadership void from A to Z. From being a vocal leader to being an off-the-field leader to being an on-the-field leader to everything. You can’t just point your finger at what type of leadership was missing. It was the whole part of the equation. Our team identity is formed by that leadership.”

    Which is it Jon? Should the private things that go on between players and coaches in the clubhouse be kept private or should players, coaches and the manager be called out for not being leaders?

  29. Cole Handsome

    February 23, 2013 04:52 PM

    Sarge said something today about not needing leadership when you have clutch hits. That makes sense to me.

    The Phillies are saddled with Papelbon’s contract in a transition year. If the Phillies repeat 2012, Manuel, Ruiz, Halladay and Utley will follow Victorino and Pence. He’s seen this before in Boston.

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