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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?