Jonathan Papelbon Isn’t to Blame for Sunday’s Loss

Sunday’s loss in the series finale against the Mets in Queens, New York was about as ugly as they come. The Phillies took a 4-1 lead into the ninth inning, asking their bullpen to get three outs without giving up three runs. They gave up three runs. And then, in the bottom of the 12th, they gave up one more as the Mets walked off winners, avoiding a series sweep.

In the aftermath, many wondered why closer Jonathan Papelbon wasn’t available to close out the game. While he had closed out each of the two previous games against the Mets, he threw only 21 total pitches and theoretically couldn’t have been gassed from that workload. And even as recently as April 11-13, Papelbon pitched three days in a row, all against the Marlins, notching both save chances.

It turns out Papelbon was just sore. What was sore? “Everything,” the closer said, via CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury. “Back. Legs. You know, the daily grind of the season.”

Since then, many have criticized Papelbon’s willingness to pitch at less than 100 percent effectiveness, even though he did exactly that last season with hip soreness. Salisbury himself lays into Papelbon, comparing him to Chase Utley who is “sore every day”. Manager Ryne Sandberg, an old school kind of guy, said to Angelo Cataldi on 94WIP, “I don’t know, the pitchers just come up with some tenderness. This generation has a hard time of pitching or playing with some soreness. They’re unsure what the soreness is and yeah, I remember when a closer used to pitch two or three innings to get a save back in the day.”

Papelbon is the wrong person to blame here. Braves closer Craig Kimbrel dealt with a sore shoulder towards the end of April and early May and the Braves gave him a few days off. It wasn’t a big deal and nobody questioned his toughness because the Braves have a good enough bullpen to afford playing without Kimbrel for a small amount of time. And that was in the midst of a seven-game losing streak. Could you imagine if the Phillies didn’t just lose one game, but seven in a row partially because Papelbon wasn’t good to go? He’d have been run out of town.

The underlying issue is that the Phillies can’t trust anyone in their bullpen beyond Papelbon and even he has his own issues (declining velocity). Antonio Bastardo has had trouble hitting the strike zone. Mario Hollands has trouble missing bats. Mike Adams has only recently come back from shoulder surgery. Jake Diekman has given up a ton of hits. And those are the only other guys with any modicum of trust in a high-leverage situation. There’s still Jeff Manship, Luis Garcia, Shawn Camp, B.J. Rosenberg, and Brad Lincoln who you wouldn’t put within 50 feet of a high-leverage spot.

Inning PHI MLB Diff (G)
6 .765 .803 1
7 .750 .842 3
8 .750 .899 5
9 .800 .945 5

Since time immemorial, teams have won about 95 percent of games they have led going into the ninth inning. The Phillies have won only 80 percent
of the time. The table to the right shows what it looks like from the sixth through the ninth innings, along with the difference in games between the Phillies and the MLB average winning percentages.

Papelbon is the wrong target for anger over Sunday’s loss. By saying he should have pitched even though he was feeling sore, one argues he should have risked his health — and remember he’s been the only reliable reliever for the team — for the sake of one win. What if he overcompensated for his soreness and suffered a shoulder or elbow injury and he had to go on the disabled list for the rest of the season? Or, less dramatically, what if he landed on the DL for just a couple weeks? The Bastardo/Roberto Hernandez/Manship show we were privy to that afternoon would have been a bi- or tri-weekly occurrence.

The dependence on Papelbon is a direct result of the untrustworthiness of the rest of the bullpen. He is absolutely the wrong target for blame regarding Sunday’s loss to the Mets.

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  1. Tom

    May 13, 2014 07:52 AM

    I understand the minors are as thin as possible…but how is bastardo still on the roster? How, after years of the same thing, does he still have a job?

    • Mike Lacy

      May 13, 2014 08:01 AM

      Because Bastardo has had success in the major leagues, and is still better than most of the other guys they have.

    • Mark66

      May 13, 2014 09:25 AM

      Ever since he got caught using steroids he has not been the same

      • Mike Lacy

        May 14, 2014 04:53 PM

        He was very inconsistent in 2012 and had a shaky start to 2013 as well. I don’t think this can be blamed solely on the ‘roids.

  2. The Howling Fantods

    May 13, 2014 07:56 AM

    Our manager said that?


    • Evan

      May 13, 2014 08:38 AM

      I think he is still in the “not wanting to step on any toes” phase of his managerial career.

  3. TomG

    May 13, 2014 08:54 AM

    Absolutely. I’m not even going to bother to preface my comment with the usual disclaimer that anyone who defends Papelbon evidently thinks obligatory, viz., “I don’t like Papelbon but in this case I’ll defend him …”

    I was flabbergasted when I saw foax coming out of the woodwork to try to pin this loss on Papelbon. It’s a shame that what you write in this post needed to be said but … it did need to be said. Regardless of how one feels about Papelbon the person, it is the very height of ridiculousness to try to hold him responsible for this loss and to maintain that he should have made himself available to pitch despite his soreness in a game in which the Phillies had a three run lead going into the bottom of the 9th.

    Any team that loses such a lead and then puts itself in a position to be beaten by the likes of Ruben Tejada – and then is actually beaten by Ruben Tejada – has bigger issues than a closer who is unavailable for one day – a day, it should be added, on which the win should have been a dead certainty.

    Also: I’m having a difficult time understanding what is meant by “old school” when people describe Ryne Sandberg with that epithet. Wasn’t part of that the belief that what happens in the clubhouse stays there? You want to call out a player? Go up to him and do it face-to-face, like a man. You know … old school! Sandberg’s willingness to do it in the media, or have his minions (like Bowa) do it for him – as was done with JRoll in SP – is distressing, possibly counterproductive, and not very “old school.”

    Or if it is, fuck “old school”.

    • Alex Riley - Hitter's Count

      May 13, 2014 12:30 PM


  4. johnny eagle

    May 13, 2014 09:07 AM

    But it feels so good to blame Papelbon because he comes off like a self centered jackass. I do not know the guy, obviously, but from the seats he invites this scorn.

    • Mark66

      May 13, 2014 09:29 AM

      Papelbon speaks first and thinks the next day. He is brainless & stupid.

  5. Mark66

    May 13, 2014 09:24 AM

    Current players today are babies compared to players from the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Oh the truth hurts.

    • Tom

      May 13, 2014 10:36 AM

      Yeah…these darn kids and their rock and roll music and nintendo’s.

  6. Alex Riley - Hitter's Count

    May 13, 2014 09:46 AM

    There’s no doubt that Antonio Bastardo is the main culprit for blame from Sunday’s debacle, but I respectfully disagree that Papelbon should be absolved from blame. If Pap had thrown closer to 50 pitches over the previous two days, and he wasn’t guaranteed to be off the next day, and Thursday, and next Monday, then fine sit him. But he threw 21 pitches the prior two days and is the highest paid reliever in the game. Whatever soreness he had needed to be played through in my opinion. Rest is guaranteed to come this week and the Phillies obviously needed him.

    Ruben Amaro deserves some blame for the options he’s given Sandy.

    That makes non-Papelbon relievers zero for two in 9th inning save opportunities. You don’t soon forget Diekman blowing the Braves 5 run comeback game.

    • Steve

      May 13, 2014 10:30 AM

      It’s hard to blame a guy for not pitching through soreness, but I hadn’t considered the amount of off days coming up in the schedule. Makes Papelbon’s decision much tougher to swallow.

      Also, I assume that by ‘Sandy’ you’re referring to Ryne Sandberg? Hadn’t heard that before but has a nice ring to it. Not sure I’d say it to his face though!

  7. Bob

    May 13, 2014 10:24 AM

    Papelbon is another scapegoat for the organization failing to address the bp since Amaro took over as gm. He can’t pitch every game. A reliever will make about 65 appearances a year. Papelbon’s high is 70. Even with sitting Sunday out, he’s on pace to make 72 appearances. Diekman is on pace for 81 appearances and Bastardo is on pace for 76.5 appearances. With Mike Adams back, I’m hoping that these three’s usage will be cut down.

    It’s interesting that they mention Chase who routinely loses about 15 pounds throughout the year due to over-use. I’d have to check the stats, but I remember him tailing off in the second half of seasons because he is so beat up from playing every day. Athletes need to rest their muscles in order to maintain high performance and the baseball schedule, with games every day, is not conducive that. It’s up to the manager to regularly rest his guys because guy’s want to play, and Ryno’s been good, I think, about getting position players rest. But he’s taxing his top bp arms who are going to be tired in August-September. At least Paps is smart enough to know he needs a day off for maintenance now and then.

    • Mark66

      May 13, 2014 03:54 PM

      Then why didn’t players used to rest yrs ago ? They played alot more than the players today. They even use to play alot of doubleheaders.

  8. Keith

    May 13, 2014 11:34 AM

    Absolutely agree… and that’s coming from someone who despises most things papelbon does. The person to blame would be the one who put together this thing that we’re supposed to believe is a bullpen.

  9. Mash2715

    May 13, 2014 11:47 AM

    Using Hernandez on 2 days maybe rest tells me a lot about this team, you just don’t do that with a guy making 4.5Mill and who you need desperately to get to the end of the year. I am disappointed with Sandberg who makes that call. The pitching coach should carry some blame as well. I am sure we have starters at AA and AAA who may be on a upswing, cycle the thin talent and those who want to get better and earn a spot. Using a game 1 starter who won by the way while several guys in the pen did not pitch in the series is ludicrous. Why have them here? And if you think development is sacrificed I am sure using a couple starters in minors versus reliever in majors is not going to upset the applecart in development. Pap has pitched well. Bastardo and Adams are run of the mill or are not motivated!

    • Mark66

      May 13, 2014 03:56 PM

      How can you say they aren’t motivated ? to play a kids game and get paid millions of dollars. Am I missing something here ?

  10. Dan

    May 13, 2014 01:28 PM

    I think this has way more to do with his contract than it does with the lack of reliability on the rest of the bullpen, though that is obviously a major factor. Still, this fanbase has a hard time embracing anyone with a contract, and that isn’t limited to just in baseball. How many “We paid $50 million for THIS?” type comments did you see this past weekend?

  11. Mac

    May 13, 2014 03:01 PM

    Article about the 3rd base situation in the works? Franco starting to Hit. Also like what Asche is starting to do as well. An infield of Asche, Crawford, Hernandez and Franco in a few years would be great. If they all pan out.

    • Mark66

      May 13, 2014 03:58 PM

      If this then that. Woulda, coulda, shoulda. Deal with today and play ball.

  12. yadayada

    May 13, 2014 08:47 PM

    Conclusion: the bullpen is not very good.

  13. Iatrogenes

    May 13, 2014 11:04 PM

    Sunday’s bullpen meltdown against the Mets is to be expected …unless you expect a more willing Papelbon, with reduced velocity, to go the rest of the season like 2008 Lidge – perfect – and there is no reason to expect that to happen. This awful bullpen will get no outside relief so the only improvement must come from within from the roster and the minors …and there is no reason for optimism to believe that will magically happen. So far this season, the Phillies have had 19 save opportunities and blown eight, the second worst in the NL to Pittsburgh’s nine. Given that Papelbon, after having blown his first save in Arizona, has had 11 straight perfect saves, it means the rest of the bullpen has blown 7 of the remaining 8 save opportunities. To me, it’s even worse than it appears, and it appears dreadful. The bullpen has the worst BA against (.343), the worst OPS against (.783), the worst WHIP* (1.42), and the second-worst ERA (4.75) in the NL. Sadly, expect to see more of what happened Sunday.

  14. Mark66

    May 14, 2014 04:58 PM

    Here we are Weds–another loss. We have lost 7 of 9. Again no offense, D. Brown rapidly closing in on .200. Burnet off 5 inn. 7 hits & 5 BB, terrible performance. Terrible performances are becoming the norm for this team. I suggest we stop calling them the Philadelphia Phillies and start calling them the Philadelphia Underachievers, with 3 of the top 10 salaries in all of baseball along with a 185,000,000 payroll. Bring in players that want to play and win, not just collect a paycheck.

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