2015 Phillies Report Card: Jonathan Papelbon

I used to hate Jonathan Papelbon. I hated his stink of Red Sox overexposure, the Trachselian breaks he took between pitches, his suffocating semiliterate meathead overconfidence.

Then came the Crotch Waggle Heard Round the World. Then he went on College GameDay, as sober as I am willing to get sued for libel for suggesting otherwise, resplendent in the maroon of his native Mississippi State Bulldogs, and while brandishing an unlit cigar so large it would’ve made Sigmund Freud blanch, traded barbs with Lee Corso and shook Mississippi State’s live bulldog mascot in front of a national television audience.

Clanga clanga.

It was at that moment that I reversed my position on the Phillies’ controversial closer. Certainly he was unwatchable, and crass, and grossly macho. He was of a philosophical stripe with the kind of people who claim that we did not, in fact, evolve from apes–and the more you watch Papelbon conduct himself in public, the less certain you become that humans actually evolved from apes at all.

But I started to find Papelbon’s act endearing. There was something authentic about his aggressive stupidity, and the way he jumped aboard a sinking ship in 2012 and seemed earnestly surprised and aggrieved when it went underwater two years later.

And you know what? There was never a moment at which he didn’t take the ball and throw the hell out of it. Say what you will about the man–and I have–but between the lines he was a beacon of light, a Hall of Fame-quality reliever (if such a thing exists) doing his level best while wasting the last years of his prime in service of a team that’s beneath his dignity, such as it is.

Sometimes we act like playing baseball for a living is such a privilege that players do, or even should, sublimate all other worldly considerations in pursuit of winning in the short term. This is bullshit. Baseball is demanding, but it’s a job–you’ll have good days and bad days, and even if you want to try your hardest, sometimes it’s hard to perform at your best when you truly hate the situation you’re working in. Papelbon, for all his other faults, and as much as he agitated for a trade, didn’t let up a bit no matter how deplorably his teammates played, in a situation that would’ve crushed my will, and yours, in a fraction of the time he endured it. For that, I salute him.

None of which made what happened to Papelbon after he left any less enjoyable. The Nationals, clinging to the side of the cliff, sent a trivial player to the Phillies and hoped to fend off the Mets. Instead, Papelbon pushed Drew Storen out of the closer’s role (again) and drove him out of his mind, and became a noisy but little-used albatross as the Nationals capitulated.

Remember the last time Phillies fans saw Papelbon, and imagine being Bryce Harper in that moment. You’ve carried this team on your back all year, amid mountains of undeserved criticism. You’ve been the one constant point for a team that was supposed to beat wholesale ass all year, and had instead proved itself to be grossly inept in all things. And in the moment of your final, futile failure, there stands Papelbon, with his terminal case of mouth-like-anus, standing on the top step of the dugout heckling you.

How could you do anything in that moment but conclude that God hates you, and has sent his plagues, in the form of Jonathan Papelbon, to visit you in service of an as yet unrevealed purpose? That’s what Harper concluded, and it is as fitting a memory as we could ask for of one of the most distinctive Phillies in recent history.

Grade: A-

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16 comments

  1. Romus

    October 12, 2015 09:27 AM

    Oh Paps…if he is not grabbing crouches, he is grabbing throats…he is more or less, a hands on guy.

  2. Francisco (FC)

    October 12, 2015 09:38 AM

    I will point out that there isn’t a grade at the end of this report card.

    • Bubba0101

      October 12, 2015 10:42 AM

      Grades are irrelevant when kids drop out of school.

      • Jonnie Pap

        October 12, 2015 01:57 PM

        WTF!
        Just an ‘A minus’ !
        ….I posted up every day. 🙂

  3. Tim

    October 12, 2015 12:07 PM

    The other thing that should contribute to a decent grade for Papelbon: he generally had the most interesting answers to those “Ask the Phillies” segments between innings. While he may (definitely) be an unrepentant asshole, judging by his answers he’s also a true weirdo, and in this case I mean it in the good sense.

  4. Major Malfunction

    October 12, 2015 02:04 PM

    His stats say HoF reliever, but he’s basically another Barry Bonds for obvious different reasons. They let Ty Cobb in and he was an unapologetic racist. Although times have changed, it will be interesting to see what happens when Papelbon gets his turn with the BBWAA. There is an obvious change over going on there and the old school folks are being washed out and the FIPS, SIERRA, WAR, and OPS+ crowd is moving in. And although he’s only a reliever, could they vote him in based on “real” stats and overlook the gape?

    • Romus

      October 12, 2015 02:13 PM

      He only needs to pitch 3/4 more years and average 25/30 saves a year and he shoots right near the top of the leader board. The Sox WS time also helps his cause. Plus…..I can see one of the networks hiring him with his personality to increase ratings, and his image improves.
      1. Mariano Rivera (19) 652
      2. Trevor Hoffman (18) 601
      3. Lee Smith (18) 478
      4. John Franco (21) 424
      5. Billy Wagner (16) 422
      6. Dennis Eckersley+ (24) 390
      7. Francisco Rodriguez (14, 33) 386 …active
      8. Joe Nathan (15, 40) 377 ….active
      9. Jeff Reardon (16) 367
      10. Troy Percival (14) 358
      11. Jonathan Papelbon (11, 34) 349 …active

      .

    • Michael C Lorah

      October 12, 2015 02:47 PM

      The save stat itself is, rightly, losing favor, but Pap’s performance in ERA, Ks, etc. has always been outstanding. His HOF case is strong and figures to get stronger as the counting stats pile up and lend some old-school credence to his elite performance.

      The only major strike against him is the question of reliever value in general – how much value does a guy who pitches “only” 60 innings a season really have. Personally, while I think the save is over-rated, I’m not 100% sure that the “closer” is. Lots of good teams have failed for lack of a viable bullpen. Maybe using that elite bullpen pitcher for the ninth inning exclusively isn’t maximizing your win probability, but having a pitcher of that caliber is certainly a big asset.

      • 100Bucks

        October 12, 2015 05:32 PM

        Saves are actually undervalued, IMO. In the 9th inning with a game on the line you face batters who are fully focused. Ryan Madson is a terrific set-up man but he could not hack the 9th inning. the reason was because batters are less patient and focused during the middle innings. In the 9th they often come to bat like its the playoffs. Great relievers outsmart and out duel great batters for the final 3 outs.

      • Romus

        October 12, 2015 06:47 PM

        Granted MCL,
        …there is one certain aspect of the ‘save ‘ rule … a reliever enters the game with a lead of no more than three runs and pitches for at least one inning….would seem a bit dubious since a three run lead most of the time going into the last inning should hold up for most any pitcher on a staff.
        Perhaps reducing that run threshold, would make the save a more meaningful measurement of a relief pitcher

      • Michael C Lorah

        October 12, 2015 10:18 PM

        100Bucks, in Madson’s one season as the Phillies full-time closer in 2011, he saved 32 of 34 opportunities, posted a 2.37 ERA (with a 162 ERA+ and 2.25 FIP, if you’re into those things) and punched out 62 hitters in 60.2 innings. While you felt he couldn’t save games, I felt he should’ve been the full-time closer at least a season sooner – and probably even by the second half of 2009.

  5. Greg

    October 12, 2015 02:08 PM

    I think that photo of Paps pretty much sums it all up.

    • Romus

      October 12, 2015 02:14 PM

      He does look a bit crazed!

  6. thephillyphorum

    October 12, 2015 02:48 PM

    Mr. Bauman, you hit all the high notes in this one. Bravo! However, it seemed to me that Papelbon “the posting upingest”, had a pretty mediocre record in tie games or games in which the team was down by a run or two. And while I am well aware that closers are not perfect, Pap also seemed to have a knack for suck the soul right out of the team type blown saves… Momentum busters. In his first year (the last Phils roster capable of making some post-season noise) in particular. That early May game against the Mets, phils go on to loose next 4 of 5 (after clawing to within a game of .500).. The game he blew in LA in June when the Phils had finally hit .500 felt it like took the wind right out of our sails (they bombed the rest of the month, our beautiful Philadelphia baseball juggernaut essentially keeling over)…Look at his stats over the final month this year in Wash… Just when the Nats needed him the most…

  7. Mike

    October 12, 2015 11:14 PM

    Tool.

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