Jonathan Papelbon: The Most Overrated MLB Player?

Thomas H.Correspondent IJune 10, 2011

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 04:  Jonathan Papelbon #58 of the Boston Red Sox is held back by manager Terry Francona #47 in the ninth inning against the Oakland Athletics on June 4, 2011 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

Jonathan Papelbon reached his 200th career save on Tuesday night as the Sox defeated the Yankees in the Bronx on their way to a sweep. He became the fastest player to reach this milestone.

But guess what?

It doesn't mean a darn thing.

Here is what you might have overlooked: Papelbon has pitched in 359 games, entering 234 of those games with the opportunity to get a save.

Compare that to the likes of Dennis Eckersley (390 saves) and Mariano Rivera (575 saves), who were or are not the traditional single-inning closer like Papelbon. 

Papelbon has pitched 1.09 innings per game in his career. Basically, Terry Francona has strictly used Pap in ninth-inning situations. Meanwhile, Rivera pitches about 1.16 innings per appearance. However, Rivera's statistic is only that low because Joe Girardi is like most modern managers in that he uses his best reliever strictly to shut down the game.

What I am getting here at is that modern baseball has created this huge importance that is placed on ninth-inning relief. Rivera was often a five- or six-out pitcher in the success of the turn of the century Yankees, but Papelbon has only known this closer role.

Still, just the fact that he is trained to only enter games with no one on base at the beginning of the ninth doesn't mean he is a bad pitcher. 

In fact, Papelbon was once magnificent in this role. In 2007, Jonathan Papelbon pitched 68.1 innings with an incredible 0.78 WHIP and 1.85 ERA. He raked in 87 strikeouts in this role while only walking 15, an astonishing fact.  

Though Francisco Rodriguez would overshadow the next year with the useless statistic of 62 saves, Papelbon would have strong '08 and '09 seasons. 

Yet 2010 began his demise. Papelbon allowed an embarrassing 29 runs in 67 innings, as his WHIP almost doubled from 2007 (to 1.27). 

Papelbon could no longer finish the simple ninth inning he needed. He blew eight saves in 2010. 

With Pap's demise came Daniel Bard's growth. Bard has had his WHIP go from 1.04 last year to 0.86 this year, and much like Papelbon, Daniel has fallen into single-inning outings (eighth inning). He has a strikeout to walk ratio of 4.83—absolutely incredible.

Not to mention he is a bargain, making $415,000 last year. Papelbon, on the other hand, is making $12 million this year alone.

In his last seven appearances, Papelbon has allowed eight runs. He has even had the pleasure of picking up a three-game ban while arguing over balls and strikes with an umpire. 

Only twice this season has Pap pitched more than an inning. Compare this with reliever Alfredo Aceves, who has been able to give long relief after poor starts by Red Sox pitchers. For instance, in a 14-inning marathon against the Athletics, Aceves gave one run in four innings as he picked up the win for the Sox.

That same night? Jonathan Papelbon pitched for one out and gave up three earned runs. In 29 pitches, he was able to throw 10 balls.

Theo Epstein understands that he may be able to get more for Papelbon than he is worth. The one-year contract for Papelbon was a testing period, a chance for Bard to mature and Papelbon to try to bounce back. This summer, though, Papelbon might be used as trade bait after this horrid last 15 months.

Make no mistake—Pap is still dangerous. His splitter is still a fine weapon, and he has one of the best fastballs in the league. But Papelbon has begun to have trouble with walks and often gives up home runs. It seems he has lost his touch for late-game heroics, but when will the average GM realize this?

They may have noticed already.