Phillies pitcher Jonathan Papelbon was a classic case study in Freudian defense mechanisms Monday night. After surrendering the game-winner to the Los Angeles Dodgers and taking the loss, Papelbon decided to blame someone else for his misfortune.
To say Papelbon was off his game might be an understatement. He gave up a leadoff triple and an RBI single before settling down and retiring the side. After the inning, he was ready to challenge plate umpire D.J. Reyburn; ready to get ejected and show the world that the mean man in black unjustly ruined his night.
Instead, as the half-inning concluded, crew chief Derryl Cousins stepped in between Papelbon and the plate, preventing Papelbon from making good on his umpire-baiting intentions: "The other umpire [Cousins] came over and said, 'What are you doing over there?' and I said, 'I'm going to ask [Reyburn] a question,' he wouldn't even let me ask him a question."
In classic Freudian psychology, defense mechanisms are unconscious strategies employed by living beings to cope with reality and to maintain a sense of self-image. For the psychologists amongst us, Papelbon was a perfect case study in defense mechanisms on Monday night.
Specifically, Papelbon's rant to the media was the embodiment of the Level 2 (immature) mechanism known as projection. Defined as a primitive form of paranoia, projection involves blaming others for self-failure and shirking responsibility or guilt because one cannot cope with consciously admitting personal faults. In stating, "I thought [Reyburn] was terrible," Papelbon coped with giving up the game-winner by shifting blame onto someone else.
In the neurotic categorization of mechanisms, Papelbon demonstrated rationalization, also known as making excuses to justify questionable or overtly puerile behavior. Shot down by Cousins in his attempt to confront Reyburn, Papelbon rationalized that his performance was superb and fully ruined by the umpires.
To summarize, the entire interview given by Papelbon was a textbook example of the immature defense mechanism known as acting out, which is what Papelbon also occasionally does on the mound.
Finally, we consider the pathological defense mechanism of denial and distortion: Did Reyburn really miss a significant number of calls during Papelbon's outing?
In a word, no.
Though Papelbon did not receive one called strike during his performance, the Dodgers were decidedly aggressive at the plate in their last at-bat, swinging at 14 of the 17 pitches seen in the top of the ninth.
The three pitches not swung at were all ruled balls. Because MLB employs pitch f/x technology, we may use computerized measurements corresponding to ball location to determine the accuracy of these calls.
To assist us in this endeavor, the Umpire Ejection Fantasy League has determined the following horizontal increments of pitch location (px values) to determine balls/strikes quality of correctness (UEFL Rule 6-2-b-1):
- 0.00 to 0.768 - The pitch must be a strike.
- 0.769 to 0.935 - Due to the pitch f/x system's margin of error, this pitch is borderline and may be either a strike or a ball. Such determination cannot conclusively be proven.
- Greater than 0.936 - The pitch may be a ball.
The UEFL's determination for horizontal pitch location is much simpler: Normalized height values greater than 1.000 shall be ruled balls, while values less than 1.000 shall be ruled strikes.
For Papelbon's outing, we consider:
Ball No. 1: Located well into the right-handed batter's box, this pitch was clearly a ball (px of -1.356).
Ball No. 2: With a px value of 0.809, this pitch is borderline and cannot be conclusively confirmed as a ball nor a strike.
Ball No. 3: With a normalized height of -1.75 and px of 1.464, this pitch is obviously a ball.
To review, "terrible" and "probably needs to go back to Triple-A?" These are simply defense mechanisms that are not rooted in reality, but psychologically manipulated thoughts designed to protect oneself from anxiety, disappointment or other negative thoughts relating to self-image.
This is not a phenomenon unique to Papelbon—Yorvit Torrealba threw a huge tantrum the other day in Anaheim—but it demonstrates the volatile emotions of the sport and clearly delineates between players who are mature and emotionally healthy, such as former Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga, and those who have yet to reach that state.
Gil Imber is Bleacher Report's Rules Featured Columnist and owner of Close Call Sports, a website dedicated to the objective and fair analysis of close or controversial calls in sports.