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Save It.

Daniel Bard might be the best bard to work his magic from a pen since William Shakespeare, but there is no proof he is a closer the caliber of Papelbon. He might throw like Nolan Ryan, but close games like Ken Ryan. You just don't know.

That's why lights-out closers like Papelbon and Nathan are one of the most undervalued commodities in modern baseball.

Chris Gasper at the Globe pokes a beehive. Can this last line possibly be true, what with Mariano Rivera and Francisco Rodriguez both making as much money as they do?  Hell, Bobby Jenks has 4.09 years of service and is making over $7M, while Dustin Pedroia's new-ish backloaded contract pays him merely $3.75M. Jonathan Papelbon himself, with only 4.06 years of service is outearning Victor Martinez (6.1 years of service) $9.3M to $7.7M. He goes on to compare relievers to starters, but fails to acknowledge the simple idea that innings have value, regardless of context. He then goes on to offer this whopper:

Arguably, the biggest reason the Yankees have won five world titles in Rivera's 15 seasons is Rivera.

Now, we love Mariano, even as a Sox fan. And we pretty obviously know how great a player he is.  But is he the "biggest" reason the Yankees won those five world series? Would Yankee fans even make this claim? Really, who PUT Rivera in the position to close any of the games he did close? This claim of Gasper's seems really silly.

Curious to know the thoughts from readership.

14 replies on “Save It.”

The most undervalued commodity in baseball is a player who does a bunch of things well, but doesn’t do anything great.
Mariano has certainly been a key part of the Yanks’ championships, but the nature of the game makes it almost impossible that he would be the most valuable player on his team. He just hasn’t been involved in enough innings for that claim to be made. That, and there is someone named Derek Jeter, who has played with him this whole time.
Re: Bard and Papelbon. I’ve been following this a little and am I the only one who thinks Papelbon’s departure from the Sox is an inevitability? He’s working year-to-year, he’s aiming for a huge contract which the Sox will not pay, and they have a guy like Bard waiting in the wings.

I think Paps is a goner too, precisely because the Sox don’t agree with Chris Gasper in the slightest. While I appreciate that closing isn’t easy and that there may be a psychological component to the position (hello, Calvin Schiraldi!), I do think that decent closers are basically replaceable (great players of any kind are not, but most teams do not need great players at every position).
I don’t begrudge Paps his right to prize as much money as is humanly possible out of any team that will give it to him, either. He will have earned his free agency, and if the Sox choose not to pay him market value then I hope he gets it elsewhere: this could very well be his last ever baseball contract considering what happens to arms and shoulders.

For years it has been very difficult for relievers to get into the Hall of Fame. For all the talk about how important a closer is, baseball writers have been reluctant to put them in the HoF. What’s amazing about Mariano, and this is a testament to his brilliance on the field, his grace and charisma, is that he very well could beat out Tom Seaver for the highest percentage first ballot vote for the Hall of Fame. How is any writer going to justify not voting for him?

How did any writer justify not voting for Ricky Henderson? It happens, for reasons the reasonable person cannot fathom.
I also agree that Papelbon will be gone, either after the 2011 season or at the deadline that year. I don’t think Bard will be as good, but then I don’t think he needs to be either. Plenty of teams other than the Sox and Yanks have won World Series titles without closers who approached Rivera or Papelbon levels of effectiveness. It’s a lot like the two-headed beast of Manny and Ortiz. It’s a wonderful luxury, and it’s hard to imagine living without it, but ultimately it’s a luxury that very few teams, including very successful ones, get to enjoy.

don’t think Bard will be as good…
Here is where we differ. Bard, as I’ve said for two years now, has as much talent in his pinky finger as Papelbon has in his whole predictable right arm. Not only does Bard throw about 8mph faster, he can also throw two other pitches for strikes, and has a devastating slider that actually fools people. That’s the difference between guys like Bard and guys like Papelbon and Joba – he doesn’t have to throw a 100mph to get guys out on ten consecutive fastballs – his breaking stuff sits guys down – they don’t just sit fastball because he can’t throw strikes with anything else.
Papelbon has been a wonderful asset, but his departure will not break this team. It is my opinion, and it’s just an opinion, that Bard could step in right now and be just as good as Papelbon thinks he is.
I cannot wait for Bard to have that job – or at least the chance at it.

One can call it talent or luck – it doesn’t matter – but last year was easily the most predictable and frightening year for Papelbon. His fastball is slower, his slider doesn’t work like it used to because he can’t get it close, Varitek continued to pound the 1-finger down no matter what the outcome, and he gave up more warning-track hits than ever before.
At no point am I comfortable with Papelbon in the game – especially in an AL East game.
I’ll gladly eat the crow if I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am.
On another note – Mariano and Papelbon should never be included in the same sentence unless you’re just discussing the title each of the share. Mariano has shortened 99% of the games the Yankees are winning over the past ten years. When he comes in, you don’t worry. There is no feeling of “if” when he’s in the game. He is the absolute most valuable player in those championship years for them, yet it goes unnoticed by most because he’s not dancing around like a fool in his underwear when he does something great. He does what the greats do – hands the ball back and act likes he’s been there and he’s coming back again soon. He is a machine.

Closer is probably the one position that I actually do buy the psychobabble explanations some media people tend to throw around sports stars. I really do think there is something to “closer mentality.”
That said, yeah Gasper is overvaluing their importance.

The average closer will blow one game a post-season. Last year, Rivera was the only closer not to blow a save. When’s the last time you can remember Rivera blowing a post-season save? 2004? Then 2001 before that? Then 1997? Is it really 3 blown saves in the last 12 post-seasons?
Assuming the average closer blows that one post-season game a year, and Rivera goes years without doing the same, we can literally say that he’s a big reason the Yankees have won five titles. Sure, if he were perfect, they’d have one or two more. But if he were ordinary, they’d have one or two less if not more.

” He is the absolute most valuable player in those championship years for them…”
I agree with Brad. He basically slammed the door last year in the playoffs with 2 inning saves…the guy is ridiculous. Obviously it takes a team to win it all but Mo shortens the quest to essentially 7 innings as opposed to 9.

I think in the “most valuable” context, all one has to do is ask themselves:
If the Yankees were forced to remove one of the integral parts of the team for a game deciding game – which player would that be?
My guess would be that if you asked that question to 100 people, not one of them would vote to remove Mariano. Jeter, A-Rod, Posada, Bernie, and on and on – all are replacable with some level of confidence in the replacement. Mo – not so much. Would any Yankee fan be comfortable if Mo quit right now? The answer is absolutely not.

Well not as comfortable for sure…but it looks like Joba is finally going to end up in the pen where he belongs so not terrified of the inevitability of Mo’s retirement!

Mariano and Papelbon should never be included in the same sentence unless you’re just discussing the title each of the share. Mariano has shortened 99% of the games the Yankees are winning over the past ten years. When he comes in, you don’t worry.
Brad, I think once again your hatred of Papelbon is coloring your analysis.
This strikes me as a similar question as the Nomar/Jeter discussion. From a career perspective, Mariano’s the best, hands down. But for the short period of time Papelbon’s been doing his job — and I’m on record as saying I don’t think he will keep it up — he’s been doing it as well as, if not better than, Rivera.
Here’s a comparison of their ERAs. They were basically the same last season, Rivera was better in 2008, and Papelbon was better in 2006 and 2007. By age, Papelbon debuted earlier and was much better at age 25, and the two have been very close through age 28, where Papelbon is now.
Papelbon has struck out more batters per 9 at this age than Mariano did, and has struck out more batters per 9 since 2006.
He’s walked more per 9 that Mariano has since 2006, but for his age, except last season, Papelbon is ahead of Rivera there, as well.
Their respective K/BB charts are a joke, but you can see that Papelbon is well ahead of Rivera for ages 25-28.
At this stage of his career, Papelbon is slightly better than Rivera was at the same stage in Batting Average Against, and they’ve traded two-year stretches of being better than the other in real time.
The same holds true for WHIP. Until last season, Papelbon was consistently better than Rivera when comparing by age. Over the last four years, they’ve each been better than the other for two of them.
Papelbon also, with the exception of 2008 but including last year, has been exceptional at stranding the runners he inherits — better than Rivera at the same age, and about even with Rivera now.
In the postseason, Papelbon was perfect until 2009 — never allowing a single run in the postseason and obviously never blowing a save until his 18th postseason appearance and his 27th postseason inning. Rivera did go longer from 1998-2000, by three games (totaling three additional innings).
Let me be clear: Rivera has not only been incredible for a very long time, he’s gotten better with age. He is obviously the best closer of all time. I neither expect Papelbon to match or even come close to Rivera’s career length, nor do I expect him to continually improve, as Rivera has done.
But let’s not go overboard and pretend that Papelbon hasn’t been right up there since he arrived as closer in 2006. He has been every bit as good as Rivera since then, and he’s better now than Rivera was at this point in his career. The Sox are extremely fortunate to have him shortening games for them.

Paul, the comparisons you draw between where Papelbon and Rivera each were by certain ages are misleading when comparing their respective performances as closers.
You rightly acknowledge that Papelbon debuted earlier (at age 24 while Mo debuted at 25) but then you begin much of your statistical analysis not with Papelbon’s first year in the league but with his second – which was the first year he pitched in almost exclusively save situations. You don’t accord the same consideration to Rivera who – in addition to debuting in the majors a year later in life – did not fill the closer role consistently until his 3rd season in the majors (at age 27).
This doesn’t negate your larger point, because you are right that in Papelbon’s first 4 years AS A CLOSER (2006-2009) he has performed better on many fronts than Rivera did in his first 4 years AS A CLOSER (1997-2000). But your method of qualifying all the stats by age and adjusting to begin the age-specific analysis for age 25 ends up comparing apples to oranges for at least 2 of the 4 years of that comparison.
At age 25 and 26 for Papelbon (seasons 2006 & 2007) he appeared in a total of 118 games and pitched 126.2 innings – that’s 1.07 IP/G – all of them in the 8th inning or later and almost entirely in save situations.
At age 25-26 for Rivera (1995 & 1996) he appeared in 80 games and pitched 174.2 innings – that’s an average of 2.17 IP/G (more than double Papelbon’s average game-load) with only 26 of those 80 game appearances coming in the 8th inning or later and only 6 total save situations over those two years.
I think you’d agree that it’s easier to post impressive K/9; BB/9; ERA; and other pitching stats when you are consistently coming in for one inning than when you are consistently coming in for 2+.
To be clear, I think you’re right to point out that Papelbon fares well in comparison to Mariano in their early closer years – I just think when analyzing it that we should actually compare their closer years.
I also think you’re right that Papelbon is highly unlikely to keep his performance up for as long as Mariano has – even in the closer counting stats despite the fact that he has a 2-year headstart on Rivera age-wise.

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