Every year after the MLB All-Star teams are announced for the annual Mid-Summer Classic, the first question that comes to mind is what player got snubbed? After seeing the roster for the National League, it is eye-opening that Philadelphia Phillies’ closer, Jonathan Papelbon, did not find his way onto the roster. The three closers that were selected over Papelbon were Craig Kimbrel (Atlanta Braves), Aroldis Chapman (Cincinnati Reds), and Francisco Rodriguez (Milwaukee Brewers). Let’s take a look at Papelbon’s stats, and compare them to the stats of the three closers that made the All-Star Roster over him:
Jonathan Papelbon – 34.1 innings pitched, 31 strikeouts, 20 saves, 2 blown saves, 90.9% saves converted, 1.9 WAR, 0.90 WHIP, 1.31 ERA
Craig Kimbrel – 35.1 innings pitched, 60 strikeouts, 27 saves, 4 blown saves, 87% saves converted, 1.1 WAR, 0.93 WHIP, 2.04 ERA
Aroldis Chapman – 24.2 innings pitched, 47 strikeouts, 17 saves, 2 blown saves, 89.5% saves converted, 0.6 WAR, 0.81 WHIP, 2.55 ERA
Franciso Rodriguez – 42.1 innings pitched, 49 strikeouts, 27 saves, 3 blown saves, 90% saves converted, 1.3 WAR, 0.87 WHIP, 2.34 ERA
When looking at Papelbon’s stats compared to Kimbrel, Chapman, and Rodriguez, three key points stick out: Papelbon has converted a higher percentage of his saves than all three, has a lower ERA, and has a higher WAR. Yes, Kimbrel and Rodriguez have more saves and strikeouts while Chapman also has more strikeouts along with a lower WHIP, but one cannot ignore the fact that Papelbon has better numbers in three major statistical categories. Plus, a ground ball out and a fly ball out are just as effective as a strikeout.
The one stat a closer has no control over is the number of save opportunities he will receive over a season’s span. The only reason Chapman has less save opportunities than Papelbon is due to the fact that his first appearance was not until May 11th because he was hit in the head with a line drive during a Spring Training game, and started the season on the disabled list. While Chapman was recovering, the Reds had six saves converted by different relief pitchers. Those save opportunities would have gone to Chapman which means that Chapman would also have more save opportunities than Papelbon up to this point in the season.
Out of the four closers, who plays on the worst team? Jonathan Papelbon. Craig Kimbrel and Francisco Rodriguez are the closers of two teams that are in first place in their perspective divisions, which explains why they have had more save opportunities than Papelbon. The Reds are four games above .500, and even though Chapman missed an entire month, he still only has three less save opportunities than Papelbon, and would have more had he not missed the month of April and parts of May because of injury.
Jonathan Papelbon cannot control how well his team plays leading up to the ninth inning when it is his turn to seal the deal. When the Phillies have given Papelbon a chance to close out a game, he has been virtually flawless. In fact, his 1.31 ERA and 0.90 WHIP are extraordinary considering his fastball is 89-93 miles per hour, which is average for a big league pitcher. Papelbon’s focus on commanding his off-speed pitches to become a more effective pitcher and make his fastball seem faster than it really is, shows his dedication to his craft.
Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, and Francisco Rodriguez are all having fantastic seasons, and deserve to be acknowledged as All-Starts. But when you look at the cold-hard numbers, Jonathan Papelbon has been a more effective pitcher than Kimbrel, Chapman, and Rodriguez in the save opportunities he has been given, and he is doing it on a team that is 13 games under .500.
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