KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 18: Daniel Bard #51 is the heir apparent to Papelbon, but will he be used the same way? (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
With Jonathan Papelbon leaving
There is no question about Papelbon’s ability. He is an elite pitcher perfectly suited to late inning, high leverage work. The major point of contention is how he is used and how much value he can contribute in that role. A pitcher who is only used in save situations will pitch a very limited number of innings over the season, approximately 55-60 innings, maximum. No pitcher has been used quite that conservatively, since nearly all managers will also use their closer in the top of the ninth at home in tie games and at some point in extra innings. However, there has been a distinct movement toward save-oriented usage in recent years and surprisingly; the Boston Red Sox have been right at the front of that movement. For a team known for their progressive approach,
This chart shows the 15 players with the lowest ratio of relief innings per save*. The trend is pretty clear. The players with the lowest averages are all either active or recently retired players. Aside from Trevor Hoffman, no relief pitcher in history has been used in closer accordance with the perimeters of the save than Jonathan Papelbon. A few players such as Eric Gagne and Billy Wagner have been used even more exclusively for the save situation than these raw numbers show since they have also spent significant time in setup roles but the overall point stands: Paps has been used for saves and little else. As such, he has thrown a very low number of total innings, capping his value.
Jonathan Papelbon’s prominence among the most "Saved for the Save" players could have a number of possible explanations. It is possible that
Historically speaking, this usage has not been the norm for top relievers. The five Hall of Fame relievers average almost two and a half more innings per save than the group above. Dennis Eckersley has the lowest number of any of the hall of fame relievers with only 2.37 relief innings per save. After his days starting, he was used almost entirely in the same way as the group above. The other Hall of Fame relievers are all over 3 relief innings per save. This seems to argue against the health perspective as
With Tito, Theo, and Papelbon all residing elsewhere, 2012 might be a turning point for
The departure of Papelbon goes beyond the question of who will close for
* Players who pitched significant innings as starters are omitted here. Of those, only Dennis Eckersley would make the chart above, with an estimated 2.37 relief innings per save by my calculations, ranking him just below John Wetteland.