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Why Jonathan Papelbon Has Been Used Correctly by Phillies


When Placido Polanco hustled past Todd Helton’s shuffling foot on Wednesday night, the result was a walk-off single that helped the Phillies avoid their tenth extra-inning game of the season.
For those of you that have endured the first nine of those “free baseball” events, Wednesday night’s regulation win was a welcome sight.

The Phillies are 2-7 in their nine extra-inning games this season.  What’s made those games even more painful is the fact that eight of them have taken place on the road, where the Phillies have watched their opponents celebrate walk-off victories seven times.  

During those eight extra-inning road games, two things have consistently taken place. First, the team’s patchwork bullpen has struggled mightily. Second, their $50 million closer did not participate in the proceedings.Charlie Manuel photo: AP

It’s common for Charlie Manuel to be criticized for his strategic decisions, but his non-use of Jonathan Papelbon has been one of the biggest thorns in the side of his critics so far this season.

Charlie has stood by the popular theory of not using a closer when his team is tied or trailing in a road game.  A closer’s reward for holding his opponent scoreless in those situations is a second inning of work to record a save, and that type of use is not popular among most big league managers.  

Manuel’s critics contend that any pitcher who can throw a scoreless inning gives the team a chance to extend the game and take the lead in the following inning.  And when a scoreless inning is the task, pitchers like Joe Savery, Michael Schwimmer and Chad Qualls simply haven’t gotten it done.

So, with Wednesday night’s game being played at home, and Papelbon on the mound in a tie game, Phillies fans had to be thrilled to see someone capable of a shut-down inning that would give their team a chance to win in their next at-bat.

All Papelbon did was surrender the go-ahead run to the Rockies on a walk and two hits in an inning of work that looked strangely similar to those of his oft-criticized bullpen mates.

Manuel used Papelbon in a tie game, because the Phillies were at home, and he stood to earn the win with a one-inning effort if his teammates could score a run in the bottom of the inning. In the end, his offense needed to score two, and did just that.

But, Wednesday night’s game was important for another reason.  It once again showed that it may be fruitless for Manuel to pitch Papelbon in non-save situations.  If you have ever heard someone referred to as a “man’s man,” then you could understand Papelbon being referred to as a “closer’s closer.” He is wired to pitch in the high intensity environment that is the save situation. For some reason, closers like Papelbon do not have the same juice, or effectiveness, in non-save situations (does the name Brad Lidge ring a bell?).Jonathan Papelbon photo: Yong Kim

In his first season as a Phillie, Papelbon is 17-for-17 in save situations. His ERA in those seventeen appearances?  That would be 0.00. He has also held opponents to a paltry .138 batting average in those games.

But when appearing in a non-save situation, Papelbon has looked anything but elite. In eleven non-save situation appearances, his ERA is 6.96 and opponents are hitting nearly .300 against him.  

Those types of numbers through eleven games are more than a coincidence.  They simply indicate that Papelbon’s money will be earned (extremely effectively, I might add) when he is put into save situations. Papelbon was not signed to pitch in tie games.

In fact, if Manuel was looking for someone with a 6.96 ERA to throw into an extra-inning game on the road, he has plenty of options to choose from.

And those options are the ones that everyone continues to complain about.

Matt Babiarz was born and raised in the Philadelphia area.  He graduated from the University of Alabama, but remained a very close observer of the Philadelphia sports scene.  He recently began covering the Phillies for Philly2Philly.com.   You can also read his work at Bleacherreport.com within the Philadelphia Phillies section. 

Matt can be contacted at mattbabz@comcast.net  

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Fist Pump:  Yong Kim
With Chooch: Boston Herald
Manuel: AP