The Future for Jonathan Papelbon

Jonathan Papelbonphoto © 2009 Keith Allison | more info (via: Wylio)The Red Sox are not afraid to give money to players in their arbitration years. You can see their history with Jon Lester, Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia. There is a benefit for both the player and team to get it out of the way early. This can also identify the players the team has decided it’s not beneficial to sign early or just won’t take the contract.

When you see a player like Jacoby Ellsbury he has two potential factors for not signing.  One is the team may not like to see him in center field long term and the other he is signed to agent Scott Boras. Boras is well known as a supporter of taking his prospects to free agency.

On the other hand you have closer Jonathan Papelbon who has been fairly vocal on his requests to make money that sets new levels for relievers. That along with questions about his effectiveness the past few seasons and the Red Sox front office had good reason to let Papelbon head to free agency after 2011.

This season though Papelbon has been his best in years. His K/9 is at 12.05, which is second only to 2007 when he had a 12.95. His BB/9 stands at an astounding 1.45, which is second only to his 1.04 in 2008. Put it all together and so far he has a K/BB of 8.33.  There hasn’t been a clear reason for the improvement. His fastball is the same if not slower than last year by a small amount and he is using the same Fastball-Slider-Splitter makeup. There has been a small jump in his slider totals and that is primarily against right handers. Looking at his splits this has seemed to be a benefit.

He has only face 36 right handers, but using a large amount of sliders he has totalled a 6.00 K/BB with a career best 14.09 against righties. This is a small sample size issue and shouldn’t read to much, but nothing relievers due in any season is enough data to fully analyze it. This is why teams have such trouble evaluating them for signings.

So if Papelbon has made a change to more sliders against righties and it’s not something they learn to lay off of then he should again be considered one of the best closers in baseball. This puts him in select company and should be making big money next year.

The Red Sox can no longer claim poor when it comes to relievers. They have given 2/$12 million to Bobby Jenks and rumors flew this past offseason that they offered Mariano Rivera a 2/$30 million deal.

Papelbon may have the numbers right now to match Rivera with a similar WAR total over the last few years, but his arm issues in the past would concern me for anything over 3 years. Assuming he would take a three year deal at the age of 31 how much would he be worth over that time?

Assuming he maintains his dominance this year Papelbon should top 3.0 WAR this year and he will have averaged 2.5 WAR in every year since he became a closer. I know the Red Sox have better health information than us, but assuming they believe he would be healthy for the next 3 it would be fair to say he maintains a 2.5 WAR level as a closer*.

*There is some work that relievers do not decline at the 0.5 WAR per season after 30 years of age that is assumed with starters and postion players.  The rate is more like 0.2 WAR per season, so being more accurate Papelbon would project more like 6.9 WAR based on this or 7.8 based on a 3.0 WAR this season.

Assuming current estimates that say a win is worth $5 million in the current market than Papelbon has a free agent value of about $34.5 million over a three year contract. That’s just not going to cut it after the team went to $15 million a season for Rivera. It’s going to take a $45 million offer for three to get him in here I think. It’s a bit of an overpay, but if he maintains the 3.0 War level of this year he could reach that value.

Before the year started I would have said the team wouldn’t have gone to that level, but with the question regarding Daniel Bard being able to control the walks and Bobby Jenks being a huge disappointment so far I am starting to wonder. It’s possible some team comes in and blows Papelbon away with silly money, but they could also convince him to stay in Boston with the 3/$45 deal.

Would you want Papelbon for that deal or perhaps even higher if needed?

Categories: Bobby Jenks Boston Red Sox Daniel Bard Jacoby Ellsbury Jonathan Papelbon

After taking an interest in sabermetrics and statistical analysis Troy began trying to use it to an advantage in fantasy baseball. He started the website and also spent time at and After a few years the interest in the Red Sox drew him to start a Red Sox-oriented site (Yawkey Way Academy) with fellow writer Lee Perrault. A short time later he joined Fire Brand. Writer from: December 14, 2009 – July 24, 2010, March 3, 2011 – May 10, 2012.

7 Responses to “The Future for Jonathan Papelbon” Subscribe

  1. Alan May 23, 2011 at 7:46 AM #

    Wow, glad it ain't my money.

  2. donna May 23, 2011 at 10:00 AM #

    yes i think seeing what we are all seeing, it makes sense to give him the money to pitch for a few more years in Boston. If it is just contract-year performance… oh well, seems better to take that chance with Paps rather than Bard or anyone else we're seeing out of the bullpen yet. I know i would not want him hiking over to the Yankees for sure. Especially after reading that post a few weeks back somewhere about Pap's generosity with complete strangers it helped me to see another side. Also, we might cry that players seem greedy, but it appears to me to be an easy out for the owners who are raking in much more than we want to realize.

    • TroyPatterson May 23, 2011 at 10:26 AM #

      I agree with you to a point. I think overpaying players is just bad business (look at the Wilpon ordeal in the New Yorker), but on the other hand the team has money coming off the books next year in Drew and Ortiz. I'm not sure what will happen with Ortiz, but I think it's fairly obvious the team plans to place Kalish in RF next year and let Drew go.

      With few questions next year I think you could give that $14 million to Papelbon.

  3. James May 23, 2011 at 4:08 PM #

    I like Paps, but $45 mil over 3 years is crazy. And whether he likes it or not, he isnt Mo Rivera and won't ever be. Even Hoffman, for all his saves isn't like Mo.

    I wouldnt mind going $33m-39m but anything over $40 and i say let him walk, we can find talent or grow it, and we can't let him set a precedent with this club.

    Giving $6 mil a year to a former closer who was pretty good once upon a time, and then turning around and offering Pap 11-12mil a year should be enough. If its not, then good luck, let the Rays spend 90% of their payroll dollars on a closer.

  4. Thanks4playing May 23, 2011 at 4:24 PM #

    Bard has yet to prove himself as closer material. He has the arm — but not the reliability under pressure. He's folded in a lot of big-game situations. I have very little faith in his ability to come through as a closer in October — and that's where stars' salary is earned. Papelbon is one of the very best in the game; nearly anyone else in baseball would be a downgrade by comparison. So he's worth the salary in the near-term for sure. The question is the number of years on the deal. I bet the Sox will be willing to pay a 3 yr/$45m deal — the problem is that Papelbon may well want 5 years or even 6, with the same salary. That could be tough to justify for a guy who's had some arm issues and relies heavily on his fastball.

  5. Nick May 23, 2011 at 9:05 PM #

    Although Papelbon may have a good season, I think the odds are against Boston resigning Papelbon. The Sox have too many analytical advisors to overpay for a closer. They would more likely give Bard or Jenks a shot at the job. Also, I haven't researched the issue but I"m sure there will be some live arms on the free agent market they could pursue. The sox will offer 3/30 or maybe 4/40 but won't go $15 per year. Some creative incentives on each side might keep Paps in Boston. He does like that Irish dancing.

  6. Steve May 24, 2011 at 3:47 PM #

    I would be surprised to see Theo go higher than 3/35, hoping for a 3.0 WAR for the next three years is a little too optimistic to bank 15 million a year on.