Nationals Baseball: Papelbon Q&A

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Papelbon Q&A

Q: Let's start with the most important question: Does this make the Nationals better?
A: Without a doubt. Papelbon is a All-Star level closer with little in his stats to indicate that he won't continue being so for the next couple years. Over the past three years he has a WHIP of 1.008, a BB/9 of 1.8, and a K/9 of 8.6.  He's only given up 11 HRs in 168 innings of work. His numbers have been stable over that time. As a closer or a set-up man he would provide an instant "no thought required" option for getting through an inning regardless of the batters coming up.

Q: Did the Nats really need him though? Aren't relievers fungible?

A: OK yes relievers are fairly easy to replace. Given a whole year most teams will be able to find one or two solid relievers that they may not have been sure of before. But note the conditions on that sentence; "Given the whole year" and "most teams". The Nats had not been able to rely on their middle relievers over 100 games. Whether it's because of the talent on hand, Matt Williams' feel for how to use the talent, or some combination of the two, the Nats have to deal with that reality. Is it likely that something would work out in the last 40% of the season? Yes. It's it certain? No. Right now the Nats need certainty if they want to hold off the Mets and feel confident about the bullpen if they make the playoffs.

Q : Was what the Nats gave up too much? Is Nick Pivetta going to be a star? 

A: Unlikely. He was of mild importance in the Nats organization and barely on the radar for the league. Tall, but not gangly, big, but not heavy, the 22 year old Nick is seen as having the ideal frame for a pitcher but that doesn't take you very far. He's a hard, but not overpowering, thrower whose control has been an issue. He has been able to work around that in the low minors but his limited time in AA has been far less successful. His development as a starter will likely be determined by his ability to develop a couple other pitches over the next couple of years. Otherwise he'll likely be converted into a relief pitcher focusing on the plus fastball.

Q : Why would the Phillies give up Papelbon for that? 

Well, for one, they wanted to get out from under Papelbon's contract, for which they'd have to pay him 13 mill next year to close for a going nowhere team. But that's only half of it. The other half is why didn't other teams offer the Phillies more? The answer is it's the world we live in now. Prospects are (too?) highly coveted by almost every team because what matters most today is not performance on the field but flexibility off. What GMs and presidents want is a stable of usable players they are able to pay relative peanuts to for 5 years or so. This makes it easier to add payroll when necessary and avoids the situation of having a loser with a high payroll that can often cost them their jobs.

Personally, I tend to believe this attitude lets the owners, rich men who purchased expensive toys that gain ridiculous value over time, off the hook on putting money back into the team. I also think, as I've made note of recently, that it fosters an almost "anti-sports" attitude in sports. Winning should be paramount in sports, not budgetting. However both the owners inside the sport, and the statistically minded outside, for who winning with a budget gives them a problem to solve, agree on this approach, making it unlikely to change anytime soon.  Anyway, off my soapbox. Good for the Nats - didn't give up much.

Q : OK, Grandpa. Let me wake up now and ask you - so how about that money? Doesn't this prove that the Lerners are in it to win it? 

A: Far from it. The Phillies are kicking in 4.5 million this year. Papelbon is owed 4.9 million for the remainder of the season. Meaning the Lerners are adding only an additional 400K to the Nats current payroll. That's an increase of less than half a percent. As for the 11 million owed for 2016 in the future (8 million in 2016 and 3 million deferred to 2017) we'll have to see what the payroll is like next season before deciding.

Q: The Lerners really have a problem adding money in season don't they?

A : Yep. And I have to imagine it does hamper Rizzo's ability to "damage control" the team. But he's a very good GM so he has been able to work around it so far. Of course in three seasons the Nats have missed the playoffs once and have won 0 playoff series, and they are fighting for the playoffs right now, so you have to wonder if a more generous budget would allow Rizzo to produce better results.

Q: So what happens to Storen now? He doesn't seem happy. He's in the 8th now right?

A: Storen does indeed become the 8th inning guy now and I wouldn't be happy either. When he lost his closer role to start 2013 one could at least see the reasoning behind it. He was relatively new to the role and he blew the last playoff game (though Davey didn't help him out). The owners saw an opportunity to bring in a proven, veteran closer and did so. It was sketchy logic but it was there. Now Storen, with another 70+ games finished behind him and arguably pitching the best in his career (and possibly the best in the league), is forced to move because a whiny, but talented, closer on another team refuses to pitch in set-up. It shows a complete lack of faith and support in Drew Storen the player.

For the Nats it doesn't matter, Papelbon to Storen or Storen to Papelbon, the last innings should be hell on opponents. The question remains though will it matter to Storen (or if he ends up in the 8th before all is said and done, to Papelbon) and will that effect their performance.

Q: They could trade one right? They don't need two closers.

A: Then what was the point? You brought in Papelbon to address an issue. Trading one would only recreate the same problems the Nats were facing before the trade. No, Storen isn't going anywhere in 2015, nor should he.

Now in the off-season you can see one of these guys being shipped out. They will owe a lot of money to these two relievers next year. Money was a good part of the reason Clippard was traded last year.  But again, the pen question hangs over that as well.  If they do deal Papelbon or Storen aren't they just starting 2016 in the same position they started 2015, with a pen with one reliable arm and a bunch of question marks? Isn't there something about learning from history? That's an offseason question though.

Q: Anything else happening? The Nats still have a lot of trade pieces left, I imagine. Can we get help for the bench? 

A : Possibly. The Nats don't need much, in theory, when healthy. With Taylor, Espinosa and Robinson manning the bench it will have speed, some pop, IF and OF defense, and a left-handed bat. To be a completist though, Taylor and Espinosa are swing and miss types so the Nats could use a contact bat on the bench, preferably left-handed. Right now with Span's health being a concern an OF makes more sense than an IF. That's all I can think of. I'm sure Rizzo is looking for whatever bargains he can find.

Q: So the Nats are set? Full speed ahead? 

A : Well.... look. The Nats have had problems all year. It's easy to dismiss them as related to being forced to use the bench, but you look at what happened and you'll see that Werth, Rendon, Zimm, Strasburg, they were all playing poorly at various points in the year. They were part of the problem.  IF it was injury based and IF they are completely healthy, then yes full speed ahead. But it's far more likely that some of that with Werth and Zimm (and maybe Stras) was related to aging. And it's far more likely that rather than 100% they are at some percentage of health less than that, a percentage that let's them play but does not let them max out their performance. The lower that performance is, the more the rest of the season remains a dogfight with the Mets.

Do I like the Nats better than the Mets? Yep. I don't see how you couldn't right now. Whether that holds up will depend on the injury returnees performances, but just going with modest performances for those guys, I'd still have the Nats with an edge. Can the Mets be better than the Nats with the right pick-up? Maybe. It have to be a pretty big pick-up though. Do I feel confident that the Nats will hold onto first? I guess I'd say no, I'm not "confident". I'd put my money on the Nats. You wouldn't even have to force me to do it, but I wouldn't feel like it was a sure thing.

33 comments:

Donald said...

The key to this deal is really how Storen handles it. If he pitches great in the 8th inning, the team is much better and they didn't give up much. If he melts down, though, the team is pretty arguably worse. This is what comes from the all-in mentality of having to make a deal at the deadline, though. You take a gamble with personnel and chemistry and hope it pays off.

cass said...

If the Nats got Clippard and the Mets got Papelbon, I'd be much happier right now. Despite Papelbon being a better pitcher.

So sue me for not being a robot and not putting whatever players happen to be wearing a Nationals jersey winning the World Series as the most important thing. I don't like rewarding whiny Papelbon and demoting Drew.

Most of all, I blame the Save stat cause it's bullshit and we should be able to use two good relievers however and let them both get credit. Things should be measured in shutdowns not saves.

But, also, I would enjoy games far more if I got to see Storen finish them. I don't like the idea of Papelbon out on the mound at the end. I'm not the only one - quite a lot of fans are Drew-fans and he was pitching incredibly well and has been ever since he came back from being demoted to AAA while running a 100 degree fever.

Of course, Storen is the union representative so I guess Rizzo likes the treat him worse because of that. Can't prove it. But yeah.

Chapman I would've been much happier with. No one could object to Chapman closing. Or you could use them as a platoon in the 8th and 9th based on handedness but, whatever, Chapman is utterly unique. And not from the Phillies. And not whiny. He probably would've insisted on closing but, eh, he's Chapman.

Tl;dr: This is a good move on paper. I hate it. It will diminish my enjoyment and enthusiasm to watch games. And yes, Google, I'm not a robot.

Bryceroni said...

Maybe the concept of teams and players being loyal to each other is outdated and overrated, but doesn't this move hurt the team long term in the FA and extension markets?

DezoPenguin said...

My feelings on this are twofold:

1. I'm a lot happier about the "trade for an ace closer" idea now that it's happened from a business standpoint. Reports are that both the Padres and Reds wanted two--TWO--of Giolito, Turner, and a couple of other top guys for Kimbrel or Chapman. Instead, we get a guy who's nearly as good as those two (and better than Kimbrel in 2015, let's not overlook that) for a AA guy who projects as a reliever (of unknown quality; he could be the next Storen or he could be the next Henry Rodriguez), virtually no money this year, and even knocked a couple of million off of Papelbon's reasonable-for-ace-closer contract for next year.

2. Yesterday, I made some comments about how I distrusted Drew Storen's maturity level and how he would handle being moved to the 8th inning. Storen dropped a postgame statement yesterday suggesting he wasn't happy. A lot of commenters on other blogs and sites seem to think this is a "slap in the face" to Storen and we should all boo Papelbon and hope he implodes and so on. Personally, I don't think that it is, per se: presuming that managers won't embrace closing by committee, there's only one ninth inning per game to go around and, even if he's having a slightly better year this year, being deplaced for a guy who's still at the top of his game and who's getting pretty close to making a Hall of Fame argument as a closer is hardly an insult. (Indeed, Storen could easily grab the high road by saying "I just want to help my team win, and I'll fill any role necessary.") That said, so long as Storen can be as unhappy as he wants as long as he doesn't let it affect his pitching.

One thing I think is ridiculous, by the way, is the argument I've seen floating around that Storen would have been fine and dandy to step aside for Chapman and Kimbrel, but not for Papelbon. To that I say, nuts. Either Storen is a mature player who is willing to fill a variety of roles to best help his team win, and is capable of looking at teams like the Royals and Yankees and seeing the value of a shutdown bullpen, or he's an immature player (like, y'know, Papelbon's coming off as being) who insists on padding his own ego at the expense of his team. I can't believe that he'd look at Chapman and be so awed by his statistical glory that he'd suddenly be overcome by humility where he wouldn't be otherwise.

So, we'll just have to see how it plays out. I'd probably have been happier if Rizzo had traded for someone like Junichi Tazawa, who doesn't bring with him all these fussy, touchy-feely clubhouse narrative issues that are impossible to reduce to numbers and so therefore are uncomfortable. But it can't be denied that purely in terms of cost spent versus value added Rizzo has once again struck a really good deal for the 2015-16 Nationals, spending a lot less to add a much better player than I'd believe possible.

markus said...

never understood why everyone is obsessed with storen. Hes a great pitcher, but theres nothing magnetic about the guy. If anything, his 'tough guy' persona is laughable. Pap makes me much more comfortable, and it makes me feel infinitely better about october.
Also, the nats needed an asshole on the team.. makes everything more entertaining.

Donald said...

One more thought. Pretty much every reliever blows a few saves during the season no matter how good they are. So far, Papalbon is 17 for 17, so he probably will flub one or two for the Nats. It'll be interesting to see how people react to that. If he saves 10 in a row before dropping one, maybe no big deal. But if he blows one in his first few attempts -- say during the upcoming series in NY, I can imagine a lot of angry fans, and maybe a few angry players.

Also, I'm with Cass. I want to like the players I'm rooting for. I like Storen. I don't like Papalbon one bit. I don't see cutting Papalbon a whole lot of slake if he has a rough patch, and I think most Nats fans feel the same way.

Miles Treacy said...

completely off topic from the trade, but i remember just a little snippet a while back on Rivero really outperforming what his minors numbers showed. the more i watch him pitch, the more i really like him. is this just a case of hitters not seeing him before or just a run of luck? seems between him, jannsen (the past few weeks), storen and papelbon the bullpen is sorted for now.

my main concern is that this includes banking that rendon, werth, zimm, stras, and span all come back and perform to what we believe they're capable of. i tend to be more on the pessimist side of that argument outside of rendon and span.

Bryceroni said...

There is absolutely a difference between stepping aside for someone who is better than you at your job and for someone who is not.

I would not expect storen to be happy in either case, but the optics of the second are a lot worse.

DezoPenguin said...

I love how a large segment of the fandom is so up in arms now defending Drew Storen as a pure saint who needs to be protected and defended against the cruel slurs of management, when those same fans were equally ready to burn him in effigy as a dirty choker after 2012 and 2014's playoff losses. How fickle the mob.

Bryceroni said...

I think there's this guy... Bryce something who has a slight chip on his shoulder.

Bjd1207 said...

Yea Dezo's exactly right. We've been talking for over a year about how nervous we are about Drew approaching the playoffs. And yes his performance this year is on the same level as Pap, Chapman, Kimbrel, etc.

But he hasn't been as consistent, for as long, as ANY of those guys. AND has multiple breakdowns in the playoffs. And now everyone's sure that he's better than Papelbon? He's not, I would still be just as nervous with Storen in the playoffs, and I'm less nervous with Pap. Yes, I'd probably be even less nervous with Chapman or Kimbrel but as we said we weren't ready to pay that asking price.

As cass said the only real sticking point is the stupid save stat and how it functions in salary discussions. If Storen moved into the 8th inning role with a "do whatever for the team" press release and we go deep into the playoffs the fans would go NUTS for him.

Anonymous said...

Here's how I see this shaking out:

The Nats - Storen bridge is on fire. Not sure if this one can be saved.

When it's all said and done, Williams will find a way to muck up the playoff bullpen in such a way that makes this trade moot in comparison.

Zimmerman11 said...


"Really, all I'm gonna say is that obviously I'm aware of the move," Storen said. "I've talked to (Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo) about it. I've talked to my agent. We've had some ongoing discussions. Until those have progressed, I'm just gonna leave it at that and no comment for now. But as the situation goes, I'll keep you guys posted."

Storen coming out and saying he needed to talk to his agent about the trade... that was not the right way to go about your business... Agree this makes the team better... say you will do whatever the team asks of you to help win games... then shut up and pitch. You'll be a FA in a year. You already make millions of dollars. Shut. Up. And. Pitch.

So now I dislike BOTH of our closers... But I do like having two guys who have had success in the late innings. Heaven forbid one of them gets hurt.

WiredHK said...

I'm not in love with the move almost solely due to the message it sends a younger, potentially better-right-now player that I'd like to think we'd prefer be around for awhile (and based on Drew's own comments, he pretty much talked to his agent immediately after this deal happened, so take that FWIW). But, there is no denying it makes the club better for now. Papelbon may be a dick, but maybe you kind of want a dick on the mound in the 9th inning of a crucial game?

Unfortunately, Rizzo's only real major move choices always seem to be adding more pitchers (SPs or RPs). But an aging or under-performing group of half your regular offense (let's be clear: Werth, Zim, Ramos, Desi) is really the bedrock of the problem holding this team back from being a true WS-caliber squad. The pitching is good, but I think we can safely argue that it is not so good that it outstrips the other top contenders' pitching.

The hitting from those four guys in particular will simply have to be good if the Nats will have any chance of making any noise this Fall. You cannot hold good teams to 0-1 runs that much, you just can't. You need to put some numbers on the board on a regular basis...

cass said...

I've never wanted to burn Storen in effigy. I don't think other Storen fans did either. We're not the same people - you're talking about two distinct groups of fans. Many of us felt bad for him and figured 1) It was partly Davey's fault for using him three days in a row when he didn't need to and 2) Shit happens. His pitches weren't even that bad. He was great up until that meltdown.

I've been rooting for Storen since he was in AA.

Rob Evans said...

Just win baby! Chemistry is most likely overrated anyway. If Paps locks it down, then I'm good with the trade. If not, less so - but I''d still prefer doing something for the pen than standing pat, so kudos to the Nat's for trying to win this year.

Bryceroni said...

For the record there are some of us out there who never got off the storen bandwagon.

Remember that storen's value is taking a double hit here: losing saves as well as reinforcing all the 'storen cant handle the clutch' narratives.

SM said...

When asked, after the trade, who would close, Rizzo immediately said: "Pabelbon." (Thus prompting the how-will-Drew-take-it drama.)

I don't know when, or even if, Rizzo spoke to either player regarding their respective roles. In any case, Rizzo made the decision.

What I wonder is whether Rizzo discussed the team's needs with his field manager before making the deal.

Zimmerman11 said...

We just faced playoff pitching... we went 3-7. The team needs to improve... hopefully beefing up the bullpen and getting rendon/zimm/werth back is enough... but seems like the Nats might really be the 4th or 5th best team in the NL.


Froggy said...

It's a performance league. I love the acquisition of Papelbon. I love the depth of choice, and like him or not, I love the fact that he has a good amount of post season experience and has like 4 saves in WS games.

I don't care if we field 9 players I've never heard of if we win in the Post season.

As for Drew, just go out there and OWN the 8th inning and you can whine about how the champagne burns your eyes in October.

DezoPenguin said...

And if Storen reacts to the trade by pitching the 8th inning like he was Blake Treinen, then he will confirm those narratives of him being a psychologically fragile individual not capable of handling stress despite his obvious talent.

On the other hand, if he continues to pitch like he has the first four months of 2015, he'll defy those narratives, get a solid raise in arbitration and establish himself as a valuable trade commodity (if he really wants to make noise about getting off the team), or position himself to score well in free agency after 2016 because somebody out there will snap up a top young reliever with "proven closer" history.

Eric said...

Regarding full-steam ahead, Zim and Rendon were pretty freaking impressive last night. Very heartening, but fingers crossed. Werth didn't seem to be quite there yet...

"he has...like 4 saves"

He has 7.

"Papelbon has seven saves and a 1.00 ERA in 18 career postseason games. He saved three games in the 2007 World Series against the Rockies and got the final out in Game 4 of Boston’s sweep. He’s succeeded on baseball’s biggest stage."

I agree that this all hinges on Storen's ability to adjust (assuming Papelbon indeed is immediately and permanently entrenched in the closer role).

Eric said...

Oh, you said 4 in the WS, not the post season. My bad.

Froggy said...

Eric ~ My '4 saves' comment was off the top of my head. I should have looked up his PS stats to be more accurate. Regardless, you make the point better than I did that Papelbon has significant postseason experience.

Let's hope it continues with the Nats.

Donald said...

Harper -- since you are a big proponent of going all-in, what was your impression of the price to get Kimbrel or Chapman? Per Svrluga -- Nats touched base on Kimbrel and Chapman, but price was too high. Wanted two of Turner, Taylor, Giolito, Lopez, Ross. Would you have pulled the trigger on that deal?

James said...

The trade makes good sense. Ultimately the bullpen is irrelevant if the combination of Span, Rendon, RZim and Werth coming back does not upgrade the offense. Given this uncertainty, why would you go all in and mortgage the future of the team to get Chapman? If the offense picks up to where we expect it be this bullpen will likely be good enough for the post season. If the offense falters then we haven't lost that much by picking up Papelbon's salary for next year. Given the risk that the offense does not bounce back, I would find it hard to go all in at this point.

As to Storen, if he falls apart based on this demotion, then he does not have mental fortitude required to be a closer. At this point it is in his best interest to continue to pitch as well as he can. I would be shocked if he falls apart.

Anonymous said...

What Would Pam Storen Do?

Harper said...

Donald - If I asked around and knew Papelbon was available for this I wouldn't have done a deal for Chapman/Kimbrel. Papelbon is excellent as a pitcher. (then again if I asked around and could get Uehara for A-ball non prospects I probably don't do a Papelbon deal)

So... if nothing else was out there I would have done the Kimbrel deal (seems like one of those guys could have gotten it done), but knowing what we know now, which is what Rizzo knew then - no, you do the Papelbon deal.

Kenny B. said...

This is all so dumb. People getting whiny over which 1 inning they are paid millions to pitch? In any case, there's no advantage to Storen going out there and intentionally pitching badly, so no matter how hurt his feelings are, his self-interest still align's with the team's interest for this season. I suspect he'll pitch fine, and the team will be better.

Mattyice said...

It was nice worrying about Storen's psyche for a day...Mets just added Carlos Gomez from the Brewers for Zack Wheeler and Wilmer Flores.

I would think that makes the nats chances of winning the nl east 50/50. Hopefully Rizzo has something up his sleeve, Yoenis Cespedes perhaps.

BxJaycobb said...

Harper: You think that Stras underperformed early this year because of aging? Really? Werth and Zim definitely it could be due to aging (it certainly is in part, though I tend to think that a good amount of their struggles were due to injury which hopefully they are further away from now). But I don't think there's any indication that Stephen Strasburg is declining due to age. The guy was throwing harder upon his return from injury than he had in 3 years. And...you know....he's what like 27?

Froggy said...

Harper, to your last question, don't you think the Mets picking up Carlos Gomez, qualifies as a 'big pick up'?

If thus were a tennis match we would be saying ',advantage Mets'. Time for Rizzo to get some OF insurance for Werth and Span:

Get Carlos Gonzalez!

BxJaycobb said...

Froggy: Carlos Gomez trade did not end up happening because of problems with Gomez's physical.