JAWS and the 2022 Hall of Fame Ballot: Jonathan Papelbon

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2022 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

2022 BBWAA Candidate: Jonathan Papelbon
Jonathan Papelbon 23.3 28.3 13.4 21.7 725.2 368 2.44 177
Avg HOF RP 39.1 30.1 20.0 29.7
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

For most of the 12 years that he was in the majors, Jonathan Papelbon ranked among the game’s top closers, and its most consistent. For the first nine full seasons of his career (2006–14), he averaged 36 saves and posted a 2.35 ERA (185 ERA+), never notching fewer than 29 saves and only once turning in an ERA above 3.00.

During that time, Papelbon made six All-Star teams and helped the Red Sox to four postseason appearances. He thrived in the high-pressure ninth-inning role — sought it out, admitting that was the job he preferred when the team experimented with him as a starter in the spring of 2007. He sparkled in October, setting a major league record with 26 consecutive scoreless innings to start his career and closing out the Rockies in the 2007 World Series.

Like even the greatest of closers, Mariano Rivera, Papelbon wasn’t immune to high-profile failures; the only playoff game in which he allowed runs turned out to be a season-ender, and his tenure in Boston ended with a blown save to complete one of the most notorious collapses in recent memory. While he cashed in with a record-setting free-agent contract from the Phillies, his final years in Philadelphia and Washington were marked by two infamous incidents, one silly (his crotch-grabbing gesture to fans in 2014), the other flagrant (his choking of Bryce Harper in the Nationals’ dugout in 2015), both leading to suspensions. And by walking away from baseball at age 35 in the middle of the 2016 season, not only did he fail to undo the damage to the way he was perceived in the wake of those incidents, but from a Hall of Fame standpoint, he also left his career totals too short for many voters to give him strong consideration.

Papelbon was born on November 23, 1980, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. His parents met while attending Louisiana State University, where his mother, Sheila, played Division I volleyball and softball. She later worked in corporate trust banking, and his father, John, worked in the food industry. Three years after Jonathan was born, twins Jeremy and Joshua followed; both were drafted out of the University of North Florida in 2006 and spent five years in the minors — the former in the Cubs’ chain, the latter in that of the Red Sox. By all accounts, the three boys were a hyper-competitive handful.

In 1990, the Papelbons moved to Jacksonville, Florida after Sheila accepted a job there; John later served as the deputy director of the Ted Williams Hitters Hall of Fame. The move was difficult on Jonathan, who was already playing Little League, but he thrived in the competitive atmosphere of Florida baseball. At Bishop Kenny High School, he earned all-city honors three times as a power-hitting first baseman and occasional reliever. At a high school showcase tournament, his team ran out of regular pitchers after two games, so Papelbon made the first start in his varsity career; he threw a no-hitter.

Even so, Papelbon preferred hitting to pitching, and when he accepted a scholarship to Mississippi State University, it was as a first baseman. The Bulldogs’ coaching staff, however, believed that his 6-foot-4 frame and arm strength gave him more promise on the mound, so Papelbon agreed to redshirt and commit himself to pitching. He worked exclusively as a reliever at Mississippi State and drew the interest of scouts. “He came here, and I saw him as real lanky,” recalled head coach Ron Polk in 2006. “He got bigger. He got stronger and more confident, and he came up with a really live fastball and a breaking ball.”

After Papelbon posted a 2.94 ERA with 45 strikeouts in 40 innings as a junior, the A’s chose him in the 40th round in the 2002 draft, aka the Moneyball draft, in which the team selected Nick Swisher, Joe Blanton, Jeremy Brown, and Mark Teahen within the draft’s first 39 picks. Papelbon didn’t sign, but after a senior season in which he posted a 2.28 ERA with 54 strikeouts in 47.1 innings, he was selected in the fourth round of the 2003 draft by the Red Sox — the first one overseen by general manager Theo Epstein — and signed for a $264,500 bonus.

The Red Sox planned to develop Papelbon as a starter and kept with the plan even after he was BABIP-ed all the way to a 6.34 ERA at Low-A Lowell, his first professional stop; he struck out 36 and walked just nine in 32.2 innings, showed off a 92–93-mph fastball that could touch 96, and landed at no. 91 on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list. He climbed to 37 after a strong season at High-A Sarasota the following year (129.2 innings, 153 strikeouts, 2.64 ERA), with BA noting that his fastball had added a mile per hour; that it, his slider, and his changeup were all plus pitches at times; and that with more consistency, he had a shot at becoming a frontline starter.

After pitching well at Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket over the first four months of the 2005 season, Papelbon got the call from the Red Sox. He debuted on July 31 with a wobbly 5.1 innings against the Twins, striking out seven but walking five and allowing three runs (two earned, via homers by Justin Morneau and Jacque Jones). The Red Sox sent him back to Pawtucket, but he returned on August 16 and made two cleaner starts against the Tigers and Angels before being bumped to the bullpen once Curt Schilling returned to the rotation following a spotty stretch as the team’s closer. Papelbon, who by this point was working with a fastball-splitter-slider combination, did a solid job in a setup role, finishing the regular season with a 2.65 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 34 innings. He added four scoreless frames against the White Sox in the Division Series, but the Red Sox, the defending world champions, were swept.

In the spring of 2006, when Keith Foulke couldn’t reclaim the closer’s job he’d held before being sidelined by injuries, the Red Sox appointed Papelbon to the ninth-inning role. He was nothing short of brilliant, converting his first 20 save chances, allowing one run in his first 34 appearances, making the AL All-Star team, and posting on 0.92 ERA in 68.1 innings, striking out 75 and notching 35 saves overall; 18 of his 59 appearances were longer than an inning. Unfortunately, shoulder fatigue forced the Red Sox to shut him down in early September, by which point the team was out of the running. Even so, he finished with 5.0 WAR, the highest single-season total by a reliever throwing fewer than 100 innings, and good for sixth in the AL.

Soon after the shutdown, the Red Sox announced plans to move Papelbon to the rotation the following season, believing that the structured regimen would keep him healthier. But while he worked as a starter during spring training, both he and the team ultimately concluded that they were better off with him closing. Via Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, the matter was settled when Papelbon went to manager Terry Francona and told him, “Man, I’m not sleeping good. I know deep down in my heart [starting] is not what I want to do. If you want to give me the ball in the ninth, I’d love to take it and go back in that role.”

With that question settled — Papelbon never started another game except for a one-inning stint on a 2016 rehab assignment — he peeled off another All-Star season, posting a 1.85 ERA, striking out 84 batters (a 37.5% rate that would stand as a career high) and converting 37 of his 40 save chances. The Red Sox won the AL East, then dispatched the Angels, Cleveland, and the Rockies in the postseason to win their second World Series in four seasons. Papelbon strung together 10.2 scoreless innings across seven appearances, notching four saves and recording the final out in both Game 7 of the ALCS (which he’d entered in the eighth inning when the score was 5–2, before the Red Sox plated six more runs) and Game 4 of the World Series. He struck out Seth Smith for the final out.

During the team’s run, Papelbon gained an amusing amount of notoriety with his post-clinching Irish riverdance, done to the Dropkick Murphys’ “Shipping Up To Boston,” which had become his entrance music earlier in the season.

Papelbon ran his streak to four straight All-Star seasons in helping the Red Sox to playoff berths in both 2008 and ’09, saving 79 games in that span. Though the Red Sox came within one win of another trip to the World Series in 2008 as he spun 10.1 more scoreless postseason innings against the Angels and Rays, his better campaign was in ’09, when he posted a 1.85 ERA and 3.5 WAR, but that season came crashing to a halt in part because of his own dud. Having begun his postseason career with a record 26 consecutive scoreless innings (surpassing Joe Niekro‘s 20), he entered Game 3 of the Division Series against the Angels in relief of Billy Wagner with two outs and two on in the eighth inning; the Red Sox led 5-2 and needed a win to avoid a sweep. On his first pitch, he allowed a two-run single to Juan Rivera to trim the lead to 5–4. After escaping that jam and getting an additional run to pad his margin for error, he got two outs in the ninth inning, then allowed three hits and two walks (one intentional), with Vladimir Guerrero Sr.’s two-run single giving the Angels the lead. When the Red Sox didn’t score in their half of the ninth, they went home for the winter.

While struggling with his fastball command, Papelbon’s walk rate inflated to 3.8 per nine in 2010, and his ERA to 3.90; he still saved 37 games but blew a career-high eight save chances. He rebounded in 2011, trimming his walk rate to 1.4 per nine and his ERA to 2.94, but also played a prominent role in Boston’s September collapse. A blown save on September 20 against the Orioles, when he allowed a bases-loaded eighth-inning double to Robert Andino, led to a loss, and a night after needing 28 pitches to close out a win against the Orioles, he came in to protect a one-run lead. He got two outs, then served up back-to-back doubles to Chris Davis and Nolan Reimold, tying the game; when Carl Crawford couldn’t spear Andino’s liner to left field, Reimold came home to score the winning run. The Red Sox lost 20 of 27 September games, and after the Rays came back from a 7–0 eighth-inning deficit against the Yankees to win in 12 innings and secure the AL Wild Card spot, Boston was left with a collapse for the ages. (Here it’s worth noting that Papelbon went unmentioned within the Boston Globe’s prominent exposé of the team’s clubhouse culture amid the collapse — the fried chicken-and-beer story — except to note that he was one of the team’s hardest workers.)

With that, Papelbon, who had never signed a multi-year deal with the team, reached free agency. Though the Red Sox had some interest in bringing him back, they also had fireballer Daniel Bard waiting in the wings, albeit with no idea that his career would soon go off the rails as he battled control issues. The Marlins and Blue Jays reportedly had interest as well, but the Phillies landed him via a four-year, $50 million deal, after failing to close negotiations on a four-year, $44 million deal with Ryan Madson, who had closed for them in 2011 after serving a long apprenticeship as a setup man. The agreement came on November 11, 2011, making Papelbon the first of that year’s big-name free agents to sign, and set a record for the largest contract ever for a reliever, tying Brad Lidge for second in average annual value and behind only Rivera’s $15 million.

Papelbon joined a team that had won five straight NL East flags, but in a sense, he had caught a falling knife. Though he made the NL All-Star team in 2012, saved 38 games, posted a 2.44 ERA, and struck out a career-high 92 batters in 70 innings, the Phillies went just 81–81. That was followed by back-to-back 73-win seasons in 2013 and ’14, with manager Charlie Manuel getting fired in mid-August of the former year and Ryne Sandberg taking over.

Things continued to go south, and near the end of his strongest full season with the Phillies (2.04 ERA, 39 saves, 2.8 WAR in 2014), Papelbon found a way to contribute to the bad vibes. After blowing a three-run lead in a 5–4 loss to the Marlins on September 14, the closer grabbed his crotch as he came off the mound in response to boos from fans at Citizens Bank Park, producing a tabloid cover for the ages. (He also made physical contact with umpire Joe West after being ejected from the game.)

Papelbon claimed that he was merely adjusting his athletic supporter — what adult doesn’t do that in front of 30,000 angry fans? — and to have been mystified by the ejection. “I had to make an adjustment and I did it,” he told reporters, not that anyone was buying his story. Said West, “The whole thing started because the fans booed him and he made an obscene gesture. He had no business doing that. He’s got to be more professional than that. And that’s why he was ejected. Whatever happened out of that may have happened in anger out of being kicked out.”

Major League Baseball suspended Papelbon for seven games, a rather severe penalty given that he posed no danger to anyone; for comparison’s sake, note that in September 2015, he drew a three-game suspension for throwing at the head of Manny Machado. The league also suspended West for one game for initiating contact. After the incident, Papelbon pitched just twice over the team’s final 13 games.

While the 2015 Phillies lost 99 games and fired Sandberg along the way, Papelbon was able to grab a ticket out of town after pitching to a 1.59 ERA with 17 saves. On July 28, he was traded to the Nationals in exchange for Nick Pivetta, with Washington converting his $13 million vesting option for 2016 into an $11 million guarantee.

The Nationals were 52–45 at the time of the trade and leading the NL East by two games but went just 12–17 in August, sliding out of first place early in the month and never regaining their footing. Papelbon didn’t help matters by taking a loss and blowing two saves within a four-appearance span in September, but by then the Nationals were basically toast. None of that could have prepared anyone for the altercation that took place on September 27, the day after the team’s official elimination from the playoff picture. Papelbon took issue with Harper, who was on his way to winning his first NL MVP award, not running out a routine fly ball, the kind of false hustle best described as eyewash. After the two players exchanged heated words, Papelbon grabbed Harper by the throat and pinned him to the dugout wall before the scuffle was broken up. Exhibiting his typically keen grasp of the situation, manager Matt Williams, who would soon be out of a job, sent Papelbon out to pitch the ninth inning, where he allowed the first five runs of an eight-run rally that sent the Nationals down in yet another defeat.

Papelbon apologized to Harper and made a public apology as well:

“I’ve talked to Bryce and told him how we feel and we’re on the same page now, which is good. Squash this and [play] tomorrow’s game. You know, I grew up with brothers, he grew up with brothers. I view him as a brother of mine. Sometimes in this game there’s a lot of testosterone and there’s a lot of intensity that spills over, and I think that happened today. For me, I can’t allow that to happen in the middle of a game. You handle that after the games or allow the manager to handle that. In that light of it, I’m wrong.”

While it’s worth noting that within the game, some players did speak up on behalf of Papelbon’s position, those missives within the culture war over the unwritten rules haven’t aged well. Those rationalizing an old-school veteran trying to put a brash 22-year-old whippersnapper — even an MVP — in his place had to admit that doing so in public view, with violence, was highly inappropriate.

Papelbon was suspended four games by the Nationals and additionally dropped his appeal of the Machado suspension, so he didn’t pitch again that season, though remarkably, Washington didn’t unload him over the winter. The following June, after a wobbly six-week stretch, he landed on the injured list for the first time in a decade due to an intercostal strain. He returned three weeks later, but after six consecutive scoreless appearances, he was hit for nine runs over a five-game span, retiring just 10 out of 24 batters; his ERA inflated from 2.64 to 4.37. The Nationals, who traded for closer Mark Melancon on July 30, used Papelbon just twice over the next two weeks. The team intended to designate him for assignment, but at his request instead granted him his immediate release on August 13. The Red Sox and Cubs were among the teams expressing interest; Chicago’s Jon Lester, who had played with Papelbon in Boston, called him “a great teammate” who had gotten “a bad rap” for the Harper incident.

But Papelbon didn’t sign anywhere, with the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo reporting that “family/personal issues” were involved with his decision, and agent Seth Levinson confirming to Cafardo that it was “a personal family matter” in December. He never officially retired and earlier this week reiterated that stance, telling WEEI’s Rob Bradford, “I’m never going to retire. It’s never going to happen. I don’t care if I’m on my death bed like Ted Williams thinking he can hit at age 90. I’m just never retiring. That’s just the fact and how it’s going.”

Officially retired or not, Papelbon ended his career ranked second all-time in games played among players who never made a single plate appearance — a strange little fact, particularly in light of his original path to a college scholarship — and ninth in saves, though Craig Kimbrel surpassed him last summer, and Kenley Jansen could do so next year if he’s closing regularly. Even given that ranking, Papelbon never led his league in saves and in fact only finished in his league’s top five five times, never higher than third.

Saves won’t be Papelbon’s ticket to Cooperstown, not when there are five non-Hall of Famers ahead of him on the all-time list, led by Francisco Rodríguez (437) and John Franco (424). Building a strong case upon counting stats of any type is tough, given that he totaled only 725.2 regular-season innings, about 20% fewer than Wagner, and even rate stats require setting a low enough threshold for opportunities. Among pitchers with at least 700 innings in the AL and/or NL since 1920, Papelbon’s 2.44 career ERA is the fourth-lowest behind Rivera (2.21), Wagner (2.31), and Jansen, and his 177 ERA+ is third behind Rivera (205) and Wagner (187)… but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still not a lot of innings.

Papelbon’s postseason resumé does bolster his case a bit. His record-setting scoreless streak included his closing out a World Series, and while that 27th inning, in which he blew a save by allowing three runs, did send the Red Sox home in 2009, even Rivera endured a couple of season-ending losses. Among pitchers with at least 25 postseason innings during the division play era (1969 onward), Papelbon’s 1.00 ERA trails only Rivera (a jaw-dropping 0.70 in 141 innings), Jeremy Affeldt (0.86 in 31.1 innings), and Andrew Miller (0.93 in 38.2 innings).

By traditional WAR and JAWS, Papelbon doesn’t turn many heads. His 21.4 JAWS ranks 29th, below all eight enshrined relievers and nine spots below Wagner (23.7). Where he does fare much better is in R-JAWS (Reliever JAWS), which I’ve used in evaluating Wagner’s case for a few years and recently formalized on an experimental basis at Baseball Reference in time for this election cycle. Clipping the description from my Wagner piece:

While the version of WAR used in JAWS features an adjustment for leverage — the quantitatively greater impact on winning and losing that a reliever has at the end of the ballgame than a starter does earlier — to help account for the degree of difficulty, it’s not the only way to measure reliever value. Win Probability Added (WPA) is a context-sensitive measure that accounts for the incremental increase (or decrease) in chances of winning produced in each plate appearance given the inning, score, and base-out situation. For a reliever, single-season WPA scales similarly to single-season WAR, which is to say that it’s rare that one is worth more than three wins in a single year, by either measure. WPA can be additionally adjusted using a pitcher’s average leverage index (aLI) for a stat variably called situational wins or context-neutral wins (referred to as WPA/LI).

In that stat, Papelbon ranks 10th, four spots below Wagner and two below Joe Nathan:

Top Relievers by R-JAWS
1 Mariano Rivera+ 56.3 56.6 33.6 48.8
2 Dennis Eckersley+ 62.1 30.8 25.8 39.6
3 Hoyt Wilhelm+ 46.8 30.5 26.5 34.6
4 Rich Gossage+ 41.2 32.5 14.8 29.5
5 Trevor Hoffman+ 28.0 34.2 19.3 27.2
6 Billy Wagner 27.7 29.1 17.9 24.9
7 Firpo Marberry 30.4 26.3 17.3 24.7
8 Joe Nathan 26.7 30.6 15.8 24.4
9 Tom Gordon 35.0 21.3 14.5 23.6
10 Jonathan Papelbon 23.3 28.3 13.4 21.7
11 Francísco Rodriguez 24.1 24.4 14.7 21.1
12 Stu Miller 27.1 20.2 12.9 20.1
13 Craig Kimbrel 21.9 24.8 13.2 20.0
14 Ellis Kinder 23.3 23.6 11.7 19.5
15 Lee Smith+ 24.1 21.3 12.7 19.4
16 Tom Henke 22.9 21.3 13.9 19.4
17 Kenley Jansen 18.6 24.6 14.8 19.3
18 Dan Quisenberry 24.6 20.7 12.5 19.2
19 Rollie Fingers+ 25.6 16.2 15.1 19.0
20 Tug McGraw 21.8 21.5 13.1 18.8
21 Bobby Shantz 34.7 10.4 10.3 18.4
22 John Hiller 31.1 14.6 9.4 18.4
23 Bruce Sutter+ 24.5 18.2 11.9 18.2
24 Kent Tekulve 26.2 14.2 13.9 18.1
25 Keith Foulke 20.8 20.5 12.1 17.8
Hall avg w/Eckersley 38.6 30.0 20.0 29.6
Hall avg w/o Eckersley 35.2 29.9 19.1 28.1
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
R-JAWS is the average of WAR, WPA, and WPA/LI. + = Hall of Famer

When I cast my vote, I included both Wagner and Nathan on my ballot — the former because I’m convinced he belongs in Cooperstown thanks to his sheer dominance, the latter because while I’m not as thoroughly persuaded, he’s close enough to Wagner in R-JAWS that I want to continue thinking about it. It would be an understatement to say that not everybody feels this way; at this writing, only three other voters from among the 172 published ballots in the Tracker put the X next to Nathan’s name, and for that matter only one has done so for Papelbon. To get the minimum 5% needed to remain on the ballot will require a candidate to find 20 or 21 votes, so both are deep in the weeds.

In the barrage of comments I received upon publishing a ballot including Nathan, the question of why I didn’t include Papelbon as well was voiced by more than one respondent, and it’s a fair one. Leaving aside the issue of ballot space for a moment, by R-JAWS, I view him as occupying a lower tier than Wagner and Nathan, who are clustered (along with Marberry) in the 24–25 range, whereas Papelbon is one of four pitchers clustered in the 21–22 range. He’s closer to Fingers, the lowest-ranked enshrinee, than to Wagner.

That’s a product of the innings gap between Wagner/Nathan and Papelbon, but as someone in that discussion pointed out, that gap mostly comes down to Papelbon not having Nathan’s tenure as a back-end starter. However, even if one limits both pitchers to their innings as relievers, there’s still a bit of daylight:

Joe Nathan vs. Jonathan Papelbon as Relievers
Joe Nathan 761.0 2.50 2.86 25.3 31.2 17.0 24.5
Jonathan Papelbon 709.2 2.45 2.76 23.3 28.3 13.4 21.7
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
* includes only seasons with a majority of innings as a reliever (2002-16 for Nathan, 2005-16 for Papelbon)

Nathan, who pitched to a 4.60 ERA in 162.1 innings as a starter in 1999–2000, threw about 50 more innings in relief than Papelbon, and the two were close to dead even in run prevention (Nathan has a 179 ERA+ to Papelbon’s 177). Because I don’t have starter/reliever splits for WAR, WPA, or WPA/LI, I’ve excluded the impact of Nathan’s 19 relief innings from 1999–2000 (10.4% of his total) upon those stats; meanwhile, I’ve included Papelbon’s 16 innings (2.25 ERA, 4.64 FIP) as a starter from 2005 (47% of his innings). But even with that, the R-JAWS gap is nearly equivalent to the one that includes their stats as starters.

Papelbon’s postseason work versus Nathan’s (an 8.10 ERA in 10 innings, but only two seasons with more than a single postseason inning) arguably closes that gap, but in the end two things swing the argument in favor of the ex-Twins stopper, at least to these eyes. First, if the BBWAA electorate is struggling to accept relievers with fewer than 1,000 innings — which seems to be the case, excepting Wagner — then one with fewer than 800 innings is a tougher sell, a viewpoint that’s borne out in the preliminary returns from the Tracker.

Second, it’s tough to escape the narrative arcs to the two careers, which color the stats a bit. Nathan was a late bloomer who didn’t find a regular home in a major league bullpen until his age-28 season, had most of three seasons wiped out by major arm injuries (rotator cuff and labrum surgery in 2002, plus two Tommy Johns), and pitched into his age-42 season (in the minors, with the Nationals) and basically had to have the jersey peeled off of him. Papelbon, who like Nathan debuted at age 24 (he was actually 100 days older at the time) but clicked almost immediately, made his last appearance at age 35. While there was interest in his services from other teams, he had been part of two ugly incidents in the previous two years, one of them pretty damn appalling. It’s unfair to speculate about whatever family matter it was that took priority over his continuing his career in 2016, but that doesn’t change the fact that its final stages in Philadelphia and Washington left a bad taste. When it came to figuring out the back end of my ballot, I preferred Nathan, Bobby Abreu, Gary Sheffield, and David Ortiz — all of whom are short of the JAWS standards at their positions but have strong enough arguments in their favor that I checked their boxes nonetheless — to Papelbon.

That’s the way it crumbles, cookie-wise, for this voter, and whatever nits one might pick, the fact remains that 171 out of 172 voters thus far found their own reasons to leave Papelbon on the outside as well, making him extremely unlikely to get his 5%. Perhaps his numbers and his story will look different as an Era Committee candidate in 10 years or so, after we’ve seen how the careers of Kimbrel, Jansen, and Aroldis Chapman — the next wave of potential Hall of Fame relievers — play out. For now, it appears Papelbon belongs among the one-and-dones.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

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2 years ago

Wow, 5.0 wins in just 68 innings? That doesn’t even seem possible to me, especially with a k/9 of only 10 or so. Can anybody point out what I’m missing about that season in context?

2 years ago
Reply to  fanoftheman

BballRef WAR uses ERA, not FIP, and Papelbon had a 0.92 ERA that year. That was good for a 20 ERA-, (80% better than league average), the fifth-lowest by anyone with more than 60IP since integration.

Left of Centerfield
2 years ago
Reply to  Eltneg

Actually, they use RA/9 which includes unearned runs. Papelbon only gave up one unearned run that year so his RA/9 was 1.05.

2 years ago
Reply to  Jay Jaffe

Obviously different league-wide contexts, but still interesting to compare to Zack Britton’s 2016, where he had a 4.1 rWAR on a 0.54 ERA / 803 ERA+ / 0.94 RA9 over 67.0 innings. A whole win of separation is a lot for relievers.