Closer Report: Papelbon's future value 

August, 2, 2013
8/02/13
11:47
AM ET
Angry Philadelphia Phillies fans and Cole Hamels fantasy owners lit up Twitter with venom on Thursday night, directed at struggling closer Jonathan Papelbon, and I admit I might have helped fuel the fire a bit. Papelbon blew his sixth save of the season against the San Francisco Giants, permitting four hits and two runs in a messy inning of work, eliciting zero swinging strikes and turning a 1-0 lead into a 2-1 deficit and eventual loss. The last time Papelbon actually saved a game was July 11. This wasn’t close to the biggest eruption by a closer on Thursday -- right, Seattle Mariners fans? -- but then again, Tom Wilhelmsen didn’t anger his fan base recently by saying, “he hadn’t signed up for this,” in reference to his team’s losing ways.

Of course, Papelbon’s performance this season isn’t exactly what his fantasy owners signed up for, either. Papelbon, the No. 3 closer off the board in ESPN live drafts and an eighth-round choice overall, is currently outside the top 20 relief pitchers on the Player Rater, though it’s not entirely his fault. He enters Friday with a perfectly reasonable 2.59 ERA and 1.03 WHIP, and with nearly a strikeout per inning, and while he’s blown more saves than the average closer, he can’t control the lack of opportunities. Nobody can.
[+] EnlargeJonathan Papelbon
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsJonathan Papelbon's value may be waning, especially as a keeper candidate, but he likely will still be a top option in 2014.

In terms of what Papelbon can control, his fastball velocity has dropped a bit in each of the past several seasons, his slider is coming in slower, hitters are making more contact against him and all of that is a big deal for one-inning relievers. Papelbon certainly wasn’t missing any of the Giants’ bats on Thursday. Nobody ever compares relievers to running backs, because turning 30 isn’t significant for the former like it is for the latter, but it’s possible Papelbon’s days of dominant performance are over. Unless you’re talking about the great Mariano Rivera, we expect our ninth-inning pals to accumulate more than a strikeout per inning, and if they don’t, we want to know why and if it’s a harbinger of doom. Frankly, if Papelbon was throwing better, he probably would have been traded earlier this week.