The 2012 Philadelphia Phillies bullpen has been atrocious. However, there has been a lone beacon in the night, the Phillies new closer, Jonathan Papelbon.
The problem facing the South Philadelphians is somehow reaching the ninth inning with a lead. It is under those conditions that Paps has been perfect, recording 14 saves in 14 opportunities through May 25, a responsibility which Jonathan has proven to be extremely effective in during his illustrious career.
In fact, Papelbon, who inked a lucrative four-year contract during the off-season, has been one of the most proficient closers in baseball history. The 6’4” 225 right-hander reached the 200 save mark in fewer appearances than anyone in major league history and was also the first pitcher in the annals of baseball to begin their career with five consecutive 30-save seasons.
Jonathan was one of the most popular athletes in Boston history, due in great part to his outgoing personality, his flair and, of course, his success. Papelbon was a four-time All-Star with the Red Sox and was an integral part of the 2007 World Series championship.
Jonathan also endeared himself to the fans of New England by celebrating the clinching of the AL East crown by Irish step dancing during the on- field celebration. Papelbon would repeat the dancing when the Red Sox went on to capture the AL pennant.
Jonathan is not afraid to show his “wild side” as he actually changed his hairstyle to a “mohawk” in 2006 in order to resemble the Charlie Sheen character, Ricky Vaughn, in the motion picture “Major League.”
Papelbon’s cumulative major league record entering the 2012 season is an impressive one. In seven seasons, Jonathan had compiled a 2.33 ERA, to go along with 219 saves, while striking out 509 batters in a mere 429 innings and walking only 115.
Recently in a three game sweep by the suddenly resurgent New York Mets, Jonathan allowed a three-run home run to Jordany Valdespin, a blow which won the game for the Mets and broke a ninth inning tie. The blast was the first major league home run by the rookie Valdespin and was not atypical of Papelbon’s past performances in “non-save” situations. Like many others, Papelbon has always performed better when protecting a lead than in entering tie games, a mystery of the ages for many closers.
At the age of 31, Jonathan is still a hard thrower, sometimes reaching the mid 90s with his fastball, however, he is no longer the “beast’ who generally reached the high 90s during his glory days with the Red Sox. To compensate, Jonathan has perfected a “split fastball” which he now has the confidence to throw in tight situations.
During the 2007 Red Sox World Championship season, Papelbon was so overpowering, that even when hitters knew to expect four-seam fastballs, they struggled to even make contact. To demonstrate just how unhittable Jonathan was back then, hitters went 0-31, .000 on 2-2 pitches put into play. With a one-run lead in 2007, hitters were 4-51, .078 versus Paps, and all four hits were singles.
Jonathan still has enough in the tank to consistently get major league hitters out. These days, the Phillies problem is getting to the ninth inning with any sort of lead. However, when Charlie Manuel hands the ball to Jonathan in those situations, he does so with confidence.