I don’t like Jonathan Papelbon (and I don’t have to)

Let’s get this straight:


I don’t like Jonathan Papelbon. I don’t know the man, i don’t pretend to know the man, I wouldn’t presume to know if he is a good or bad person. I do know how I feel about him though, and I don’t like him. I’m not impressed with his crotch grab, I don’t think much of a guy who has two entrance songs for closing, and while I can understand a guy wanting to protect his payday, I’m not a huge fan of a guy who insists on being the star of the bullpen wherever he goes.

I don’t think this is an “out of context” situation. My gut tells me this is who Papelbon is. I don’t think this is a Yunel Escobar situation, where we can all hope (and that hope has been validated so far this year) that his transgressions of youth were just that. I think there is a very good chance that “Pap” (ugh, do I have to get used to writing that?) is a jerk.

At tension with this my dislike is that, well, he’s a good pitcher, and there is a good chance he’s made the bullpen better.

That doesn’t mean you have to like it, or I like it, or I’m going to try and convince you to like it. Baseball, at its core, is there to entertain you. It’s why the guys play, it’s why you watch. We can all be a baseball poet about it, but baseball is here to kill 3 hours of your day and give you something to talk about at the water cooler. You’re supposed to be enjoying yourself, and if you’re not you’re probably doing something wrong.

Adding a guy like this to the team sours it for me because I don’t like jerks. I like to think we can populate a sport with guys who aren’t jerks and we’d still enjoy it. Fantasy, I know. That doesn’t mean the feeling won’t change, or subside, or go away entirely once he starts pitching. I don’t know the answer to how I really feel, or how you should feel. I don’t have to have a hot take on how great/devastating this is for the team. I wouldn’t dare to pretend to know how this would affect the clubhouse (and i think any speculation one way or the other is dangerous, stupid and wrong).

I have some thoughts that I have organized though.


We’ve Done This Before….This Spring

There is a certain song and dance we all do when a new player comes to town. It’s a mix of hurt feelings (cuz it means our guys aren’t good enough), not really knowing a lot about the player coming in (Projection! Xenophobia! Tribalism!), and having a fixed idea as to what the team needs and doesn’t need (Cuz even folks who rip armchair managers are armchair managers).

We do these things because we all are pretty stupid, self included, and our caveman brains divide things up into very simple to understand directives that we apply to everything. But that’s another post for another day.

In the Spring, the Nats didn’t need a starting pitcher at all, but adding Max Scherzer happened and its been probably the most enjoyable thing about the Nats this year (this side of Bryce Harper, anyway). You can pretend it didn’t happen, but there was a litany of “Overpaid/We don’t need him/Rizzo is an Idiot/and What an Insult To Jordan or Straburg who deserve to be the ace” comments and thoughts and tweets from many, many people.

That’s all largely gone away. It really helps that Max Scherzer seems to be a billion times cooler and nicer than Papelbon, but I think there is evidence that stacking better players on top rather than looking for players to support the players we have is an approach we’ve seen before, and one that is working right now. (tho I do think its fair to ask if Papelbon is actually that much better of a closer than Storen.)

For a Trade, It was a Good Trade


I think its pretty clear that Papelbon wasn’t the Nats first choice.

This is a list of Relief Pitchers, by WAR, since 2011. You can hate WAR all you want, but its the metric I’m using to get a grip on the situation. The top two relievers are Kimbrel (12.1) and Chapman (10). Papelbon is 6th (8.0) Tyler Clippard is 17th (5.0) and Drew Storen is 25th with 4.0. You can argue that if Storen wasn’t hurt in 2013 (commonly thought of as his head-case year) and if the Nats hadn’t given his job to Rafa Soriano, he probably could be up a bit higher-but I don’t think he’d be 6th.

According to Svruluga, to get one of the top two closers you needed to give up more than one player that is likely starting as soon as next year. To get Tyler Clippard you needed to give up a young prospect A ball pitcher. To get Papelbon, a guy who is 3 WAR better than Clippard over the same period you had to give up a slightly more advanced prospect and the Phillies sent some money along to boot.

I may dislike Papelbon. Papelbon may not work out. But as far as trades on paper go, the Nats did really well for themselves.

This Is Nothing To Do With Drew Storen…But it all falls on him.

Read James O’Hara who is a much better and clearer writer than me.

I will add that I think a lot of Drew Storen’s success came from Tyler Clippard setting him up. We don’t have managers that pitch their closers against the hardest parts of the line-ups, we have managers that pitch closers in the 9th. It is incredibly helpful to have a guy who is as good a pitcher in 8th as is in the 9th. That’s two Storen caliber guys covering 6-7 batters, not one crappy guy and one good guy in the 8th and 9th.

You don’t get to win games if you don’t get through the 8th inning. Those three outs are just as important as any other three outs in the game. You need them all. Period. End of Story. Keep your “closer mentality” and “tougher cuz of the pressure” crap out of my feed-pitching the 8th is not easier than pitching the 9th, so stop it. You need as many good pitchers in the bullpen as you can find, and you fit them in where you can.

So Storen becomes the new Clipp and there is no disgrace in that. Rather than all of saying how this is a demotion for Storen and it is insulting to him (which I understand), let us simply chose not to insult Storen. Let us recognize he is the same pitcher he was yesterday and nothing has changed. If anything, let us throw recriminations on a system that artificially inflates the value of one pitcher over another based on which inning he pitches in. This is a great opportunity for Nats fans to get behind a set up guy and really appreciate what they do.

Don’t hate the player, hate the Nth Inning Guy mentality.

What are you going to do, not root for the Nats?

At the end of the day, the Nats added a guy who is good at baseball and, at worst, is a total jerk. This isn’t like a guy who was accused of committing a crime or some truly morally reprehensible act. He’s just, probably, a jerk-just like a lot of people. Including baseball players. Including many Nationals, actually. Including many Nationals you probably didn’t even know were jerks. We’ve all almost certainly rooted for a guy who is a jerk and didn’t know it. Which is to say, at some point you can’t let jerks ruin a good thing you enjoy watching. And if it is going to ruin it, better to jump off now than stick with it because this is just going to keep happening for as long as you watch baseball.

Seriously. Not to get all tough guy on you, but are you going to get into the fetal position and cry all day about this? You know who’s not doing that is Drew Storen, and this affects him a thousand times more than you do. Ultimately, there needs to be an aspect of putting ones lower garments on and getting out of bed to face the day. We are here, whether we like it or not-and frankly, it is not even close to the end of the world or all that bad.

It’s just baseball, and there is no crying in baseball. Just pitching, hitting, and (ugh) the occasional crotch grab (and really, to be fair, who hasn’t wanted to make an obscene gesture at a bunch of Phillies fans?)

Love it or leave it, I don’t imagine I’ll be turning off Nationals games anytime soon. So I plan on getting used to it.



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About nationals101

Frank and Susan bring you an introductory level podcast to baseball and the Washington Nationals. DC is new to baseball, and baseball is new to DC. Whether you're a life long resident who just never got into it, or a transplant that came from a football and hockey town, we want to answer the questions baseball novices were a little too afraid to ask, and help everyone appreciate the National Passtime just a little bit more.

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