Papelbon, Stanley, and the Red Sox's saves record

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While not quite Trevor Hoffman versus Mariano Rivera, last night Jonathan Papelbon saved his 133rd career game to move past Bob Stanley for the Red Sox’s all-time record.

Stanley accumulated 132 saves over 13 years in Boston, saving more than
20 games just twice from 1977-1989, but to Papelbon’s credit he was quick to recognize how different that era was for closers:

The era of baseball he pitched in was a lot different and in my
opinion a lot harder, with a lot of two- or three-inning saves. The
game’s become a lot more specialized now and so to get this milestone
is huge, to follow in the footsteps of guys like that.

Papelbon is right on the money and it’s an important point to make
given that many young fans have probably never seen a closer who wasn’t
held back for one-inning appearances with leads of 1-3 runs. Stanley
didn’t have a ton of saves because getting a ton of saves wasn’t the
primarily purpose of a closer back then (and it shouldn’t be now, but
that’s a rant for another day).

Instead he–like most top relievers of the 1970s, 1980s, and
basically any time before the 1990s–was called upon to pitch in the
most crucial situations whether that came in the seventh inning of a
tie game with two men on base or the ninth inning with the bases empty
and a three-run lead. Stanley made 552 career relief appearances,
pitching an average of 2.1 innings per outing, which is basically
unheard of in today’s game.

By comparison, Papelbon has made 237 career relief appearances,
pitching an average of 1.1 innings per outing. Stanley was basically
asked to get twice as many outs as Papelbon every time he came out of
the bullpen to pitch. When he recorded 33 saves in 1983, Stanley
pitched 63 innings in those 33 appearances, including 21 saves of more
than three outs and nine saves that involved working at least three
innings.

Papelbon has pitched more than one inning twice this season, never
getting more than five outs, and has pitched three innings exactly once
in 234 career relief appearances. All of which isn’t to say that
Stanley is some sort of super reliever or that Papelbon isn’t an
amazing pitcher, but as we get further into the “saves era” the
tendency is to evaluate closers by a single statistic that
short-changes the guys who wriggled out jams, worked multiple innings
all the time, and weren’t held back to get the final three outs.

UPDATE: Donald Trump declines Nats offer to throw out the first pitch

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UPDATE: Welp, we wont’ get to see that:

Sad!

8:53 AM: It’s just gossip now, but Politico is hearing that Donald Trump is in talks to throw out the first pitch at Nationals Park on Opening Day. The Nats are not commenting. Neither are the Palm Beach Cardinals of the Florida State League, who no doubt feel slighted given that the president effectively is a local.

With the caveat that, on Opening Day, tickets are likely to be more expensive and thus you’re likely to have a lot more rich people and friends-of-the-owners in attendance, thereby ensuring a more conservative crowd, I’m struggling to imagine a situation in which Trump strolls on to a baseball field in a large American city and isn’t booed like crazy. He’s polling as low as 36% in some places. He’s not exactly Mr. Popular.

Oh well. I look forward to him three-bouncing one to Matt Wieters and then grabbing his phone and tweeting about how it was the best, most tremendous first pitch in baseball history. Or blaming Hillary Clinton for it in the event he admits that it was a bad pitch.

2017 Preview: Texas Rangers

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Texas Rangers.

The Rangers somehow won the AL West last year despite not being super great at any one aspect of the game. There are stars here — Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish and Rougned Odor are all spiffy players — but the Rangers won the division by being greater than the sum of their parts. They scored a decent number of runs despite some bad collective peripheral numbers and they allowed more runs than anyone in the AL except the Twins and Athletics. Yet they had a great record in one-run games and outperformed their pythagorean record by a WHOLE lot. Luck shined brightly on the 2016 Rangers.

It’s hard to expect luck to hold in any instance, but that’s especially the case when there have been some pretty significant changes. Changes like the loss of Carlos Beltran, Ian Desmond and Mitch Moreland. In their place: A full season, the Rangers hope, from Shin-Soo Choo, a converted-to-outfield Jurickson Profar and Mike Napoli. That may wash out OK, especially if Choo is healthy, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see some regression in two of those offensive slots.

Starting pitching is also a big question mark. Cole Hamels at the top is not a problem, obviously, and if Yu Darvish is healthy and durable the Rangers have an outstanding 1-2 punch. Martin Perez in the third spot presents promise, but he’s been exactly average so far in five major league seasons. The back end of the rotation has some real problems. Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross are hurt at the moment and even if healthy, Cashner seems to be a shell of his once-promising self. A.J. Griffin is looking to pitch in his first full season since 2013. If the Rangers are strong contenders all year it’s gonna be on the “Spahn and Sain and two days of rain” model, but I have no idea what rhymes with “Darvish” and that’s sort of a problem.

The bullpen is going to look a lot like it did last year. Sam Dyson will close, but manager Jeff Banister has shown in the past that he’s not a slave to keeping guys in any one role down there. Jeremy Jeffress will likely set up but he’s closed before. Some think Matt Bush or Keone Kela could close. We’ll see Tanner Scheppers and lefty Alex Claudio. Banister has a Manager of the Year Award on his mantle and while that often doesn’t mean anything, it usually suggests that a guy knows how to deal with his pen. Banister will do OK with what he has.

Really, though, the rotation is a concern, as is hoping that a 35-year-old Mike Napoli and a soon-to-be 38-year-old Adrian Beltre can continue to be the types of players who can form the offensive core of a playoff team. There’s talent and a track record here, but there’s a lot of uncertainty. For that reason, I suspect the Rangers will fall back a smidge this year, even if they’re a playoff contender.

Prediction: Second Place, American League West.