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.

Evan Longoria: “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.