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.

Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

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Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.