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
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.