A lot of my friends and family members have recently been asking me whether or not Jonathan Papelbon was worth the four-year, $50 million deal he was given by the Phillies this past off-season that will likely include a fifth year, if he finishes 55 games in 2015 or 100 games combined in 2015 and 2016.
I stand by the move. The Phillies did indeed need a closer, and they went out and spent their money on the best available closer this side of Mariano Rivera. After years of watching the guy, I figured he would fit in with the Phillies with his fiery passion and emotion. Yep, that's been checked off the list. Obviously, the rest of the bullpen has failed the Phillies, and injuries to Michael Stutes, Jose Contreras and David Herndon left the Phillies void of three guys who had Major League experience. (Plenty of it for Jose Contreras, for obvious reasons.)
In 2012, amidst the fury and anger, Jonathan Papelbon has been… Jonathan Papelbon. The guy is hands down one of the most consistent relief pitchers in the game, and he's proved it again this year. An All-Star this season, Papelbon has converted 27 saves, pitched 51.1 innings, allowed just 43 hits, and struck out 62. While he did have 12.2 K/9 last year, his 10.9 rate here in 2012 is above 2010, 2009, and 2008. Papelbon has indeed fit in here in Philadelphia, and without him, the Phillies would probably be a totally lost cause. With the bullpen in total shambles this season, they have had a rock at the end of the pen in Papelbon.
There have been some debates during this season as to whether or not the Phillies have been using Papelbon properly, with many saying the team should have used him more often in four-out save situations. Well, that's not really up to Papelbon, it's up to Charlie Manuel and the coaching staff. He just comes in and pitches, and when he has been called upon, he's done his job.
Unlike most of the Phillies' roster this year, Papelbon has avoided the disabled list. He has taken the ball when asked to do so, and doesn't complain, except for a few minor run-ins with umpires. But hey, that's par for the course for Papelbon. For many Phillies players in 2012, avoiding the disabled list was a tough thing to do. What has also been tough is for anyone in the bullpen not named Papelbon to get opposing hitters out. The Phillies' bullpen has a 4.47 ERA this season, fifth-worst in the league. Although, if you ask a lot of Phillies fans, they'll act surprised and say "how are we not the worst?" It's been that type of year for the bullpen.
Bullpens are a very fungible operation; many guys will have good years and bad years, and the elite guys we have seen over the years like Dennis Eckersley, Eric Gagne, Joe Nathan, Rivera, and Papelbon get special accolades for the job they have to do. They deserve it.
The Phillies spent a heck of a lot of money on Papelbon in order to get one of the best shutdown relievers in the game. I'd say the Phillies could have used him a few more times in four-out save opportunities or non-save situations, but Manuel really does stick to the "book" with his relief pitchers. By now, it's easy to see what has happened: this has been a collective failure from top to bottom this season. Save for a few players, most of the Phillies' season has been mired in pure mediocrity. Papelbon has been far from mediocre, and the Phillies better hope he can do this again 2013. If I'm a betting man, I'd say he does.This off-season will be about the Phillies finding a better bridge to get to actually get to their closer more often.
Victor Filoromo is a featured contributor for Yahoo! and also contributes to PhuturePhillies.com, a Phillies' prospect blog. He grew up just outside of Philadelphia, and enjoys Philadelphia sports, media, and politics. You can follow him on Twitter @victorfiloromo.