Jonathan Papelbon is coming to Philadelphia. The Phillies signed a proven closer with 219 career saves, to go along with a 2.33 ERA, and two World Championships to his name. The Phillies may have just signed the best closer in baseball.
Then why does it feel like we handed our money to Bernie Madolf?
It would be foolish to label this a bad deal, but I just get the feeling that in four years we will wish it was Ryan Madson coming out of the gate in the ninth.
It’s easy to see why Ruben Amaro prefers Papelbon in red pinstripes. Papelbon is clearly the more accomplished pitcher, having closed for six year in the Boston pressure cooker, while Madson has only held the role of closer for one season. And Papelbon’s career 2.33 ERA is far superior than Madson’s 3.59 ERA.
Papelbon’s accomplishments are nice, but all that really matters here is which pitcher makes the Phillies better. Since Madson struggled in two of his first three seasons and spent one as a starting pitcher, the real comparison begins after Madson found his groove in 2007.
How does Papelbon compare to Madson?
Here are Papelbon's and Madson's numbers over the past five seasons from 2007-2011.
Over the last five seasons, Papelbon is superior in every important statistical category by a fairly significant margin. Especially considering Papelbon was the closer for all five years, there's no question that Papelbon is the better pitcher during this timeframe.
But when we take just the last three seasons, things get a bit blurrier:
In the last three seasons, Papelbon still outshines in most categories, but Madson wins in ERA, HR/9, and BB/9. It’s like choosing between six glazed doughnuts and six jelly doughnuts; you can’t go wrong with either choice.
The problem is that due to two contrasting styles, Papelbon's statistics are more likely to decline than Madson's. Papelbon is similar to Lidge in 2008 with a mid-90's fastball and a hard splitter. As we experienced with Lidge, once the fastball goes, hitters have a much easier time laying off the slider and will find themselves in more hitter's counts.
Madson, on the other hand, also has a mid-90's fastball (slightly below Papelbon) to accompany a great changeup, as well as a cutter. When Madson loses velocity on his fastball, he can still rely on the change in speed of his changeup.
Another difference, as David Murphy pointed out, is that Papelbon is much more of a fly ball pitcher. In the last three seasons, Papelbon's ground ball/fly ball ratio is .52 compared to .95 for Madson. Nearly double the fly ball outs in a bandbox like Citizens Bank Park is a dangerous combination.
But Papelbon is here and that will not change, so second-guessing now is a futile endeavor.
On the bright side, waiting around for Scott Boras to drag his feet with Madson could result in the Phillies losing both pitchers. That is too great a risk at this point, so let's give points to Ruben for pulling the trigger and making a decision. Four years from now, Papelbon might be finished, but we might have a few more championships in the process. When that happens, people might be asking, "Who is Ryan Madson?"