Craig Kimbrel will be the first reliever taken in all fantasy leagues this year. Jonathan Papelbon will probably be the second.
And we have him ranked 171st overall! WTF! Unfortunately, relief pitchers lose a ton of value because they only pitch about one-half to one-third the innings of starting pitchers, and unless they have sparkling ERAs that resemble 1-point-something or WHIPs that start with a zero, they’re just not able to overcome the massive drop in workload.
But it’s not like Papelbon is only good for saves. He struck out 92 batters last year, about 25-30 more than most rosterable relief pitchers, which is the same number of strikeouts that makes Matt Cain a fantasy ace and Johnny Cueto more of a number two. And Papelbon does put up very good ratios in about 70 innings of work.
In fact, according to Baseball Professor’s PSR formula, Papelbon’s projected 2.62 ERA over 69 innings in 2013 is just as valuable as Brett Anderson‘s projected 3.27 ERA over 140 innings and Hiroki Kuroda‘s projected 3.48 ERA over 206 innings. And the same goes for Papelbon’s WHIP. There’s value there, just don’t overdraft him for it.
At a Glance
- Strengths: SV, BS, K, K/9, ERA, WHIP, BB
- Neutral: W, L
- Weaknesses: none
- Best-case scenario: better than 2012, but no one’s topping Kimbrel
- Likely scenario: Jason Motte (STL), Joe Nathan (TEX), Addison Reed (CHW)
- Worst-case scenario: Joel Hanrahan (BOS)
Jonathan Papelbon 2013 Fantasy Projection
Papelbon is as close to a guarantee as there is in the bullpen. He’s pitched between 64 and 70 innings in each of the last five seasons, he’s saved between 35 and 41 saves in all seven seasons as a closer except 2011 with Boston (31), he’s struck out at least 75 batters in every season, and in the last two he’s struck out 87 and 92, respectively. For all the volatility that seems to exist among relief pitchers in fantasy, Papelbon is unusually immune to it.
In the interest of full disclosure, Papelbon’s velocity did drop a whole mile-per-hour last year down to 93.8. In no other year did he fall below 94.5 mph. Over the last few years, though, Papelbon has tended to build up strength and velocity as the season has worn on, so I’m not concerned about the drop. He still managed one of the best years of his career, and I’d have no problem drafting him this year expecting the same. Just remember how much it’s actually worth.