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Player Profile #171: Jonathan Papelbon | RP | PHI

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

Player Comparisons

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.


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Updated: January 8, 2013 — 2:36 pm
  • Boger82

    So… I’m assuming this means you only have a total of two relief pitchers in your Top 200? That might be punting saves a bit to the extreme. Just for comparison sake, ESPN has 26 relief pitchers in their Top 200.

    • baseballprofessor

      No, we actually have 5 in our top 200 (Kimbrel, Papelbon, Motte, Nathan, Reed) with a whole bunch of others in the 200-250 range.

      It’s probably important to define exactly what we mean by top 200: these are the players we project to rank 1-200 a the end of the season. Many RP are drafted because they’re in line for 30+ saves, but they hurt you everywhere else. These pitchers obviously have value, though, and in our upcoming mock drafts you can see exactly how we approach RP.

      In short though, we don’t like drafting RP. As I described above Papelbon’s ERA is only as good as a SP with about a 3.50 ERA, so in the end you’re really just drafting Papelbon for a lot of saves, some help in ERA/WHIP, a few extra Ks, but mainly for the stability.

      For a quick recap of why we feel this way, check this out:

      Also, ESPN’s ranking of 26 RP in their top 200 is simply ridiculous in my opinion, especially since they only included 49 RP. There’s no way I’m taking the 26th-best RP over Hellickson, Anibal Sanchez, Garza, Harvey, Estrada, and a bunch of others. Saves are too volatile, and a lot of the guys in the top 26 will become wasted picks. Paying attention on free agency will net you some saves, and the value/stability of all those SP they skipped out on is much better than what a top-25 RP brings.

      Thanks for the comment!

      • KB

        “It’s probably important to define exactly what we mean by top 200: these are the players we project to rank 1-200 a the end of the season.”

        I like that approach to a Top 200. It would be my guess that ESPN is moreso trying to replicate what a draft might look like and accounting for a “closer run” that could occur once the first few start to fall.

        Happy to comment – Each offseason I usually come across one or two new Fantasy Baseball sites I hadn’t seen the year before, and Baseball Professor is one of them this year. It has instantly become one of my new favorites. Keep up the great work!

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