Money Well Spent

There are currently thirty Major League pitchers with at least five saves to their name in 2012. This is not that weird as thirty teams exist in Major League baseball and they all have more than five wins apiece. Thirty guys who classify as “closers” in the game right now. As everyone knows, these roles are fluid and performance-based – today’s closer is tomorrow’s mop up guy and next week’s backup bullpen catcher (or something.)

Not every game represents a save situation and often closers pitch in low-leverage situations to “get their work in.” It is the nature of the job – as well as being the job of the manager to use his assumed best pitcher in other, important situations.

In his brief time as a member of the Phillies, Jonathan Papelbon’s usage has been the subject of much debate. Our friend’s at Crashburn Alley are all over this, pointing out time and again that manager Charlie Manuel’s slavish insistence to use his closer almost exclusively in ninth-inning save situations ONLY hurts is club and squanders a big time asset.

Tonight’s MLB Rule IV amateur draft is as good a day to revisit the Papelbon situation as any. The Phillies signing of the high-priced reliever—just days before the new CBA and draft rules were revealed—netted the Red Sox an extra pick in tonight’s draft. As a fan of an AL East rival, I can only thank the Phillies for the consideration.

To their eternal credit, the Phillies are determined to use Papelbon as little and as fruitlessly as possible. On Saturday night, Jonathan Papelbon entered a game in the eighth inning for the first time this season, en route to recording his first multiple inning save of the year.

The relative misuse/underemployment of Jonathan Papelbon is not the reason the Phillies are in last place in the NL East (nominal as that distinction is, the Phils remain over .500 and just 3.5 games out of first). But the Phillies do themselves no favors by using of the very best relievers in baseball to such minimal effect.

Using leverage index information on Fangraphs, we can put our finger right on the flickering pulse of the Phillies bullpen management.

Among the 30 pitchers with five saves or more, Jonathan Papelbon ranks last in pLI, the total leverage index for all game events. His game leverage (the leverage of the situation when entering the game) is fifth-lowest in baseball, behind three pitchers who are no longer closers or began the season as setup guys. Only Jason Motte of the Cardinals has a lower gmLI.

It isn’t as though Papelbon has pitched poorly, quite the opposite. He has just one blow up this season and zero blown saves, the expected 25 strikeouts against just four walks in twenty-two innings. He’s the same guy, just a guy not being used anywhere near as much as he should.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel is a traditional guy who isn’t about the change the world of bullpen management overnight. Letting the leash on Papelbon out a little bit is certainly a step in the right direction. There is still so much baseball to play, a better deployed weapon like Papelbon is exactly the kind of edge the Phillies need if they’re going to re-introduce themselves into the NL East race.

Wait, what’s that? Roy Halladay? EIGHT WEEKS? Well, I guess there is nothing left to do but read tweets in the Fancave, Cholly.