Washington Nationals: Jonathan Papelbon’s Time In DC A Failure

Aug 6, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals relief pitcher Jonathan Papelbon (58) throws to the San Francisco Giants during the ninth inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 6, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals relief pitcher Jonathan Papelbon (58) throws to the San Francisco Giants during the ninth inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports /

One day after the Washington Nationals released Jonathan Papelbon, we reflect on how his tenure in DC was a failure

Yesterday, the Washington Nationals did something that some of their fans have been waiting for them to do for quite sometime. They decided to release the former closer, Jonathan Papelbon after Papelbon had requested his release, according to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.

With Mark Melancon now the closer in DC, there was no need to have Papelbon in the bullpen anymore because of the success the rest of the bullpen was having. While Melancon’s save against the Atlanta Braves last night had some drama involved, he is known to usually bring stability to the ninth inning, something Papelbon did not do.

Before the 2015 trade deadline, the Washington Nationals were looking to add more bullpen help, just like they were looking to do this year before the acquisition of Melancon. Since they weren’t able to trade for a lockdown closer aft the time, general manager Mike Rizzo decided to make the deal for Papelbon.

On July 28, 2015, the Nats officially acquired Papelbon from the Philadelphia Phillies for pitching prospect Nick Pivetta. This season, Pivetta is 11-6 with a 3.41 ERA in 20 starts at double-A Reading and was recently promoted to triple-A Lehigh Valley. But, with the Nats pitching depth in their minor league system, giving up Pivetta was not the problem in this trade.

Due to Papelbon having a vesting option for 2016, he wanted the Washington Nationals to void the option and give him guaranteed money instead to close games. Even though he had the track record of being a good closer on a World Series team (2007 Red Sox) and 126 saves with the Philadelphia Phillies, the Nats already had a good closer.

Over the first four months of last season, Drew Storen was 29-for-31 in saves, but his postseason failures from 2012 and 2014 were in the back of everyone’s mind. Once the Washington Nationals demoted Storen to the eighth inning, he wasn’t the same pitcher. He had a 8.49 ERA in August and ended up missing the rest of the season due to breaking his right thumb when he slammed a locker door after a loss in September to the Mets.

As for Papelbon, he was 7-for-9 in saves with a 3.04 ERA, but his time with the Nats will always be remembered for what he did on September 22, 2015. In that game, he put his hands on Bryce Harper’s neck in a dugout altercation.

Surprisingly, Papelbon was back this season. Even though he was 19-for-22 in saves, his velocity on his fastball has dropped drastically (average of 90.9 according to Fangraphs) and his save situations would always keep fans on the edge of their seat. In the end, his one bad week at the end of July ended up making the Nats trade for Melancon.

At the time of last year’s deal, here were my thoughts on the trade that I wrote about on this website:

"“The Nationals are an organization that is deep in terms of pitching prospects, so only giving up the seventh highest pitcher in your organization for a closer that can improve a bullpen that has team ERA of 3.39 seems like a good deal. The question now is whether or not Papelbon will leave his attitude at the door and try to help the Nats reach their goal of a World Series title.”"

Looking back on the deal, everyone can wonder what would have happened if Storen remained the closer. But, at the same time, Papelbon was not the sole reason that the Washington Nationals underachieved during the 2015 season. Some might say he wasn’t great for the team, but his teammates liked him despite that incident last year. Here were some comments Max Scherzer made yesterday:

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While Rizzo hasn’t made many mistakes as the Washington Nationals GM, but if you look back at what happened with Papelbon, it is safe to say that acquisition was one of his worst moves as GM and that Papelbon’s time in DC was a failure.

Now, it is time to see what this bullpen can do with a new closer (Melancon) as well as pitchers such as Shawn Kelley, Blake Treinen, and Sammy Solis holding down the eighth inning. With this team looking to accomplish their goal of a championship and to right the wrongs of last season, it was a good decision to get rid of one of those wrongs.