Red Sox RP: Jonathan Papelbon
Career Stats: 41-36, 2.44 ERA, 177 ERA+, 808 SO, 368 SV, 23.3 WAR
Current Year on Ballot: 1st
Current Percentage: 0.7%
During his tenure with the Red Sox, Jonathan Papelbon was arguably the best closer in baseball this side of Mariano Rivera. From 2006 to 2011, his 257 saves led all of baseball, while his 88.9% save percentage was fourth among closers with at least 100 saves.
His 2.32 ERA in that span, meanwhile, was second to Rivera among relievers with at least 400 innings. He had three seasons with an ERA under 2.00, made four All-Star teams, and saved at least 30 games in each of his six seasons at the Red Sox closer.
Papelbon was even more than spectacular in the postseason. He didn’t allow a run and converted all seven save opportunities during the Red Sox 2007 and 2008 postseason runs.
After blowing Game 162 of the Red Sox’s 2011 September collapse, Papelbon signed a four-year/$50 million deal with the Phillies. Papelbon kept up his dominance in Philadelphia, saving 123 games over four years to go along with a sparkling 2.32 ERA.
His success on the mound, however, was undercut by a significant velocity dip and a series of immature acts, including making an obscene gesture to fans that got him suspended seven games. Papelbon was dealt to the Nationals at the 2015 trade deadline, and, after a career-high 4.37 ERA and attempting to choke Bryce Harper, was out of baseball by age 35.
Papelbon was on a Hall of Fame course through age 34, but his early retirement leaves him well short of the WAR standard for Hall of Fame relievers. His career WAR is 15 wins shy of the standard, while his JAWS is eight behind. Yet the relief pitcher JAWS is challenged to evaluate because Goose Gossage and Mariano Rivera are both outliers that distort the average.
To look at it another way, Papelbon is 10th among relievers in JAWS, ahead of Hall of Famers Lee Smith, Rollie Fingers, and Bruce Sutter. This is not to say that he should be slam-dunk Hall of Famer, but his decade-long run of dominance should be enough to prevent him from being shut out on the ballot.
Vote Prediction: 1.2%