Real Quick Like

It’s been a busy week so far, and it’s only getting busier. Here’s what I’m selling:

A quick follow-up to my recent Phil Hughes take, re-examining some of my earlier assumptions in the wake of more data. It turns out I was wrong about which pitches of his are leading to more groundballs, and which more home runs. Worth noting: Hughes didn’t have a great Saturday night (6 innings, 9 hits, 3 runs, 1 walk, 0 strikeouts) but he did get a season-high 14 groundballs, and threw more cutters than curves for a change. Meanwhile, Alex Rodriguez hit three homers for the first time since I saw him do it in 2005.

• Also at Pinstriped Bible, my take on the Yankees’ catching situation given the way Francisco Cervelli’s wearing out his welcome with poor hitting and mistakes in the field. The short version is that the top prospect Jesus Montero, who’s flat-out ranking in Triple-A, simply isn’t an option given how raw he is behind the plate.

• At Baseball Prospectus, Marc Normandin and I debate the Red Sox options regarding Jonathan Papelbon, who will be entering his final year of arbitration eligibility this winter and will be making somewhere around $12 million. Personally, I loathe Papelbon with an intensity I reserve for only a few other players, but I don’t seem to be alone in that lately given the Boston closer’s decline from the heights of his 2007-2008 performance. After he blew his sixth save of the year on Thursday, Marc revived the idea that Papelbon could be nontendered — not offered a contract — this winter; I found his argument highly questionable and took up his offer to debate the issue:

I realize it’s somewhat incongruous for a Yankees partisan to play devil’s advocate on an issue concerning a pitcher that Yankees fans love to hate, but I can’t help but be struck by a parallel to the scenario Marc has outlined above. Namely, it smacks of a certain faction of Yankee fans’ desires to see Joba Chamberlain traded amid his ongoing struggles.Both Papelbon and Chamberlain seem to have fallen far from the dizzying heights of their 2007-2008 performances, stoking outrage and puzzlement among their followers. Of course, the comparison breaks down because of the disparity between the two pitchers’ salaries. Chamberlain is making less than half a million dollars this year and will be arbitration-eligible for the first time, whereas Papelbon is in his final year of arb eligibility and pushing eight figures.

While most of us like to stoke our inner Steinbrenner when we run our fantasy teams, releasing struggling players only because we can’t order summary executions instead, the reality of a major-league general manager is much different. A good GM won’t simply punt a high-upside player because he’s on a bad stretch that depresses his value. On the contrary, a good GM will take advantage of the gap between the player’s perceived value and his actual value, and call Ed Wade or some other sucker to see if he’ll take him off his hands.

In an industry where Brad Lidge is being paid an eight-figure salary to close games for a contender while flirting with replacement level, Papelbon has tremendous value. This is a pitcher who’s compiled a 2.04 ERA while whiffing 10.1 hitters per nine innings in his five-plus seasons. Only Mariano Rivera and Joe Nathan can top that ERA, and only seven pitchers can top that strikeout rate. Only two of those seven, Rivera and Lidge, have closed out a World Series. Papelbon not only has “the Scarlet C,” he has it with distinction.

It’s an interesting exercise, to say the least. Personally, I hope Papelbon sticks around because he’s so much fun to root against.

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