There’s no doubting that Jonathan Papelbon is the go-to guy for the Philadelphia Phillies. He has the big contract, the ninth inning-job, the 257 saves to his name.
Yet, for all the things he has, Papelbon does not have the best stuff on the Phillies.
To find that, you’d have to look to his set-up man, Antonio Bastardo.
That seems like a pretty big statement to say, considering that Bastardo is coming off a 4.33 ERA, 0.7 fWAR season, while Papelbon continued his run as one of baseball’s surest closers in 2012. But, just let me make my case here.
Or rather, I’ll try to let a couple of names do it: Craig Kimbrel, and Aroldis Chapman.
Baseball fans know them as the game’s two best relievers (though Chapman will have to shed the reliever tag this year). They’re also the only two pitchers in the game who struck out batters at a higher rate than Bastardo in 2012.
Not that Papelbon’s top-15 K/9 of 11.83 is anything to complain about, but it simply doesn’t compare to Bastardo’s 14.02 K/9, which is elite in every sense of the word. On top of that, Bastardo’s .204 BAA also suggests that batters had a more difficult time with his offerings, compared to the Philies closer’s .214.
Bastardo has no problem getting outs. The issues he has is what happens to the few batters that managed to get hits. Aside from the 4.50 free passes that he hands out every nine innings, Bastardo also combined that with a penchant for giving up homers, serving them up at a too-high 1.21 HR/9 rate that helped ballooned his ERA to where it was last season.
So, for now, he’ll have to settle for being the set-up man with great stuff, but inconsistent control.
But if he keeps going on runs like the one he made over the final 18 appearances of 2012, where Bastardo threw 14 innings of nine-hit, one-run ball with four walks and an eye-popping 27 strikeouts, who knows? It might not be too long before he starts forcing the Phillies’ hands to give him a chance to be more.