In a few weeks, my sister will give birth to a baby boy. Aside from the absolute awesomeness that could take place if the baby, we’ll call him Baby X, is born on leap year (which actually might happen), I am very excited for this baby to be born for two reasons.
First, I grew up in a house full of women. My mother was the one who dropped me off and picked me up from school while my dad worked during the daytimes. I was the middle child between two sisters. My grandma would baby sit us on the weekends. The estrogen flowed through my life like the most whiny and emotional river in the world. Having two sisters presented unique challenges in my childhood that would normally derail a growing boy; double the Barbies (and Skippers), double the awfully-named nail polishes, double the more-than-slightly-questionable boyfriends. It was like growing up in a zoo but instead of animal fur and a petting zoo, there was Barbie hair and My Little Pony dolls all over the place. When it came to sports, my sisters chose their teams based on what player they thought was the “cutest.” For my older sister, she became a Dodger fan after Mike Piazza’s mythical mustache wrapped around her heart like a hairy, Italian snake. The younger one fell in love with Alex Rodriguez’s sterioded pecs, ever enlarging head, and lack of having any real opinions. If you are keeping track, I have one sister who is a fan of the cross town Los Angeles rival team, and another sister who was a fan of the division rival Texas Rangers. Between the Dodgers, Rangers, Barbies and Mike Piazza’s mustache, you can only imagine how long I’ve waited for the day for Baby X to be born.
The second reason I cannot wait for Baby X to show his face is that I want to see how developed his right arm is. Why, you ask? It’s simple. I will give the kid a week or so to do things like open his eyes and poop a few times. After that, however, I’m going to Marinovich this kid’s right arm to groom him for the best job in America: a relief pitcher in the Major Leagues. It will be a low-key Marinoviching though, because rather than not letting Baby X eat a Big Mac till an absurdly old age, I’m going to start feeding him Big Macs at an absurdly young age. We all know the most popular relievers are the biggest ones. I’m looking at you, Heath Bell.
**Side note: another reason to keep the Marinoviching low-key is that I do not want to be made into a “30 for 30,” where Baby X’s college cocaine binges can be crudely exposed and blamed on me by the ironically lispy talking son of Jeremy Schapp.**
If you made it through that completely off-topic opening that mercifully ended, further clarification on why being a relief pitcher in the Major Leagues is my ultimate goal for Baby X is imminent. It would seem that aiming for a relief pitcher ceiling is selling this kid’s right arm short. It would SEEM that way. However, the best interest of the child is to do as little work as possible and gain as much money as possible; which is exactly the specialty of a relief pitcher. Relievers have been essentially stealing money from teams in exchange for getting nine outs a week. Highway robbery to some, but future-nephew gold mine for me.
The worst of these highway robbery acts in recent memory belongs to none other than the new closer of the Philadelphia Phillies: Jonathan Papelbon. Papelbon will make $50,000,000 over his next four years in Philadelphia. Seven zeroes. I was actually physically sickened while typing out all the zeroes in fifty million thinking about how little actual value he has to a team. Using the barometer of 67 innings per year over the life of the contract, which he averaged during his last four years with the Red Sox, Papelbon will make $186,567.16 per inning. Even more ridiculous, he will make $62,189.05 every out. Every time Papelbon faces a pinch hitter for the pitcher, every time Papelbon faces Eli Whiteside, and every time Papelbon faces anybody from the Padres he will earn an average annual salary equipped for a middle class family in a high GDP area. That’s a very specific analogy. Even MORE ridiculous, Papelbon has averaged 1101 pitches per year during the last four years. Staying on that pace, every time he throws a pitch for the Phillies, Papelbon will receive a check of $11,353.32. Every five pitches, Papelbon can pay for an entire year of tuition at Harvard University. He can pay for an entire Harvard education with twenty pitches. With sixty pitches, he will be able to buy enough food to feed Clay Aiken for three lifetimes, or Ruben Studdard for a week.
For comparison, if Jered Weaver was paid as much by the pitch based on last year’s stats, he would have earned $42,518,183.40 last year. Even Albert Pujols would make Weaver pick up the tab at dinner. Project that salary to a four year deal like Papelbon’s, and Weaver would have earned $170,072,733.60. While crunching those numbers, I thought all of Mrs. Hoshijo’s seventh grade Pre-Algebra teachings had been in vain, because those numbers seemed completely ridiculous. After double and triple checking those numbers are dumbfounding, stupefying, and accurate. You can rest easy, Mrs. Hoshijo. Five years for $85 million seems like an even bigger hometown discount now. Baby X has a lucrative future ahead of him if he just listens to his uncle. I’m whispering, “94-96 heater, hard slider” to my sister’s stomach as I type this. He just kicked my face. That will cost him ten pushups when he’s born.
Truth be told I have a completely unfounded, yet very real, hatred for Jonathan Papelbon; most of this article will be based around how absolutely absurd his particular contract is based on his performance in relation to other closers. However, it is not Papelbon’s contract alone that annoys me; it is the profession of being paid to throw no more than one inning that does. Papelbon is being paid like the guy who invented the Hot Pocket to throw a baseball sixty times a week. I am not naïve to the fact that front office executives are far more knowledgeable than I am in terms of assessing player value. It is simply baffling to me, however, that the market dictated by these executives has set the price to obtain these specialty players at a level of sheer ridiculousness in relation to their actual effect on the outcome of the game. Contrary to popular belief, outs 25-27 are no harder to obtain than outs 1-3 or 10-12. The goal of the pitcher, to make an out, remains the same, while the goal of the hitter, to not make an out, remains constant. These goals are not physically harder to achieve in the ninth inning than they are in the first inning, yet closers are paid exponentially more to get the last three than starting pitchers and middle relievers are to get the first twenty 24.
The reason why being a relief pitcher in the Major Leagues is the best job in the world, is that baseball executives will make up reasons to give you extra money you do not deserve. This completely fictitious reason is that there is a certain pre-ordained and unquantifiable mental makeup existing in closers that does not exist in all other relievers. Due to this apparently genetic “closer mentality” trait, fans, inexplicably, actually wanted to sign Francisco “Coco” Cordero to be the Angel closer this year. Surely it was Cordero’s genetic makeup that allowed him to close out games and definitely not just a season long aberration, even with career lows in BABIP (.215) and strikeouts per 9 innings (5.4), right? Wrong. First of all, I think Cordero actually ate his own genetic makeup in the bullpen in the seventh inning. Second of all, the only thing Coco Cordero has been genetically predisposed to do is to have the ability to look like Fatman Scoop. (Ironically, Fatman Scoop has been genetically predisposed to eat too many Cocoa Puffs. That’s a fact. You don’t have to look it up.) If I had a nickel for every time I heard an Angel fan pining for DiPoto to sign Cordero while solely citing the reason of having a “closer mentality” that Jordan Walden did not, I’d finally be able to buy the platinum-plated bathtub I’ve been saving for. When it comes to hygiene, you can never be too stylish. Just ask Fatman Scoop.
**Sidenote number two: While doing research on Coco Cordero, I found out that his agent is named Bean Stringfellow. Forget chocolate and peanut butter; Coco and Beans are the new match made in fat heaven. This Coco Cordero comparison just keeps getting better and better.**
Let’s take a closer look at Jordan Walden and his lack of “closer mentality.” Surely, the people citing this will look solely at Walden’s 10 blown saves and make that assumption. To understand how to assess the value of the blown save stat, we must first define exactly what a save is. A save opportunity is recorded if a pitcher enters the game with no more than a three-run lead, or if the tying run is on deck. A save is achieved when a pitcher successfully finishes the game given those circumstances. Unfortunately, Walden hardly ever came in with a cushy three run lead. The anemic Angels offense of 2011 gave Walden the unenviable task of entering the game with only a one run lead 22 times. Walden converted 14 of those opportunities. For comparison, Papelbon was handed that situation only 11 times, converting eight times. If Papelbon was placed in that situation as many times as Walden, based on his save percentage, Papelbon would have only converted two more than Walden. Walden usually had much less margin for error, and therefore, a blown save was easier to obtain.
Walden was used during very close games all year long, even if it was not a save situation. Of Walden’s 62 appearances in 2011, Walden entered either a tied or a one run game 40 times (65%). This specific sample size demonstrates circumstances in which an elite reliever, typically a closer, is best utilized. In comparison to free agent closers the Angels could have signed, Papelbon pitched under those circumstances 28 of 63 games (44%), Ryan Madson pitched in 25 of 62 (40%), and Fatman---I mean, Franscisco Cordero pitched in 32 of 68 (47%). Walden pitched in significantly more games where one run meant the difference between a win and a loss. During these conditions, Walden allowed a brilliant triple slash line of .197/.285/.311. Only Papelbon (.190/.229/.260) had a triple slash line better than Walden’s out of the free agent closer sample size. Diving even further into the Papelbon/Walden comparison, Walden gave up only seven more hits (26 to 19) in 12 more appearances than Papelbon within those circumstances. Using Papelbon’s numbers and projecting them out 12 more appearances, Papelbon would have actually given up one more hit than Walden. Yet Papelbon is the one with the reputation of having a “closer mentality,” and Walden is being pegged as a shaky ninth inning option.
I would rather poke my own eyeballs out than say what I’m about to say, but it is undeniably true: Jonathan Papelbon was a better pitcher last year than Jordan Walden was. I am not comparing the two in order to prove to you that Walden was more effective. Papelbon’s peripheral numbers were clearly better than Jordan’s. I’m comparing the two to show you why being a relief pitcher, specifically a closer, in the Major Leagues is the best job in the world. You get paid an inexcusable amount of money while doing an inexcusably small amount of work, and people make up reasons to continue giving it to you. Relief pitchers make Paris Hilton look like a single mom raising eight kids in an igloo during the summer. My conscience is morally sound enough to ban Baby X from playing in the jerk-producing Red Sox organization, like Papelbon. However, if Baby X makes a dollar or two, or fifty million, by striking out Jeff Mathis’ future son, then my morals can take a backseat while Baby X starts P90X from the womb.