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Joe Nathan and Jonathan Papelbon: Elite relievers

Nathan and Papelbon with their early ballot exits

Detroit Tigers vs Minnesota Twins Set Number: X80641 TK1 R1 F176

All of the talk surrounding this year’s ballot was about the different treatment given to David Ortiz in comparison with the likes of Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens. By performance alone, each one of those five were Hall of Famers, by the rationale that anyone with PED involvement shouldn’t be a Hall of Famer, none of them should be voted in.

The result we all know, only David Ortiz was inducted and it didn’t come as a shock to anybody. The truth of the matter is that to look at the situation as it was done above with 1’s and 0’s is a little overly simplistic. There are intricacies and details with each case that are well known, case in point the fact that no one was necessarily surprised by the outcome.

There are many factors in play, but one can’t argue against the facts stated at the top. Once we start nitpicking and differentiating between PED cases and PED Cases, then what are we really doing? Consistency is a huge problem and there are different thresholds for different players and different positions.

I’m actually not here to talk about those guys, but two other players who fell off the ballot in their first year of eligibility. Neither was seriously considered as a candidate, however they were both among the best in their position and that deserves to be recognized, Joe Nathan and Jonathan Papelbon.

If Billy Wagner taught us anything, it is that it is one of the most difficult tasks to be elected into Cooperstown. Even by all accounts, the most bulletproof case can fall short due to postseason failings and nothing is guaranteed. It took until the third ballot for Trevor Hoffman to barely get over the 75% mark and he had 600+ saves.

In a world without Mariano Rivera, these guys alongside Dennis Eckersley and a few others would represent the standard.

Jonathan Papelbon and Joe Nathan were great relievers, however, they only combined for 22 votes entering the ballot in 2022, both won’t be on the ballot in 2023, but let’s look at their career numbers.

Joe Nathan:

2.87 ERA - 923.1 IP - 377 Saves - 1.12 WHIP - 25.9 K% - 9.1 BB% - 30.6 WPA - 151 ERA+

Jonathan Papelbon:

2.44 ERA - 725.2 IP - 368 Saves - 1.04 WHIP - 27.5 K% - 6.3 BB% - 28.3 WPA - 177 ERA+

Both Nathan and Papelbon are top 10 in saves. WPA and ERA+. Nathan pitched a lot more but didn’t have the postseason success of Papelbon who pitched his first 25 playoff innings without allowing a single run between 2005 and 2008 with the Boston Red Sox. His streak ended in ‘09 when he allowed three earned runs to the Los Angeles Angels during the ALDS.

Papelbon retired with a 1.00 ERA in 27 playoff innings.

The Billy Wagner article was to emphatically state the injustice in him not being in the hall of fame and that’s not necessarily the case here. The point could be made that once you start voting players like Papelbon and Nathan in, you open up the case for way too many relievers and a sense of exclusivity is important, but on the other hand, top 10 all-time numbers do mean something.

Papelbon and Nathan had above all else, outstanding careers, worthy of praise.

*Nathan had 17 votes and Papelbon 5. I doubt that this happened because of innings pitched seeing that there’s no getting around the fact that Papelbon was better. It’s just another example of how there’s bias and not a lot of consistency.