Among 165 qualified relievers which includes closers and setup men, Papelbon ranks 83rd in ERA (3.18), 130th in strikeouts per nine innings (7.15), and 98th in strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.57). In high-leverage situations since 2015, those at-bats in which the swing of the possible change in win expectancy is at its greatest, Papelbon strikes out just 17.7 percent of hitters (6.6 per nine) and has severe trouble finding the strike zone (2.4 K/BB). That makes him, at best, an average reliever who struggles with command of the strike zone and at worst a complete liability in pressure-packed situations.
It’s this type of inconsistency that prompts change, and Bill Ladson of MLB.com reports the team is hoping Yankees relievers Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman are available before the trade deadline. It would be a strong move by the division-leading Nationals if they can pull it off and of the two, Miller is the guy the Nats want when the game is on the line. And he should be handed the closer’s role on Day 1 if acquired.
Miller has a 1.09 ERA and a wipe-out slider that strikes out 16.4 batters per nine innings pitched. His command of the strike zone is also superb, sitting down 15 batters for every one he walks.
Chapman, who served a suspension until early May, is averaging 13.2 strikeouts per nine innings with a fastball that routinely hits 100 mph.
Even if you adjust a player’s contributions to his team’s win expectancy, while neutralizing for leverage index so that players don’t get a large bonus by being in high leverage situations more often, Miller is still the clear winner.
Moving Papelbon won’t be easy, nor would getting a guy like Miller come cheap, but it’s the type of transaction that could move the Nationals from playoff contender to World Series hopeful very quickly.