Search Archives
Analyze This

Do you have something you would like to analyze? Send us a note and we will be happy to do the research!

What's New

In Broadcast Analysis
Twitter Feeds

This site utilizes the MLB analytics platform powered by TruMedia Networks

Entries in Joe Nathan (2)


Joe Nathan Finds His Fastball

When the Rangers slid Neftali Feliz into the starting rotation and signed Joe Nathan to a two-year, $14.5 million deal to replace him as closer, it looked like the club paid sticker price for a pitcher in decline. Nathan ranked second among all qualified relievers in ERA+ (237) and fifth in strikeout rate (11.1 per nine frames) from the time he became the Twins' stopper in 2004 to 2009. But he missed all of the 2010 season following Tommy John surgery, and he wasn't his electric usual self upon returning in 2011 (an 84 ERA+ and 8.7 K's per nine).

In 2012, however, the Rangers closer has re-established himself as a relief ace. Nathan boasts a 226 ERA, and his K rate is back up to 10.7 per nine. The 37-year-old has returned to form by missing bats with a higher-octane fastball.

Post-Tommy John in 2011, Nathan averaged 92.3 mph with his fastball and didn't get many swings and misses with the pitch. That was especially the case on fastballs thrown high in the strike zone. Here's his fastball contact rate by pitch location last season, and then the league average for relief pitchers:

Nathan's fastball contact rate by pitch location, 2011 

Average fastball contact rate by location for relievers

Nathan got a whiff just 13 percent of the time that batters offered at his fastball, compared to the 18 percent average for relievers. But with the Rangers, Nathan has averaged 93.8 mph with his heater and is missing many bats up in the zone: 

Nathan's fastball contact rate by pitch location, 2012

Hitters have swung through nearly a quarter of Nathan's fastballs in 2012. That places him in the top 20 among qualified 'pen arms:

Highest fastball miss rates among relievers, 2012

Pitcher Miss Pct.
Ernesto Frieri 47.6%
Aroldis Chapman 40.7%
Sean Marshall 38.0%
Jason Grilli 33.1%
Craig Kimbrel 31.8%
Joel Peralta 31.5%
Steve Delabar 29.9%
Koji Uehara 27.4%
Fernando Rodriguez 27.4%
J. J. Hoover 27.2%
John Axford 26.5%
Brad Brach 26.4%
Jose Arredondo 25.5%
Andrew Cashner 25.4%
Bobby Parnell 25.4%
Jordan Norberto 25.0%
Jake McGee 25.0%
Henry Rodriguez 24.8%
Tyler Clippard 24.5%
Joe Nathan 24.5%



Rangers Ink Nathan; Feliz to Start

Texas Rangers signed RHP Joe Nathan to a two-year, $14.5 million contract with a $9 million club option for the 2014 season.

Turning 37 today, Nathan's days as a tier-one closer are likely over. But in his first post-Tommy John season, the longtime Twinkie pitched better than his ERA would suggest. Nathan gives the Rangers a capable late-inning arm without a leviathan three or four-year commitment and allows the club to make a reliever-to-starter conversion for a third straight season by moving Neftali Feliz to the rotation.

Nathan didn't get through the 2011 season unscathed (he missed a month with a right forearm injury), and his fastball, which once consistently sat 94-95 mph, averaged a more modest 92.3 mph. His lower-octane stuff led to his first relief year in which he struck out less than a batter per inning (8.7 K/9 in 44.2 frames). However, Nathan displayed pretty good control (2.4 unintentional BB/9) and his fielding-independent numbers paint the picture of a pitcher deserving of a 4.00ish ERA instead of his actual 4.84 mark, which was the result of a very low rate of stranding base runners (64 percent, compared to a 79 percent career average).

One concern for Nathan is how his fly ball-heavy approach will play in Arlington. Nathan induced ground balls slightly under 36 percent of the time in 2011, and he served up 1.4 homers per nine innings. Like in past years, he tried to challenge hitters up in the zone with his fastball:

Nathan's fastball location, 2011

But, sitting at 92 instead of his vintage 95 mph, Nathan's fastball got hit hard:

In-play slugging percentage by location on Nathan's fastball, 2011

All seven of the homers that Nathan surrendered came on fastballs. Hitters slugged nearly .600 against the pitch, and whiffed at it less than 13 percent of the time (18 percent average for relievers). Thankfully, his breaking pitches were more effective: batters slugged a combined .220 versus Nathan's low-80s curveball and high-80s slider (.302 average for RP).

Nathan's signing means the Rangers will try to go three-for-three in converting relievers to the rotation. C.J. Wilson (who Feliz may well replace) made the jump in 2010 and Alexi Ogando did it prior to 2011, and now Feliz gets his shot. The 23-year-old righty was a starter coming up on the farm with the Braves and has long been lauded for a devastating, mid-to-upper-90s fastball. As a starter, however, he'll need to show better control (he walked 4.2 per nine unintentionally last year), dust off his breaking ball and further develop either his high-80s cutter or changeup.

As a reliever in the majors, Feliz has averaged 96.3 mph with his fastball. Not surprisingly, he has fallen in love with that pitch, throwing it about 77 percent of the time. It's arguably the best fastball among all relievers. Even though hitters guessing fastball would have been right more than three-quarters of the time, they hit .181 against the pitch and slugged .291, while also whiffing 26 percent of the time that they dared take a cut.

That fastball, even if it loses a couple ticks in extended outings, will be the center piece of his approach. But his secondary stuff needs a tune-up. Feliz has thrown his power slider for a strike less than half of the time, and his changeup also has a below-average strike rate in the mid-fifties. As he develops those pitches more in Spring Training, he could also go to a high-80s cutter that he started throwing in 2011 (green on the chart below). That pitch would give hitters something more to think about instead of just gearing up for a fastball (red) or looking for a sweeping slider (blue).

Release velocity and pitch break on Feliz's pitches, 2011

Nathan no longer hangs out in Mo Rivera/Papelbon territory, and there are concerns about how his aerial approach applies to a park that increases homers by 19 percent for lefty hitters and 14 percent for righties. Still, if his signing keeps Texas from going 3 years/$30+ million for someone like Francisco Rodriguez or Heath Bell and lets Feliz maximize his value as a starter, it's a defensible move.