It was one year ago yesterday that the Texas Rangers signed free agent closer Joe Nathan. The then 37 year old veteran All-Star closer solidified the back end of the Rangers bullpen allowing Neftali Feliz to move into the starting rotation. Today is Joe Nathan’s birthday, so what better way to celebrate the birth of Nathan than to eat turkey, dressing, and stuff ourselves full of pie? But, was the Joe Nathan project a success? He was chastised when the season began by the fan base and was thrown to the wolves because of his age, but by the end of the season he had settled in and was the same ol’ steady Joe Twins’s fans had grown to love.
The most alarming stat for me was his BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) in 2012. It was the highest in his career (.306) and there isn’t really a close second (.276 in 2007), but this statistic does lean heavily on luck. But, what it does tell me is that when hitters are making contact with his stuff; they are hitting it hard thus increasing their chances of getting a hit. A closer like Joe Nathan who relies on the strikeout will obviously lose effectiveness if the strikeouts start to decline, much like the sinker ball pitcher who can’t get the ball to sink. The highest BABIP among qualified relievers in 2012 was Phil Coke of the Detroit Tigers at a .388 clip, but among qualified closers with at least 20 saves Joe Nathan ranked 17th with his .306 BABIP. Jim Johnson of the Orioles, who led all of baseball in saves, had a .251 BABIP ranking him fourth behind Fernando Rodney (Rays) who led closers with a BABIP of .220 in 2012. BABIP can be a very fickle stat and is not a good indicator of success over a long period of time because so much of the stat is out of the pitcher’s hand. But, the startling jump in Nathan’s BABIP from his previous seasons warrants at least a little concern about his stuff.
As Joe celebrates his 38th birthday on this Thanksgiving Day, there are a lot of reasons to be thankful that he is the closer for the Rangers ballclub next season. His strikeout numbers are still very good, his walk rate was a career best in ‘12 and he has the mentality and grit that you want in your closer. He was a successful closer in 2012 and despite fading down the stretch, the Joe Nathan project was another great move by JD and his staff. Hopefully, father time will be kind to Joe in 2013 and his success will sustain throughout the entire season and deep into the playoffs.
Happy Birthday Joe!
Jeff Johnson is a Staff Writer for ShutDownInning. He can be reached at Jeff.Johnson@ShutDownInning.com or on Twitter @Houstonhog.