There are currently two thoughts going through my head about Joe Nathan. The first one is that there isn’t a need to worry about Nathan despite the fact that he is 0-2 and despite the fact that he blew a save yesterday against the Seattle Mariners. The same Mariners who were 0-for-lifetime against Texas’ previous closer Neftali Feliz.
The second thought is that I still don’t really understand why they brought Nathan to Texas in the first place. I understand the reasoning to put Feliz in the rotation – that was a no brainer and his performance on Tuesday showed that. But Texas wasn’t really short of internal options. They already had Mike Adams who was closer-in-waiting in San Diego behind Heath Bell and was presumed to be the front runner for the spot to replace Feliz. The other option is Alexi Ogando. I know the thinking here: Ogando can be a starting pitcher and you don’t want to keep him in the bullpen. With Yu Darvish now in the fold, again, this changes things. Ogando is in the bullpen and has been (and should) get high-leverage innings.
Let me return to my first thought. On the surface, Nathan’s statistics are not very good. But, he has five strikeouts in four innings and has not walked anybody. A deeper look shows that he currently has a BABIP (batting average in balls in play) of .364. His career average is .200. Now, I don’t expect Nathan to pitch that well but you can expect that number to drop and is simply a product of small sample size.
The important numbers to look at with Nathan are strikeouts, walks and swinging strike percentage. All of those are favourable right now. The K’s and walks I mentioned before. The swinging strike percentage is actually even better – the 15.3 mark is better than any season in Nathan’s career. The normal caveat of small sample size remains. You can’t expect that percentage to stay that high, but keep looking at that number to see if Nathan is struggling.
Another issue, in yesterday’s game, was his command. As you can see in The Hub to the right, the picture shows a number of light blue dots in the middle of the plate. That’s where he was hit, and not many Major League players will miss pitches there, no matter how good of a pitcher you are.
The fact is, right now, Nathan is not struggling. He’s having a little bad luck right now. But the main thing is, if he does struggle the Rangers to have the options I mentioned above. Both Adams and Ogando can pitch high-leverage innings and having options late in a game with a lead is a great luxury to have.