The morning after the Texas Rangers disappointing loss in the American League Wild Card Game a good friend of mine said, "One of the first things they need to do is to get rid of Joe Nathan." I quickly responded, "Did you watching him pitch at all this season?" He then mentioned that he had known he had a long streak of saves in the middle of the season, but said he stunk every time he saw him pitch. He would later admit that he only saw Nathan pitch during the first and last weeks of the season.
Closers bring with them emotional reactions. Many times closers are extremely emotional themselves and considering they are the main factor involved when a game is on the line, the emotional reaction is understandable. Joe Nathan brought plenty of emotional reactions his way during the first week of the season and then they came back around during the final few weeks, but he was anything but a problem for the Rangers this season.
It is really hard to think of the Joe Nathan experiment working any better than it did in 2012. The Rangers took a pitcher than many thought was done, gave him a two-year contract and watched him be one of the best closers in baseball. Nathan had a rough spring training and then had a loss and blown save during the first week of the regular season, but then went on that run where he saved 31 straight games. During that stretch he was often unhittable and downright nasty. He looked every bit as good as he was during his days with the Twins and was arguably the most consistent closer in the game. It was a great pickup for the Rangers and the fact that it was two-year deal made it look even better.
Nathan did struggle during the final two weeks of the season and for very understandable reasons. He was tired. He pitched in 66 games this season which comes off of the heels of a 48 outing season in 2011. He missed the entire 2010 season with Tommy John surgery, so 48 outings during a two year span and then 66 games in 2012 was a significant jump for Nathan.
My expectation for Nathan in 2013 is to be more consistent and strong throughout the entire season. I don't see him starting out the season rough or finishing on a bad note. I see him being just as strong at the end of September as he is during July, but I also see him possibly coming back to earth a little bit during the middle of the season. Otherwise, I don't necessarily anticipate another stretch of 31 straight saves.
The Rangers have plenty of issues with their position players, starting pitching and bullpen, but closer is not one of those problems. They have one of the best in the game for one more year and who knows what will come after that. They do have a team option for 2014, but it is possible that the Rangers could be turning things back over to Neftali Feliz by then. Feliz should return in the second half of 2013 and it will be unlikely that he will move into the rotation at that point. Feliz will logically return to the bullpen as a setup man for Nathan as he gets back going and then could move back into the closer spot in 2014 if the Rangers decide to decline Nathan's option. No matter what road they take a year from now, the closer spot couldn't look much better at the moment.
John Bowman is a lifelong baseball and Texas Rangers fan that loves to ponder the deeper aspects of the game. Some of his first baseball memories involve Arlington Stadium nachos, Charlie Hough's knuckleball, dirt on Pete Incaviglia's uniform and the voices of Mark Holtz and Eric Nadel as he fell asleep.
- Sports & Recreation
- Joe Nathan