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Fantasy Baseball Projection: Joe Nathan

With Jonathan Papelbon signing with the Phillies, the next big name closer signing is that of Joe Nathan who signed a 2 year, $14 million deal with the Rangers.  With the loss of Nathan, the Minnesota Twins lose their all-time career saves leader.

Joe Nathan

Nathan's durability is in question.

The deal sends Neftali Feliz, who saved 72 games over the past two seasons, into the Rangers’ starting rotation where he will be more valuable in real baseball, but likely less valuable in fantasy baseball.  Moving Feliz to the rotation means that the Rangers are likely not going to be able to sign C.J. Wilson who is testing the free agent waters.

Nathan, 37, had received interest from 10 teams and received firm offers from six.  After sitting down with general manager Nolan Ryan, he decided to make the move to Texas.  At 37, the decision to play for a contender played a big part in his decision.

“The Twins were a team we loved, my family loved being with,” Nathan said. “At the same time, I felt like I didn’t know which direction they were heading.”

And, there’s certainly no doubt where the Rangers are heading after playing in the World Series for two consecutive seasons.

There is, however, reason for concern with Nathan.  He sat out all of the 2010 season after Tommy John surgery.  His comeback in 2011 was not stellar and he spent time on the DL with a flexor muscle strain.  He had 14 saves and an ERA of 4.84.  At his prime from 2006-2009, Nathan was one of the most consistent closers in the game with a sparkling WHIP of 0.91.  His 2011 WHIP came in at 1.16.  His K’s in that time period dropped from 10.9/9 to 8.7/9.

Part of the reason for Nathan’s poor 2011 season was his 7.63 ERA in April in May while walking 5.4/9.  After coming back from a muscle strain injury, his ERA was 3.38 and his walk ratio dropped to 1.5/9.  Clearly, for the investment that the Rangers made, they are counting on the second half Nathan and the numbers he put up after the disabled list stint.

Durability seemed to be a problem last year.  With 1 day rest (17 games) his opponents’ batting average was .371.  With 2 days off (12 games), it was .234 and with 3+ days off (13 games), it was .185.

2011 Fantasy Baseball Projection: Joe Nathan — I would proceed with caution with Joe Nathan for the 2012 season.  Arlington is more of a hitters park although Nathan has saved 8 of his 9 opportunities there and has an ERA below 2.00 in Texas.  Nathan sat out all of the 2010 season and at age 37, he is clearly in his last stop of his career.  He has not been effective since age 34 and has shown an inability to pitch every day.  His lack of durability and injury concerns, along with a fastball drop to 92.3 MPH last year, makes me nervous.  That being said, the reason you pick up a closer is for saves, not ERA, and Nathan will certainly get chances with the Rangers.   A good backup choice might be to handcuff Koji Uehara or Mike Adams as a late round supplemental pick if you decide to pick up Nathan, especially since Nathan may be rested from closing on consecutive days.

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