Friday, August 29, 2008

Nathan's Deep Impact

Cliff Lee is having an amazing year for the Indians. At this point, he seems like nearly a shoe-in for the American League Cy Young Award. If he wasn't, the front-runner would likely be Francisco Rodriguez, who has already notched 50 saves this year and seems likely to break Bobby Thigpen's single-season record of 57.

But, as Mr. Mosvick discussed on Tuesday, Rodriguez has not been the best closer in the AL this year. Not even close. K-Rod's gaudy save total has caused people to overlook the incredible things Mariano Rivera has been able to do this season at the age of 38, and also to overlook perhaps the most valuable reliever in all of baseball: Joe Nathan.=

The Angels have completed a lot of victories this year with Rodriguez on the mound. Yet, his value is overstated, as his save total has more to do with the fact that his team has played in a lot of close victories than any particular level of dominance on his part. Moreover, Rodriguez's presence on his team can hardly be viewed as crucial; in fact, he might not even be the best reliever on bullpen. Darren Oliver and Scot Shields both hang right with Rodriguez in terms of ERA and WHIP, and 24-year-old Jose Arredondo (Rodriguez's heir apparent) has muzzled hitters with a 1.18 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and .189 BAA here in his rookie campaign. If Rodriguez wasn't effectively closing out these games for the Angels, someone else would be.

This is not the case for the Twins. We've all watched games slip away again and again with relievers not named Nathan on the mound, so one must ask: where would this team be without its newly re-signed closer? The answer is that they probably would not be anywhere close to first place.

Win Probability Added is a fun little statistic that measures a player's contributions to his team and gives credit when he is able to deliver in situations that more strongly affect the outcome of a ballgame. Nathan leads all American League relievers in WPA at 4.28. He holds a substantial lead over the next man down the list, Oakland's Brad Zeigler (3.76) and is well ahead of the fifth-ranking Rodriguez (3.29) and sixth-ranking Rivera (3.19). Oh, and the next Twin on that list after Nathan? Matt Guerrier, at 47 (0.50).

The importance of closer role in baseball generally tends to be overrated, but great relievers who can reliably shut down opposing offenses in high-leverage situations are not. Nathan has been the best in the league in this regard.

A player's importance to his respective team is not really taken into account when it comes to Cy Young consideration the way it is with the Most Valuable Player award. But, if it was, Nathan would have to be one of the very top choices for the honor in the AL. Few players at any position have been as integral to their team's success as he has been while closing out victories for the Twins. Because his raw stats (1.11 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 36 saves, 62/13 K/BB) are highly impressive, Nathan will likely end up among the top five vote-getters for the Cy Young Award for the third time in five years, which is pretty darn impressive for a closer.

Extending their closer's contract continues to look like one of the best decisions made by the Twins this past offseason. It's pretty scary to think about where this team would be right now without him.

9 comments:

MVB said...

Couldn't agree with you more! Just so hard to watch 8th innings go by and wonder where we'd be if Neshek hadn't got hurt.

I'd feel a lot better about making a playoff push in September.

Anonymous said...

Very well said Nick. Nathan is that important. But his impact could even be bigger. Yankees and Red Sox last night both sent their Nathan's to the mound in no-save situations in a 2-2 tie. Not nathan. Rivera is 5-5 this year, Nathan is 0-0. Of course the Twins give the ball in the same situation to Jesse Crain. Can't blame him for three losses this past week; not a way to win a ballgame and not a way to let him regain confidence again.

Dan said...

Jesse looked scared and uncomfortable out there. When they showed him up-close he was sweating like crazy and looked like he was about to be sick. Maybe he just doesn't have the guts to be the 8th inning guy?

WWCD said...

Some questions -

Nathan is amazing, but how much of his dominance is due to the way he has been used (or not overused). How many more save opportunities would he have had if the Twins didn't leave so many runners on base or play such poor defense?

For the rest of the season whenever a reliever not named Nathan gives up a run will Gardy be criticized for not bringing in Joe?

Is our non-Nathan bullpen being overused? How much of that is controllable given the injury to Neshek and the above mentioned offensive and defensive troubles?

Anonymous said...

You are right WWCD about showing up Nathan carefully but the Twins is the lone MLB team that will save the saver for (almost) just the save situations. That is, to say it diplomateque, not a very creative bullpen management.

Nick N. said...

Is our non-Nathan bullpen being overused? How much of that is controllable given the injury to Neshek and the above mentioned offensive and defensive troubles?

Not to beat a dead horse, but bringing in a Chad Bradford or calling up a Bobby Korecky would have helped ease the workload.

stefan said...

I really think the Twins will make the playoffs, and here's why:
The Chicago White Sox are currently half a game ahead of the Minnesota Twins, which essentially makes the two teams even for playoff contention purposes. One of the largest differences between the two teams is their home run production, with Chicago hitting more than twice as many as Minnesota (195 to 95). In the remainder of the season, each team will play in 8 series after finishing games this Sunday. Of the 8 teams each will face, the White Sox and Twins have four teams common between their schedules. That leaves 4 series to determine who has an easier schedule. However, the two teams face off in a series as well towards the end of the season. So, discounting that series, 3 series can be used to determine schedule difficulty. The Sox, in those 3 games, will face the Angels, Yankees, and Indians, who combine for a .545 winning percentage. The Twins, however, will face the Royals, Orioles, and Rays, who combine for a .502 winning percentage. Now, this gives a huge advantage to the Twins and their easier schedule. Because of this, I call that the Minnesota Twins will make the playoffs.

For more insights on the MLB and the rest of the sporting world, check out my blog at:
http://talkaboutsport.blogspot.com/

Thanks,
Stefan

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