Nathan’s 2010 Season Could Be Over Before It Starts

The momentum built from an offseason full of optimism for Minnesota Twins fans came to a screeching halt Tuesday.

It appears Twins closer Joe Nathan could very likely end up having season-ending Tommy John surgery to repair a "significant tear" in the ulnar collateral ligament of his pitching elbow.

This would be a big blow to the Twins chances if he opts to go that route. Nathan said he’s going to do what he can to pitch this year, even if it’s in pain. He’s going to rest for the next couple of weeks to see how things go.

I suggested after last season the Twins consider trading Nathan if they needed to free up money to sign Mauer (we’ve seen since then that their payroll has skyrocketed and a trade would not have been necessary). But I think after an injury popped up earlier in the offseason and now this, we’re beginning to see why that would have been difficult.

Despite all of that, Nathan’s loss – or any drop in his performance should he choose to pitch through the pain – would significantly hamper what looked like a very strong Twins bullpen coming into the season. There were solid set-up men in Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch and Jose Mijares and depth in front of them with Pat Neshek, Clay Condrey and Jesse Crain among those vying for spots in the ‘pen.

4 Responses

  1. J

    Anybody who watches the Twins on a regular basis should know that this loss isn’t as big as some of the national personalities think it is. Don’t get me wrong, Joe Nathan is one of the best closers in baseball and I’m sad that he will miss the season. That being said, consider how Gardy uses his relievers. He abuses his top two set-up men, but coddles his closer. How many times did Joe Nathan come into a tie game with runners on base in his Twins career? Very few times. Yet guys like Guerrier, Neshek, Crain, and Rauch were asked to get those outs. Mariano Rivera is asked to get those outs. How many times did Nathan come in at the start of an inning? Almost every appearance. Many saves were 2 or 3 run saves. It is much harder to be a top set-up man than closer for the Twins.

    I think whoever wins the job, whether it be Rauch or Guerrier (Neshek and Crain are probably longshots), their stats will actually be better as a closer than as a set up man. There will be a drop off from Nathan to the new closer, but the drop off will not be as big as some people suspect.

    And if in a worst-case scenario no player on the roster can handle the job, the Twins have the prospects needed to go trade for a guy like Heath Bell.

  2. bisonaudit

    All very valid points J. Except that nearly in everyone in baseball uses their closer the exact same way, even the Yankees.

    Suboptimal usage of the closer is not a Twin specific issue.

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  3. J

    No they don’t. Other top closers like Rivera and Joakim Soria are asked to come into games in the 8th inning or in tie games in extra innings at home. Nathan is not.

    Like I said before, Nathan is a great closer. I just think that the closer role is overrated, especially the way that Gardy used him.

  4. bisonaudit

    I guess we’re just going to continue to disagree about how much differently Mo’ is used than other closers. I don’t believe it’s as much as you do. Nathan’s average leverage index has been higher than Mo’s the last three years. Nathan has entered the game in 123 High leverage situations compared to Mo’s 119. 59.7% compared to 60.4% for Mo’ a difference of a fraction of an appearance per seaon.

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