Sunday, August 16, 2009

Nathan's Famous

Maybe its because of Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer—the both young, both J & M initialed, both extremely talented duo playing in Minnesota. Or maybe it was because Johan Santana—one of the best starting pitchers of his generation pitched in the same city and who became synonymous with the Twins organization while he was there. Or maybe it was because of of the fantastically ugly stadium he pitched. Who knows? But for whatever reason, Joe Nathan, one of the best relievers in the game over the past 10 years, never gets noticed. Seemingly at all.

In one of the worst trades in recent baseball history—which itself gets overlooked—the San Francisco Giants, after the 2003 season, traded Nathan, along with Francisco Liriano for A.J. Pierzynski. Perfectly abrasive A.J., then played with the Giants all of one season in San Francisco, wore out his welcome and was not resigned. Since that trade, all Nathan has done is throw up a 1.80 ERA in 393 innings. Amazing numbers that no one seems to notice.

Put it this way. Compare those above numbers with some more famous relievers. Since 2004, Francisco Rodriguez has a 2.01 ERA in 411 innings. Bobby Jenks has a 3.20 ERA in 275.2 innings. Brian Fuentes has a 3.51 ERA in 346.2 innings. Huston Street has a 2.91 ERA in 315.2 innings. Trevor Hoffman has a 2.68 ERA in 312 innings. The best of the bunch, Jonathon Papelbon, has a 1.90 ERA in 279.2 innings. (All of these numbers are regular season.)

To keep going with the stats, Nathan since 2004, has 25 blown saves in 509 games, which comes to a blown save every 20.36 appearances. Francisco Rodriguez, in that time, has 38 blown saves in 459 games, which comes out to an average of a blown save every 12.07 appearances. Trevor Hoffman blew 25 games in 324 appearances which averaged 1 every 12.96 appearances. For Papelbon, starting in 2006, when he became a fulltime reliever, his numbers show that in 234 appearances, he's blown 17 games, which add up to a blown save every 13.76 appearances.

Down the stats, Nathan bests almost every big-name (and usually better-paid) reliever out there. But if Nathan is going to stand up to the real scrutiny, he has to face the Big Cheese; Mr. Sandman; Mariano Rivera. And his numbers do stand up. To Nathan's 1.80 ERA in 393 innings since 2004, Rivera has a 2.10 ERA in 423 innings pitched (regular season). Hmmm, interesting. Going further; comparing their ERA+ since 2004:
  • Nathan's ERA+ annual since 2004 is: 292/165/283/230/305/251.
  • Rivera's ERA+ annual since 2004 is: 231/307/251/142/317/220.
Nathan's ERA+ bests Rivera's 4 out of the 6 years. And overall, Nathan's 254 bests Rivera's 245. In fact, take away Nathan's time as a Giant, when he had no set role and was sorely misused, and Nathan's ERA+ might be up among the all-time leaders.

Granted, Rivera's paycheck is earned in the postseason, while Nathan barely has a record in that arena. And Rivera has 17 blown saves since 2004 and averages a blown save every 22.76 appearances (again, not including the postseason), which betters Nathan. And it could be argued that saving a game in Yankee Stadium is a little more pressure-intense than saving one in the Metrodome. But still, Nathan's numbers are better than almost every other big-time reliever, and hold up to the best reliever ever to pitch. So why is he so underrated?

Maybe its because he doesn't pump his fist or freak out after every strikeout. Or that he doesn't point his finger to the heavens as if God actually helped him with his slider in that last K. No, Nathan doesn't do those egregious things. And its well documented that T.O got more play on ESPN than Marvin Harrison did.—and in the sports world, acting like a showman-idiot will get you ESPN-play and national attention.

So if Joe Nathan just threw a tantrum, or flexed his muscle after a strikeout, then maybe the world would notice that he's one of the best pitchers we have right now.

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