Originally written on Baseball Professor  |  Last updated 1/3/13
Tommy who? In his second year back from TJS, Joe Nathan looked like his usual dominant self saving 37 games for the AL West-runner-up Texas Rangers. Not only did Nathan strike out nearly 11 batters per nine innings, but he did it while posting the lowest walk rate of his entire career. Put the two together and you have a career-best 6.00 K:BB ratio to go with his 2.80 ERA and 1.06 WHIP. All of that was enough to make Nathan the 154th-best player in fantasy last year, which is pretty darn good for a relief pitcher. Nathan averaged 94.0 mph with his fastball, his fastest since averaging 95.1 mph back in 2007, so I have no concerns about the 38-year-old showing his age this season. Since returning from Tommy John he’s thrown a few more curveballs than he did during his prime, but he’s also generating more ground balls (45.4% last year). That’ll play well in Texas. At a Glance Strengths: SV, K, ERA, WHIP, K/9, BB/9 Neutral: W, L Weaknesses: none Player Comparisons Best-case scenario: Jonathan Papelbon (PHI) Likely scenario: Drew Storen (WAS), Jason Motte (STL), Addison Reed (CHW) Worst-case scenario: Rafael Betancourt (COL) Joe Nathan 2013 Fantasy Projection Even by closer standards Nathan doesn’t throw a ton of innings, but his mid-60s-inning workload is more than respectable. And because he has such a high strikeout rate, his overall K total will be pretty good for a reliever. Texas is a good team with a good offense (even without Josh Hamilton) so they’ll turn a lot of late-inning leads over to Nathan. If I do have a concern about Nathan this season — and this is nitpicking at its finest — it’s that his 1.82 BB/9 will be very hard to replicate. In fact, the 2.26 BB/9 that we project this season would be good enough for the third-best rate of his entire career. Interestingly, Nathan’s O-Swing% was a career-best in 2012, which means in his age-37 season he did a better job of fooling batters outside the strike zone than at any other point in his career. That seems sort of odd to me. If batters lay off a few extra pitches here and there, Nathan’s walk rate should rise a little, and his 1.06 WHIP will probably go up, too. Still, the 1.09 mark we project is very dominant, but it’s still noticeably lower than the elite elites (yes, that’s two elites) at the position.
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