By the numbers: Potential Joe Nathan Replacements

By now a few million pages of virtual ink have been used to report and discuss Joe Nathan's elbow ligament injuring and to make pro and con arguments regarding a potential Joe Nathan replacements. I will take a slightly different direction in looking for that potential replacement: I will look at the performance of the Twins' internal closer candidates in 3 situations that are pretty important for closers (in save situations, when leading off an inning, and in high leverage situations.) I will compare these numbers to the AL average pitcher numbers as well as to those of Joe Nathan. In addition, I will look at both career and 2009 numbers, just to be fair to pitchers like Pat Neshek. It is an interesting exercise that I think might tell us more things about the state of the Twins' pen than who is the best replacement for Joe Nathan.

The Twins' pitchers' performance (measured by opponent's OPS in each of the 3 situations) has been tabulated below in the following manner:

CSS and 2009SS = Opponents' OPS in save situations (AL average for 2009 = .685) career and 2009
CLEAD and 2009LEAD = Opponents' OPS leading off an inning (AL average for 2009 = .761) career and 2009
CHIGHL and 2009HIGHL = Opponents' OPS in high leverage situations (AL average for 2009 = .754) career and 2009

to provide a quick visual, the performance of Twins' pitchers for each category better than the 2009 AL average in the category is indicated in bold and the performance of Twins' pitchers for each category better than Joe Nathan's in the same category is indicated with green.

Surprised? I surely am.

A few housekeeping items:

  • I included every Twins' reliever projected to be on the 25 man roster as well as Liriano and Perkins who have been mentioned as potential candidates (btw, I doubt that Liriano will be a candidate because he would need to start pitching 1 inning at a time vs. 3 in spring training to assume the role)
  • Liriano faced only 20 batters in save situations and Perkins only 10, so those results need to be taken with a grain of salt the size of the Dead Sea.
  • These numbers are a bit of smoothie (mixing apples and oranges and other fruit) because in everything else than save situations, starter and reliever numbers are mixed. This is true for the individual pitchers as well as the league averages. So this is a high level view and not a prognostication of sorts
  • Anthony Slama and Robert Delaney have been mentioned as possibilities. I think that the probability of the Twins handing the closer job to person with zero experience in the majors are close to zero

Here are my thoughts based on the above table:

  • It will be hard to replace Joe Nathan
  • Only Jose Mijares (a name that has barely been mentioned as a potential replacement) and Pat Neshek (who hasn't pitched for 2 years) come close to Nathan's production in those critical situations for a closer
  • The leading candidate's in many people's minds (Joe Rauch's) performance has been below that of an AL average pitcher in all of those situations in 2009
  • Having Fransisco Liriano as a closer is probably a bad idea
  • Glen Perkins can probably make an above average reliever
  • Clay Condrey is not much better than what Jesse Crain has been in his horrible 2009 season
  • Matt Guerrier is a solid pitcher, but his .910 opponents' OPS leading off innings in 2009 is scary

Who will the new Twins' closer be? Who should he be? It is hard to tell, but based on the facts that a. Mijares has less than stellar reputation with the organization as far as off the field situations go (and I do not see them "rewarding" him with the closer position) and b. Neshek has not pitched for 2 years, I will not be surprised if the Twins go outside the organization for a replacement. That said, my gut feeling is that they will let all the above (minus Liriano) compete for the position this spring and nominate a closer based on spring training performance. If that person falters, then they will seek a replacement outside the organization during the season.

A couple of other things that need to be mentioned:

a. This is another case that the Twins' medical staff has checked someone for an injury during the season or just after the season, they took action and then the injury got worse. Slowey, Neshek, Bonser are all such examples. Something has to be done about this.

b. From the MLB pitchers that have been in the Twins' organization for a while, only Matt Guerrier and Nick Blackburn have not had major injuries (Slowey's was accidental - hit by a batted ball- but the organization gave him the ok to pitch hurt). The pitching coach and the manager should be held accountable for this.

What are your thoughts?

And from the news of the weird department: Newsbobber published its list of the top 60 Minnesota Twins' blogs. Thanks to the readership, this blog was ranked 17th, higher than Joe C's Star Tribune blog. So it has to be a mistake :) (Edit: it seems that they fixed that mistake, after all)