The Detroit Tigers have had some tumultuous seasons lately when it comes their closer, but they are confident in the one they have in 2014.
The Tigers signed free-agent reliever Joe Nathan to a two-year deal in the offseason. They needed to add a reliever, and preferably a closer, after the departure of Joaquin Benoit to the San Diego Padres. Before Benoit, the Tigers dealt with issues from Jose Valverde and they weren’t comfortable giving Bruce Rondon the job.
Nathan is different from the other relievers who have worked the ninth inning for the Tigers lately. He won’t intimidate hitters with a 99-mph fastball. He thrives on making accurate pitches and having a knack for messing with a hitter’s timing. He’s not going to blow hitter’s away like Aroldis Chapman of the Cincinnati Reds, but he knows how to pick his spots and has had a low walk rate.
Another advantage Nathan should have in 2014 is having a hard-throwing set-up man ahead of him. Either Rondon or Joba Chamberlain will likely pitch for the Tigers in the eighth inning, and both have the velocity to change the pace before Nathan steps in.
Nathan’s fastball velocity dropped from an average of 94 mph in 2012 to 92.3 in 2013. If he were dependent on it to get him through innings, that might be troublesome. But he also features an excellent slider with a late break and a curveball he has little trouble controlling.
Despite the drop in velocity, Nathan cut his ERA in half from 2.80 in 2012 to 1.39 in 2013. He converted 43-of-46 save attempts and dropped his WHIP to 0.90. Most importantly, Nathan kept the ball in the park. He allowed only two home runs last year, which is exactly what Tigers’ fans want to hear after dealing with Valverde and Benoit’s home-run issues in 2012.
Ian Kinsler‘s addition seemed like a big deal at the time, but Nathan gives the Tigers more bullpen flexabilty than they’ve had in years.