Joe Nathan has been one of the best closers in baseball for a decade, saving 354 games with a 2.85 ERA, but at age 39 he’s finally showing signs of decline in his first season with the Tigers.
Nathan saved 43 games with a 1.39 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 65 innings for the Rangers last season, which convinced the Tigers to give him a two-year, $20 million contract as a free agent, but now he’s got a 6.86 ERA with four blown saves and two losses.
Nathan continues to miss a fair number of bats with 20 strikeouts in 21 innings, but he’s walked 11 batters and served up four homers. And perhaps most worrisome is that his average fastball velocity is down to 91.4 miles per hour compared to 94.0 mph in 2012 and 92.2 mph last season.
Predictably, the struggling closer told Jason Beck of MLB.com that he’s confident about turning things around:
This isn’t the first time I’ve gone through a funk and come out the other end. I’ve dealt with two injuries. I’ve pitched much worse than this, trust me. I’ve pitched much worse than this in Triple-A, got sent down to Double-A, got my butt back to the big leagues. I think having dealt with that, having–not the confidence, but at least the experience of knowing I can come back through this stuff definitely helps.
He’s right about coming back from a lot in his career, including Tommy John surgery in 2010 at age 35, but unfortunately Father Time remains undefeated and Nathan’s struggles appear to be more than simply bad luck or a rough patch. As a Twins fan who got to see Nathan dominate for a half-dozen years I’d love to be wrong, though.
Steve Berman of The Athletic — known to some as Bay Area Sports Guy – reported overnight that Major League Baseball is likely to hand down discipline to Giants CEO Larry Baer today. Possibly as early as this morning.
As you’ll recall, on March 1, Baer was caught on video having a loud, public argument with his wife during which he tried to rip a cell phone out of her hands, which caused her to tumble off of her chair and to the ground as she screamed “help me!” After a couple of false-start statements in which he seemed to dismiss and diminish the incident, Baer released a second solo statement, apologizing to his wife, children and the Giants organization and saying he would “do whatever it takes to make sure that I never behave in such an inappropriate manner again.”
On March 4, Baer stepped away from the Giants, taking “personal time” and relinquishing his CEO role, at least temporarily. Given Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy, which does not require criminal charges to trigger discipline — and given how bad a look it would be for Major League Baseball not to take any action against Baer when it is certain that it would take action against a player in a similar scenario — it was only a matter of time before the league added to whatever discipline Baer and the Giants had decided to do on their own accord.
At the time of the incident I detailed Major League Baseball’s history of disciplining owners. As discussed in that post, it’s a tricky business, as owners don’t typically rely on salaries from their team and thus it’s hard to distinguish a suspension from a vacation. The examples cited there, however, at least begin to outline the tools at MLB’s disposal in taking action against Baer, and the league has no doubt been thinking about how to approach the matter for the past month.
We’ll see what they came up with some time today.