Replacing Joe Nathan

For the past six seasons the Twins haven’t had to think about the ninth inning. If they had a lead in a close game, Joe Nathan was there to ensure victory. In only 25 of 272 instances did he fail to deliver. This year, though, the Twins will likely have to turn to someone else. News broke this morning that Nathan has torn his UCL and will probably undergo surgery before the season starts. He’s waiting two weeks to see whether rehab is an option, but at this point we can safely assume Tommy John surgery lies in his immediate future.

At RotoGraphs, Eno ran down Nathan’s possible replacements. The in-house options are pretty obvious: Jon Rauch, Pat Neshek, and Matt Guerrier. None of them stands a good chance to replace Nathan’s dependable production, but the effect on the closer role itself isn’t the Twins’ biggest problem. As Matt Klaassen has been saying all morning, they’ll lose perhaps two wins from that spot. There are larger implications, however, as Nathan’s absence cascades through the Twins’ bullpen.

For most positions, we define replacement level as the production of a AAA player called up to the bigs. This is not the case for closers. Replacement level for that position is the team’s next best reliever. When that next best reliever moves into the closer’s role, everyone else in the bullpen moves up, too. Relievers lower on the depth chart play a more prominent role. The biggest effect, then, comes at the back end of the bullpen, where the replacement level player shows up.

Teams, for the most part, can avoid using the seventh reliever on their staff in high leverage situations. But what of the former seventh reliever? He’s now the sixth reliever and will be pressed into more active duty. Such is the curse of bullpen chaining. About a year ago, Sky explained the process. His model agrees with Klaassen’s two-win estimate, but it also assumes a closer with a 3.00 ERA. The closest Nathan came to that was 2.70, and that happened five years ago. Clearly, unless one of the in-house replacements really takes to the role, as Nathan did when the Twins traded for him, the effect will be larger.

There’s no doubt that the Twins will miss Nathan’s dependable ninth inning performances. What they’ll miss more, though, is having guys like Guerrier, Neshek, and Rauch in setup roles. By moving them up in the pecking order, they’re allowing other, possibly lesser arms into the bullpen mix. That will hurt more than the mere ninth-inning downgrade.




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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

35 Responses to “Replacing Joe Nathan”

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  1. mattymatty says:

    Really? The worst part about the Twins losing Nathan for the year is having a lesser reliever leave a less important role? That doesn’t sound right to me.

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    • Tom B says:

      you missed it. it’s having a lesser reliever step into a more important role.

      it’s a greater difference(detriment) to have your worst reliever pitch more than than to have the setup man take over the closer role.

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      • mattymatty says:

        I think you missed it. Read this again:

        “There’s no doubt that the Twins will miss Nathan’s dependable ninth inning performances. What they’ll miss more, though, is having guys like Guerrier, Neshek, and Rauch in setup roles.”

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      • chuckb says:

        Matty — you may notice that the quote you referred to is exactly what Tom mentioned, that lesser guys will have to take more prominent roles. So he didn’t miss it; he nailed it. The Twins will need to find a 7th or 8th inning reliever (hello Russ Springer?) rather than worrying about what they’ll lose in the 9th.

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      • Tom B says:

        Precisely Chuck. The impact of your AAA reliever pitching at all and your 6th/7th/mop up guys pitching in more important situations is huge. Larger than the difference between Nathan and the set-up man.

        The article was written in more generality than the Twins specific situation. They didn’t have a defined “set-up” man, so it seems more painful in that respect than it should be.

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      • wobatus says:

        I think Matty is right. They will suffer more from having one of their high 3 to low 4 xfip guys moving into replace a sub 3 xfip guy as a closer than in trying to have a youngster come in and fill the 4.3 or so xfip 5th guy in the bullpen roll. Rauch, Neshek, Guerrier and Mijares is decent depth. Any way you look at it, it is going from a sub-3 xfip guy to an unknown rookie or waiver pick-up type (Joe Beimel still out there I hear). But Nathan’s innings were higher leverage.

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      • wobatus says:

        Tom B, I think that is wrong. Rauch’s projected fip per CHONE is 2.96. Rauch is 3.96. Mijares 4.4. Guerrier 4.49. Neshek isn’t projected by CHONE, but splitting James and Marcel, plus injury risk, say he is also aout 4, or 3.96 like Rauch (although if he is healthy he would be the guy in my mind).

        From nathan to any of those guys you are talking a 1 run FIP falloff at a high leverage relief situation. Then there are 3 guys after that slot. I forget who else the Twins have, but you are talking about the 12th guy in the pen now who is being replaced. Everyone else come up a tad. Condrey is the 6th inning guy. Some scrub is now mop-up. That aspect of it isn’t that big of a deal, if your lowest leverage arm goes from a 5 to a 5.5 fip. And the set-up guys are fairly even in rank. Nathan to rauch, for example, that seems to me to be the bigger deal.

        As someone else pointed out, calero just signed a minor league deal. Joe Beimel is out there. His projected fip is 3.92.

        We are talking about some kid in the minors having to have a worse than 5.5 fip, at a lower leverage slot. Sure, everyone else moves up, and your 7th and 8th guys can be even higher leverage. But between Mijares and Guerrier there ain’t much difference fip wise. if you need to 7th guys, an 8th and a closer, well, the twins will have that still (Neshek, Rauch Guerrier and Mijares).

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      • Jason B says:

        Rauch is 2.96 and 3.96?

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      • wobatus says:

        Jason B., sorry, Nathan is 2.96, rauch is 3.96.

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  2. Bill&TedsExcellentAdventure says:

    Wish we could still have Boof Bonser? Maybe John Smoltz will sign with us?

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    • PL says:

      John Smoltz could close for the Twins pretty easily I think. Or even ask Pedro if he wants to close. Either one will be better than in-house.

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  3. OB says:

    About that new 7th reliever: it’s probably Neshek. AAA was looking like a distinct possibility prior to Nathan’s torn UCL.

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  4. Brian says:

    Here’s the problem with the theory… Who’s the lesser reliever? Rauch? Neshek? Guerrier? Condrey?

    To me, the Twins have Nathan, then a bunch of similar 6th/7th inning guys. It’s a deep bullpen full of league average talent, but I don’t see a major downgrade from #2 to #3, #3 to #4, and so forth. Not for this team.

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    • wobatus says:

      Exactly. And Mijares in there too.

      If Rauch closes, you lose a run in expected fip (using CHONE and cheating since Neshek has no CHONE projection).
      Neshek replaces Rauch. Maybe a wash.
      Mijares replaces Neshek. You lose maybe .4 runs.
      Guerrier replaces Mijares, about even (Guerier may be their actual set up guy, i am just using projected fips).
      Condrey replaces Guerrier. His CHONE is actually lower than Guerrier and Mijares.
      Sign Beimel, and his CHONE projection is lower than all 4 of these guys, albeit as a bit of a specialist.

      You lose very little in each of those moves up, and then you are very deep into the bullpen. The move from Nathan to Rauch is clearly the largest FIP falloff.

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  5. MFG says:

    Two words: Tony. Slama.

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  6. Doctor_Teh says:

    Kiko Calero would have patched up that problem right quick…

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  7. NEPP says:

    Sign Smoltz…problem solved.

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  8. thrylos98 says:

    Had Nathan been healthy this year, 2 of Neshek, Perkins, Duensing would have had to start the season in the minors. Now only one has to go to AAA, likeley. Plus Slama and Delaney are pretty close to MLB-ready. There is a huge jam on the Twins’ 25 man roster these days and kind of hard to know if one does not follow the organization…

    Spring training will tell a lot about who the closer will be (I will not take Crain -2 years removed from shoulder surgery – out of the equation yet. At some point he was Nathan’s heir apparent, and the only Twin in the pen who has a fastball in the mid-90s)

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  9. Drew says:

    If you’re discussing Nathan being subtracted, don’t you have to consider that Neshek is being added? Obviously not in the same role, or the same dominance, but this speaks as if the Twins bullpen is the same as it was a year ago. When really, if Neshek is health, it’s not.

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  10. wobatus says:

    Mijares is about as good as Rauch and Guerrier. Neshek was great a couple of years ago, but have to see how he bounces back from injury.

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  11. I see the point of your article, but since there are so many options available among free agents, it appears to be moot, unless the Twins decide to go with internal options.

    Even then, I think they have a great in-house potential replacement in Liriano. Why they didn’t make him a reliever long ago, I don’t know, but his arm could use the less strenuous use he would get in the bullpen. And he wouldn’t even have to be the closer, which would put a lot of stress on him immediately that he might not be ready for. Put others in, let him take up the 6th role or higher, which should help mitigate the issue that this article pointed out, and if he does well, he could move up the ladder.

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  12. scott says:

    When did Matt Guerrier get good? He’s had a FIP below 4.00 once and there was a nearly a 2.00 descrepancy in his ERA/FIP last year.

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  13. low says:

    I’m guessing it will be Neshak or Guerrier.

    Neshak was great before getting hurt, and Gardenhire is a fan of Guerrier.

    Crain hasn’t been dependable and he always looks terrified when he’s on the mound.

    My money is on Neshak, provided he’s healthy.

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  14. Joe R says:

    Well, I think you have to analyze the remaining Free Agents.

    Russ Springer’s forecast calls for a 3.91 ERA / 3.98 FIP. He’s about a +0.5 WAR player.

    Joe Beimel is the other interesting FA option. He’s projected to be a 3.81 ERA / 3.92 FIP guy, which is a little better. Though, his K/9 is only projected to be a 5.37, vs. Springer’s 7.98. Of course, Springer gives up more bombs, as Beimel gets more grounders. As a whole, their infield is pretty average (Hardy is a plus for his position, Hudson and Morneau average, Harris below average).

    Unfortunately for the Twins, this is where a new field might hurt: we don’t know how it’ll play. A hitter’s paradise would make Beimel the better option, a Citi Field type place would make Springer the better 1 year fix. In my opinion, I would go with Springer, since he seems to show less of a split between righties and lefties, and his K/9 and K/BB are far better anyway.

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    • Joe R says:

      Never thought I would do any sort of research on Russ Springer v. Joe Beimel.

      Overall, though, you have to think this’ll cost the Twins 2-3 games, and allow the other AL Central teams a game to catch up.

      I still think the Twins are the favorites, but it’s close now.

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      • sansui says:

        the 2 wins lost with Nathan actually puts the White Sox one win ahead per the latest PECOTA: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/fantasy/dc/. very close indeed…

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      • Joe R says:

        I went w/ CHONE just because I like the general methodology behind individual CHONE projections a little more than PECOTA (though I do like the error bars on PECOTA), which projected the Twins to finish 85-77, 4 games up on the 81-81 Indians.

        Either way, this is a huge loss. Joe Nathan is the Tim Raines to Mariano Rivera’s Rickey Henderson.

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  15. JoeWho112 says:

    I think the obvious solution is for the Twins to trade Joe Mauer to the Sox for Bobby Jenks.

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  16. Xeifrank says:

    Would be nice to see an example with “real” players/bullpens instead of everything based off of league average.
    vr, Xei

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  17. adohaj says:

    I highly doubt that the twins will look to outside sources. Their payroll is already higher than usual. Also they have 3-4 guys that could step into or rotate through the role. Nesheck, mijares, and Guerrier are all capable. Sure they are no Joe Nathan, but are they as good or better than some of the closers for other teams. Defiantly.

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  18. SLH says:

    Just speculating – do you suppose the team is insured for this type of situation, given that Nathan had just signed a 3? 4? year extension with an option year? If so, then the policy will most likely kick in once he requires surgery, and the $9-10M he is owed this year and next (assuming he can not pitch in 2011) will be at least partially offset by the insurance. In that case, payroll constraints would seem less likely to preclude going outside of the organization for a Smoltz or even Martinez (an interesting concept to be sure). Not that any of this is likely – the most probably scenario by far is some variation of those outlined above.

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