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« Pettitte's Slider Still a Put-Away Pitch | Main | Inside A.J. Ellis' Breakout Season »
Wednesday
Jun062012

Joe Nathan Finds His Fastball

When the Rangers slid Neftali Feliz into the starting rotation and signed Joe Nathan to a two-year, $14.5 million deal to replace him as closer, it looked like the club paid sticker price for a pitcher in decline. Nathan ranked second among all qualified relievers in ERA+ (237) and fifth in strikeout rate (11.1 per nine frames) from the time he became the Twins' stopper in 2004 to 2009. But he missed all of the 2010 season following Tommy John surgery, and he wasn't his electric usual self upon returning in 2011 (an 84 ERA+ and 8.7 K's per nine).

In 2012, however, the Rangers closer has re-established himself as a relief ace. Nathan boasts a 226 ERA, and his K rate is back up to 10.7 per nine. The 37-year-old has returned to form by missing bats with a higher-octane fastball.

Post-Tommy John in 2011, Nathan averaged 92.3 mph with his fastball and didn't get many swings and misses with the pitch. That was especially the case on fastballs thrown high in the strike zone. Here's his fastball contact rate by pitch location last season, and then the league average for relief pitchers:

Nathan's fastball contact rate by pitch location, 2011 

Average fastball contact rate by location for relievers

Nathan got a whiff just 13 percent of the time that batters offered at his fastball, compared to the 18 percent average for relievers. But with the Rangers, Nathan has averaged 93.8 mph with his heater and is missing many bats up in the zone: 

Nathan's fastball contact rate by pitch location, 2012

Hitters have swung through nearly a quarter of Nathan's fastballs in 2012. That places him in the top 20 among qualified 'pen arms:

Highest fastball miss rates among relievers, 2012

PitcherMiss Pct.
Ernesto Frieri 47.6%
Aroldis Chapman 40.7%
Sean Marshall 38.0%
Jason Grilli 33.1%
Craig Kimbrel 31.8%
Joel Peralta 31.5%
Steve Delabar 29.9%
Koji Uehara 27.4%
Fernando Rodriguez 27.4%
J. J. Hoover 27.2%
John Axford 26.5%
Brad Brach 26.4%
Jose Arredondo 25.5%
Andrew Cashner 25.4%
Bobby Parnell 25.4%
Jordan Norberto 25.0%
Jake McGee 25.0%
Henry Rodriguez 24.8%
Tyler Clippard 24.5%
Joe Nathan 24.5%

 

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