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 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:
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
|J. J. Hoover||27.2%|