by Steven Grindstaff
The Detroit Tigers finally decided to spend the money and obtain a proven closer with many Tigers fans have to be wondering why it took so long. Joe Nathan moves from the Texas Rangers, where he saved 43 games, to the Detroit Tigers to fortify the back end of their bullpen. This move allows the young Bruce Rondon to gain seasoning in the set up role before eventually becoming the future closer. The Tigers are also taking a flier on Joba Chamberlain hoping a move out of New York will rekindle some of his early career success. With a revamped bullpen, the Tigers are hoping for a big improvement over 2013.
Nathan’s 2013 was his best season since his mid-2000 days with the Minnesota Twins, but let’s not get too excited. There are some major red flags to consider in evaluating him. He was able to maintain his solid strikeout rate, however we saw his walk rate climb to over 3, his highest mark since 2003. He was aided by luck, considering a .224 BABIP and 87% LOB rate.
He also posted the best HR rate of his career, but do we really believe 0.28 is sustainable, considering his 0.83 career mark? Another disturbing trend involves his LD rate, which climbed to over 23% in 2013. We’ve also seen his velocity drop to just a shade over 92 MPH. Nathan is 38, so it’s not out of the realm of possibilty that he will decline further going forward. He should still be a solid option, but don’t be surprised if he isn’t as good in 2014 as he was in 2013.
Rondon brings the heat, as evidenced by his 99 MPH fastball. Once he gains some more pitching experience at the Major League level, you’d have to believe the strikeout rate will climb and be atop the leaderboards. Rondon does a superb job of limiting flyballs while offering a solid groundball rate. This should allow him to limit the home runs, which is always a good thing from late inning guys. There is a lot to like with Rondon but he must find a way to get lefties out as they have hit .283/.396/.477 off him. If and when he figures this out, provided he stays healthy, he should be a fixture at the back end of the bullpen.
Chamberlain burst onto the scene in 2008 for the Yankees, but it’s been a slow, steady decline ever since and 2013 was an all-time low. His strikeouts have disappeared and his walk rate more than doubled to 5.57. He was also not a fan of new Yankee Stadium considering his HR/9 rate had ballooned to 1.71. He was known as a groundball pitcher, but his GB rate has declined to 41.5%. As a result, his line drive rate has spiked to nearly 25%. The only positive for Chamberlain is a change of scenery. Maybe this will jump start a once promising career. Let’s not forget he is only 27. He could still have some productive years left and maybe a move out of New York is just what he needs. He is non-rosterable at the moment, but it will be interesting to see if he can turn his career around.
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