When the Texas Rangers signed Joe Nathan last November there was a fair amount of head scratching and hand wringing over bringing in a 37 year old pitcher only a year removed from Tommy John surgery and coming off a shaky 2011 season. From an outsider's perspective, the move seemed more related to placating traditional baseball minds with a "proven" closer than optimal talent acquisition. At best, Joe Nathan was expected to be no more than the third best reliever on the team boasting Mike Adams and Alexi Ogando in late inning roles.
Joe Nathan's first week as the closer saw him give up runs in two of four appearances leading to two Rangers losses, including a blown save with a two run lead in the 9th. Coupled with a terrible spring training, everyone's worst fears were being realized and questions about Nathan being able to hold down the closer's job were voiced by fans and beat writers. Ron Washington gave Joe a vote of confidence and told everyone not to worry and be patient.
Now, two months later, Joe Nathan has given up only a single earned run in 20.2 innings since that first week. That's an 0.44 ERA over a two month period. That is... amazing. Joe Nathan hasn't been merely acceptable or adequate or the third best reliever in bullpen. He has been dominant... and has performed better than any other member of the Rangers' loaded bullpen.
In fact, Nathan has been so dominant that beyond having the best season of any 2012 Rangers' reliever, he's on pace to have arguably the best season for a closer in franchise history.
- Nathan's 2.00 FIP currently ranks as the third best season in franchise history among relievers with at least 20 IP after Len Barker's 1.76 in 1977 and Dwayne Henry's 1.78 in 1985. Both bolstered by giving up zero home runs in only 31.2 and 21.0 innings respectively.
- His 14.5 K:BB ratio would be first in franchise history, with Koji Uehara's current 11.0 second all time and John Wettland's 5.14 in 1998 a very distant third place.
- Among seasons with at least 20 saves, only Jim Kern's 1.57 ERA in 1979 is lower than Nathan's current 1.82
- Within that same group of seasons of pitchers with 20 saves, Francisco Cordero's fantastic 2004 season had a FIP- of 51, closest to (but not as good as) Joe's current 45.
Below is a table of each season in franchise history with at least 20 saves for comparison:
Joe's current rates are likely unsustainable based on both his age and the fantastic quality that would be challenging for any pitcher to sustain, but they are within the his peak season of 2006 which featured a jaw dropping 1.68 FIP in 68.1 innings. And since his fastball velocity is as high as it's been since 2007, perhaps he can maintain well enough to end up with one of the best seasons as a closer in franchise history.