Home > Position Battles > Who Can Replace Joe Nathan?

Who Can Replace Joe Nathan?

Nobody can replace Joe Nathan. Absolutely nobody. That being said, somebody has to fill that role.  The issue of who can be the next closer has most fans split on who that should be.

The Twins new closer should have a low ERA. He should have a low WHIP. A closer should strike out a good number of his batters. He should be able to make it through 3 outs with a low number of pitches, so he can be ready for the next game, and he should have had a similar workload as Nathan in the past.

There are a few options. I will rank them in order of which I think is most likely, but first I will give Nathan’s values in these statistics.

For those who may not know, Out/GR is the number of outs recorded per games in relief, and P/GR is the number of pitches per game in relief. ERA+ is ERA adjusted to incorporate the pitcher’s ballpark and the league average ERA. 100 is the league average. Anything above 100 is higher than average, anything below it is lower than average.

ERA ERA+ WHIP K/9 Out/GR P/GR P/Year IP
2009 2.10 209 .932 11.7 2.9 16 1148 68.2
Last 3 Years 1.77 241 .952 10.4 3 16 1118 69

1. Jon Rauch
Jon Rauch is the most likely candidate to close for 1 reason. He has the expierience. He was the closer for the Nationals after Chad Cordero got injured and before he got traded to the Diamondbacks. He has 26 career saves. That will more than likely be significant to Gardy and Rick Anderson.

At 6’11″ he is the tallest player ever to play in the majors. That gives him the intimidation factor. Would you want to mess with this?

That's pure intimidation right there.

For Rauch I’ll add in a row for his time in Minnesota.

ERA ERA+ WHIP K/9 Out/GR P/GR P/Year IP
2009 3.60 126 1.329 6.3 2.8 15 1133 70
2009 in MN 1.72 254 1.213 8.0 2.8 14 Not relevant Not relevant
Last 3 Years 3.77 116 1.197 7.3 2.9 15 1222 76

Clearly, Rauch was a different pitcher after he came from Arizona. He can’t be expected to be that good again. He’ll probably be right around his 3 year average. That isn’t great, but that’s not bad either. He’s been a closer before, and he can handle the situation.

He does have one thing going strongly for him. He pitches. A lot. He has had a very high workload. In fact he has pitched more than Nathan.

He’d be a decent option, but he’d be nothing for Gardy or Bill Smith to write home about. He’d get some saves, but he’s a better middle reliever than a closer.

2. Matt Guerrier

If Rauch is not the closer, it’ll more than likely be Matt Guerrier, the Twins top setup man in 2009. He has been a pretty darn good pitcher since he started pitching in the majors full time in 2005. The exception is his absolutely PITIFUL 2008. He has Gardy’s trust and it wouldn’t be hard for Gardy to turn to him.


This could be a very familiar sight starting in 2010

ERA ERA+ WHIP K/9 Out/GR P/GR P/Year IP
2009 2.36 186 .969 5.5 2.9 14 1079 76.1
Last 3 Years 3.25 132 1.193 6.5 3.2 16 1232 80

Matt Guerrier was an extremely lucky pitcher last year. He had a .214 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) while for the rest of his career it was .286. He cannot and will not be that good again without that degree of luck, which is improbable.

He would not be your prototypical closer as he isn’t a high strikeout guy. Regardless, he has shown he can be a well above average pitcher and he can handle the workload that Nathan has had in the past. He’s pitched about an inning per game and has had 1232 pitches per year to Nathan’s 1118 over the last 3 years. Along with this he’s put up more innings. This means he won’t suffer from being stretched beyond his norm.

But, like Rauch, he is best served in the setup role. That’s where he has been and he’s just not the lights out overpowering guy you want as closer.

3. Pat Neshek

Pat Neshek is the Twins pitcher most suited for the closer role. But, having been out since May 2008, he isn’t ready to close. If Rauch and Guerrier fail, I could see Neshek being given a shot.

That delivery is full of deception.

As Neshek didn’t pitch last year, I won’t put in a row for 2009 stats. I’ll use his 2007 stats. His 3 year stats won’t be from 2007-2009, they’ll be from 2006-2008.

ERA ERA+ WHIP K/9 Out/GR P/GR P/Year IP
2007 2.94 146 1.009 9.5 2.9 15 1102 70.1
Last 3 Years 2.91 149 .961 10.6 3 15 only 1 full year only 1 full year

As seen by his his stats, Neshek is a strikeout machine. If he can get back to where he was in 2007, he can handle the wear an tear of the closer role, but that is yet to be seen. He’s looked great so far in Spring Training.

If he can keep that up, there is no doubt that he can close. That is, if he can put up the number of innings and pitches he did before he got hurt.

*Note: After this was written, Neshek gave up one run, raising his ERA to 1.80.

5. George Sherrill

As reported by Jack Steal of Fanatic Jack Talks Twins the Twins could possibly trade for George Sherrill. They would reportedly send Perkins and Casilla to the Dodgers.

Sherrill was terrific last year in his time with the Orioles and Dodgers.

ERA ERA+ WHIP K/9 Out/GR P/GR P/Year IP
2009 1.70 253 1.116 8.0 2.9 16 1143 69
Last 3 Years 2.84 154 1.202 9.4 2.5 14 941 56

Sherrill has been a terrific pitcher, especially last year. Prior to his pre-2008 trade to Baltimore, he was primarily a left handed specialist. That accounted for his low pitch totals and outs per game. He showed last year that he can handle being stretched out to the amount of pitches the Twins would need him for. He strikes out a decent amount of guys, enough where it would be good enough for a closer.

6. Jason Frasor

There has been speculation that various teams, including the Twins, are interested in Jason Frasor. Frasor had some time closing last year, but he has been mostly a setupman throughout his career.

Frasor closed some games for the Blue Jays last year.

ERA ERA+ WHIP K/9 Out/GR P/GR P/Year IP/Year
2009 2.50 173 1.023 8.7 2.8 16 960 57.2
Last 3 Years 3.72 117 1.216 8.7 3.0 18 958 54

Frasor had a closer quality year last year. He was good. But that was last year. It’s clearly the outlier in his career. He probably can’t repeat those numbers, and hasn’t put enough innings and pitches to be reliable. He just doesn’t pitch as much as Nathan.

6. Heath Bell

According to Bob Nightengale, the Twins are extensively scouting Heath Bell. Heath Bell is the best pitcher on this list. He is a very good closer, but the Padres will want an arm, a leg, and then some for him. Last year was actually his 1st year as closer, but he was ready long before that. He was stuck behind some guy named Trevor Hoffman.

Bell is good, and he brings the intensity you want from your closer.

ERA ERA+ WHIP K/9 Out/GR P/GR P/Year IP/Year
2009 2.71 136 1.120 10.2 3.1 18 1199 69.2
Last 3 Years 2.72 141 1.086 9.4 3.2 18 1356 80

As you can see by his innings pitched and pitches, Bell is a horse who can handle Nathan’s workload and more. He strikes guys out and keeps guys off the bases. He is the ideal guy to close guys out, but his price will be very steep.

8. Various other guys who shouldn’t close

The Twins could use other guys as closer, specifically Francisco Liriano and Jose Mijares. Liriano is the 5th starter and he should not close. If he’s good enough he should pitch for 200+ innings. If he’s not, he shouldn’t be the closer. Mijares is the lefty specialist. There are no other good lefty options, so Mijares has to used in that way, not as a closer.

Nathan is expected to throw this weekend, but there is no way he can overcome a torn UCL in two weeks. It just can’t be done.

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  1. B-3
    March 19, 2010 at 9:10 PM | #1

    There’s been no talk from the STrib commenters yet about moving Mauer to closer, I assume.

    A couple of other statistics which struck me as important when evaluating potential closers are BB/9 and SO/BB. Nathan blows all these guys, even Bell, out of the water in both categories by considerable margins. It’s going to be interesting to see what the Twins do to patch that massive hole.

    • March 19, 2010 at 9:45 PM | #2

      I agree on BB/9, but I don’t quite agree on K/BB. It is a combination of K/9 and BB/9 and alows you to get away with more walks if you strike out a high number of guys.

  2. B-3
    March 20, 2010 at 3:18 PM | #3

    I understand what you’re saying about getting away with walks, but when we’re talking about guys who generally pitch less than two innings, I think that ratio is worth looking at as a rough diagnostic for how effective a guy is at keeping batters off the bases while getting guys out.

  1. March 20, 2010 at 11:11 PM | #1

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