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Free Agent Pass or Play: Joe Nathan

Each day until free agency begins, we at Phillies Nation will take a look at a player who will become a free agent five days from the conclusion of the World Series. We will explore potential performance, fit, cost, and feasibility. We continue today with right-handed closer Joe Nathan. And a reminder: you can check out all the “Pass or Play” posts by clicking on the category hyperlink.


Wow – if someone would have told me in between the 2011 and 2012 seasons that Joe Nathan would put up an All-Star campaign in 2012 with a 2.80 ERA and a 1.057 WHIP, I would have said you were crazy. If you would have told me that Nathan would improve upon that season in 2013 at age 38, 1.39 ERA and a 0.897 WHIP, I would have tried to get you committed. But that’s what happened – Nathan defied the odds and became one of the few non-team-controlled closers to actually be worth their salary (worth $20.2 million in 2012 and 2013 v. a $14.5 salary).

Nathan has fairly even splits with a moderate platoon split found in OBPa and has maintained a K/9 rate over 10 in seasons where he has been fully healthy. The red flag for me comes in his BABIP: despite the near point-and-a-half drop in ERA and a drop in WHIP, Nathan’s BB/9 IP rate actually was his highest since 2003, jumping almost a full walk per 9 IP. So how did Nathan lower his WHIP? His BABIP was a career-low .224, indicating that Nathan got rather lucky against his BAA of .159. Definitely a lot of skill, but the sharp increase in walks with a dropping WHIP indicates he had his fair share of balls that were hit right at his defense.


As mentioned earlier today when talking about Jose Veras, the Phillies’ bullpen was ranked 14th out of 15th in ERA, FIP, and xFIP in the National League last season and there are not a ton of promising bullpen arms that the Phillies haven’t yet seen in the Majors. Like Veras, Nathan is a fit performance-wise, however, Nathan will be 38 on Opening Day.


This is where it gets crazy – the Rangers picked up his $9 million option for 2014 but Nathan declined his half, effectively risking leaving $9 million on the table as a 38-year old reliever. That’s guts.

With this in mind, Nathan is likely looking for more than $9 million or something like $15 million over two years. FanGraphs’ crowdsourcing efforts has Nathan at a $8-10 million per year deal for two years.


As much is made about, and joked about, the so-called “closer’s mentality”, Nathan held out for the right opportunity before 2012, i.e. the opportunity to close, before signing. While the cost and performance issues should be red flags, I don’t see Nathan coming to the Phillies but instead going somewhere to close or going to a contender as a set-up man to chase a ring. I don’t think Nathan would come to Philadelphia.

Verdict: Pass, Don’t Think Twice

Nathan’s age is a significant risk in it’s own right but with performance concerns, the fact that the Phillies already have two relievers making a combined $22 million, and the simple fact that the Phillies could plug a hole in the outfield with a pretty solid player for the same price, Nathan is among the easiest passes of the series.

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