Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Free Agent Watch: Joe Nathan

Joe Nathan once was one of the more dominant late inning relievers in baseball. He has registered a 22.1 WAR in 11 years. This is a 2.01 WAR average, worth 6.027 million a year according to the Halladay Standard. His metrics are gaudy at a -3.42 PE (-2.81 adjusted PE), and a TR of 12.13. However, the 2011 season suggests something totally different, as he put up a 0 WAR, with a (-.48 PE, -1.04 adjusted PE, still a really nice number) and a very pedestrian 8.83 TR. Certainly not the same Joe Nathan.The injury that cost him his 2010 season clearly had a big role in his bad 2011 season. We can obviously rule out him being a 6 million dollar pitcher. The real question is, at a 0 WAR in 2011, is he worth anymore than minimum wage? His BABIP doesn't help us at all, as his 2011 number was almost identical to his career number (and still significantly below league average). His FIP suggests he was slightly better than his ERA suggests, but was still average at best. He still didn't give up many base runners, but struggled with home runs unlike he had ever had in his career. This is clearly a sign that he was simply a different pitcher in 2011. Again, we are faced with the question of predictability. Is any of this predictive? Also, how are other teams going to react to Nathan's free agency? Are teams going to view Nathan as the dominant late inning man he once was, or treat him as the average at best reliever that he was in 2011. If the answer is the latter, he could actually be undervalued and a steal for some team, if he ever puts it back together. At this point, I don't know of a real way to predict whether a pitcher will return back to form, but all the essential metrics that we usually look at say that he was not near the pitcher he once was. We did see Bartolo Colon bounce back in 2011 when he clearly looked done, but the Yankees paid him minimum salary and he was extremely low risk. That has to be the route with Nathan.

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