The unfortunate fact for Joe Nathan is that the only times he seemed fallible have been on the national stage. When most baseball fans think of Joe Nathan, they remember post season failure. He's pitched in eight post season games accounting for eight innings in which he gave up twelve hits and seven runs. That is unfortunate because besides the post season, Nathan has been the best closer this side of Mariano Rivera. Today he found out that he has a significant tear in a tendon in his elbow. He has ruled out immediate surgery and is going to try to rehab it and see if he can pitch with it. That doesn't seem like it will work.
All of which leaves the Twins with a hole in the closer position. To be sure, somebody they already have like Neshak or Mijares or someone can be plugged into the spot and succeed 85% of the time. The odds are against a closer failing. Even so, Nathan was one of the best and it will be a mental letdown for the Twins' starters knowing he isn't back there to finish off their games.
Nathan had 246 saves in the last six years, more than anyone in baseball for that time period. He has averaged 5.4 hits per nine innings and WHIPs under 1 in every one of those seasons except one. His ERA was under 1.90 for four of those six years. He averaged more than ten strikeouts per nine innings during that time span. That's pretty hard to argue with.
And so Nathan was a lot like the argument concerning Alex Rodriguez all those years where he didn't perform in the post season. Granted, when Nathan needed to come up big in the post season, he didn't. But like A-Rod, there's no way the Twins get in that position without him.
Nathan is an emotional guy and his news conference today was a bit heart rending. He is 35 years old now and the only guy like him who has had an elbow injury like his at his age was Billy Wagner. Wagner looks like he has come back pretty well at an advanced age, so perhaps we haven't heard the last of Nathan. But it's a pretty serious injury and the odds are stacked pretty high against him.
The Twins are a good organization and the Fan is sure they'll find somebody to step up in the closer role. But those are pretty darn big shoes to fill.