Tigers manager Brad Ausmus stubbornly clings to the notion that Joe Nathan is the closer. No matter that others, such as Joakim Soria, have "proven closer" stamped on their chest. Never mind that Ausmus occasionally shows guts and creativity by inserting the likes of Kyle Ryan to pitch in a critical moment. Nathan once ruled the ninth inning and Bossmus is convinced he will again.
Nathan has blown seven saves, a career high. But smart guys like Ausmus know that the save is a ridiculous statistic, so he must be looking at the more advanced metrics.
There are 126 relievers with at least 50 innings pitched, or about four per team. Luckily, ERA is not an advanced metric, as Nathan ranks 119th. Jim Johnson is dead last at 126th. Instead, the smart guys look at xFIP, where Nathan is only 108th. There are 18 relievers worse than him. Most teams have someone worse than Nathan.
Nathan can still strike batters out, right? His rate is over 21 percent, which feels good. Except it is only 79th-best. Most relievers have a higher strikeout rate than him.
Maybe it is his command? Nathan walks 4.6 per nine innings, good for 115th place. With his propensity to allow hits, that leads to 123rd place in WHIP. There is Jim Johnson again in last place.
Semi-smart guys like WAR, but not the really smart guys. Good thing for Nathan is FanGraphs has his WAR at 0.1 or 95th best. That is the essence of replacement level. The irony is apparently lost.
Maybe it is his stuff? Is it fastball velocity, which averages below 92 mph and is a career low? This may explain why the value of his fastball is below-average according to FanGraphs' pitch values.
It must be his slider, his "out" pitch that he throws one-third of the time. While it has been a superior pitch for most of his career, it has become average. With a below-average curveball and changeup, it leaves Nathan with no good options.
Joe Nathan has become a replacement level pitcher. The Tigers do not have a great bullpen, but they certainly have replacement options. It is time for Bossmus to wise-up and try some. Anybody but Jim Johnson.