We ran a graphic on Baseball Tonight on Sunday afternoon showing the career save totals of Twins relievers. The next-most after Nathan’s 247: Jon Rauch’s 26, and he likely doesn’t inspire long-term confidence.
If Nathan is okay, there will still be those who will worry throughout the season that the injury issues will resurface later in the year.
If you fall into that group, let me give you a stat that may be worth following:
For lack of a better name, lets call it "putaway rate."
The thing that has always impressed me about Nathan is how much he is capable of totally embarrassing hitters when he gets them to two strikes. Let’s quantify that.
Lets define "putaway rate" as the percentage of two-strike plate appearances that ended in strikeouts.
Since Nathan became a full-time closer in 2004, 411 MLB pitchers have gotten to a two-strike count on 400+ batters.
Of those 411, Joe Nathan had the fourth-best putaway rate, striking out 51.9 percent of those he got into a two-strike count. The three pitchers who rank ahead of him: Jonathan Broxton (54.5), Brad Lidge (54.0), and Francisco Rodriguez (52.4).
One thing that Nathan does better than those three: He allows only 17.8 percent of hitters in two-strike counts to reach base. Rafael Soriano and Joakim Soria have lower opponents on-base percentages in that span (since 2004), but Nathan has faced nearly as many hitters over the last six seasons as Soriano and Soria combined.
I haven’t done any studies on the subject, but I’d have to imagine that a telling sign of trouble for a big league pitcher with elbow issues would be that they would struggle to finish hitters off in situations that would normally be no problem. We’ll put that thought away and revisit it later, should the need arise.