Joe Nathan

From BR Bullpen


Joseph Michael Nathan

BR page

Biographical Information[edit]

Joe Nathan began his pro career in 1995 as a shortstop in the San Francisco Giants organization after being selected in the sixth round of that year's amateur draft. That year, he hit 3 homers and drove in 20 runs for the Bellingham Giants, but he sat out the 1996 season and completed his college degree. In 1997, he returned to the Giants organization and was converted to a pitcher, going 2-1 with a 2.47 ERA and 2 saves for the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes. The next year, he posted a 3.32 ERA for the Class A San Jose Giants before being promoted to the AA Shreveport Captains later in the season.

Nathan made his big league debut in 1999 and was primarily a starter in his first two major league seasons. After the 2003 season, he was traded to the Minnesota Twins along with Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser for A.J. Pierzynski. He quickly established himself as Minnesota's closer, saving more than 40 games in each of his first two full seasons with the Twins. He reached a personal-best 47 saves in 2009, after saving between 36 and 39 the three previous seasons. With 246 saves with the Twins at the end of 2009, he was only 8 behind all-time franchise leader Rick Aguilera.

Nathan missed the entire 2010 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on March 26th. He returned to action at the beginning of the 2011 season and earned his first save in over a year on April 3, although it was a struggle. Still not back to his prior dominance, he needed 31 pitches and he gave up a run and loaded the bases against the Toronto Blue Jays before retiring Adam Lind on a ground ball to preserve a 4-3 win; he was also helped by LF Delmon Young who made a great catch to rob J.P. Arencibia of an extra-base hit during the inning. Nathan kept struggling over his next few appearances, even though he earned two more saves, then on April 16, he gave up a game-tying home run to Ben Zobrist of the Tampa Bay Rays, then walked the next two batters before being taken out of the game. He then asked to be removed from the closer's role, in favor of Matt Capps, while he tried to return to his previous form. After a stint on the disabled list, he returned pitching much better, and it was now Capps's turn to struggle. After the All-Star break, manager Ron Gardenhire switched his closers again, reinstating Nathan in his familiar role. On August 10th, he saved a 5-2 win against the Boston Red Sox for his 255th save in a Minnesota Twins uniform, passing Rick Aguilera for the franchise record. he finished the season with 14 saves and a record of 2-1, 4.84.

Nathan singed with the Texas Rangers for the 2012 season and took over as the team's closer, with Neftali Feliz moving to the starting rotation. He showed the dominance that characterized him prior to the missed season, saving 37 games with a record of 3-5, 2.80 and 78 strikeouts in 64 1/3 innings. On April 8, 2013, he picked up the 300th save of his career for the Rangers against the Tampa Bay Rays, but not without controversy. With a 5-4 lead, a man on third and a full count on Ben Zobrist, he threw a change-up outside and almost in the dirt; Zobrist tossed his bat and began walking to first base, when umpire Marty Foster made a belated strike call, ending the game. Nathan was as surprised as Rays manager Joe Maddon, who came out to argue the call to no avail. Foster admitted after the game that he had blown the call. He had needed just 335 save opportunities to reach the mark, which was a record at the time; it was eclipsed by Craig Kimbrel who recorded save #300 in his 330th opportunity in 2018. In June of that season, he was perfect in 11 save opportunities and posted an 0.63 ERA to win the Delivery Man of the Month Award for the fourth time of his career. He became only the second reliever to win the award four times, following Trevor Hoffman. Named to the All-Star team for the 6th time, he was given the huge honor of closing the AL's 3-0 win, succeeding the great Mariano Rivera, who pitched the 8th. He finished the year at 6-2, 1.39 with 43 saves and 73 strikeouts in 64 2/3 innings.

On December 3, 2013, Nathan signed a two-year free agent deal with the Detroit Tigers, a team that had struggled to find a reliable closer ever since Jose Valverde began to have problems late in the 2012 season. However, while he managed to rack up a fair number of saves for Detroit, Nathan did not do so in a manner that reassured fans, as his ERA in early August was above 5.00. He let his frustration get the better of him on August 13th,in a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates when he began a relief appearance in a non-save situation by throwing 9 straight balls, getting the fans on his back. He managed to get out of the jam he had created with a line out and a double play, after which he made a rude gesture towards the spectators who had been riling him. The tape of his reaction went viral, and the next day he was forced to apologize, stating that "It was just frustrations and hearing it the whole inning just got the better of me. My frustrations came out." He went 5-4, 4.81, in 62 games that season, collecting 35 saves, but also allowing 60 hits and 29 walks in 58 innings while striking out 54 and being charged with 7 blown saves. He pitched only once in the postseason, throwing a perfect inning, but it was too little too late as it was his bullpen mates who imploded during the first two games of the ALDS against the Baltimore Orioles, sending the Birds on their way to a three-game sweep.

In spite of questions about his continued fitness for the job of closer, he was back penciled in the role as spring training opened in 2015, still hoping at age 40 to make it to the World Series for the first time. However, he only pitched a third of an inning on opening day before arm issues got the best of him. He was sent to AA for a rehabilitation assignment, but on April 22nd, he felt a sharp pain while making a pitch for the Toledo Mud Hens; he was diagnosed with a tear in his elbow and had to undergo Tommy John surgery for the second time, although he vowed to return. And return he did. he signed a free agent contract with the Chicago Cubs on May 17, 2016. He was assigned to the AA Tennessee Smokies to see if he had anything left in the tank and he put up a 2.70 ERA in 7 games to earn a promotion to the AAA Iowa Cubs. There, in 4 games, he gave up 2 runs on 5 walks (but no hits) in 2 2/3 innings but was still brought up to Chicago, replacing Adam Warren and making his return to the Show on July 24th. In his first big league appearance in over a year, he was credited with a 6-5 win over the Milwaukee Brewers after pitching a scoreless 6th inning during which he struck out the side around a triple by Jonathan Villar and a walk. He pitched three times for Chicago before being released on August 8th, then re-joined the Giants on August 16th, 13 years after his last appearance for them. He made another 7 appearances. For both teams, he won a game and did not allow any runs, giving him a record of 2-0, 0.00 in 6 1/3 innings. He walked 4 and give up 5 hits, but also struck out 9. His performance was solid enough for the Washington Nationals to give him a look in spring training in 2017, but he was released on March 27th.

Nathan was the last Giant whose major league debut came as a winning starting pitcher until Ryan Sadowski accomplished the feat in 2009. As mentioned, Nathan's first start was in 1999. He became eligible for the Hall of Fame in the 2022 Hall of Fame Election and did manage to obtain 17 votes, but still fell below the 5% threshold necessary to remain on the ballot for another year, finishing at 4.3%.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • 6-time AL All-Star (2004, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2012 & 2013)
  • AL Reliever of the Year Award Winner (2005)
  • 30 Saves Seasons: 9 (2004-2009 & 2012-2014)
  • 40 Saves seasons: 4 (2004, 2005, 2009 & 2013)

Further Reading[edit]

  • Anthony Fenech: "Tigers' Joe Nathan still has 'something to prove'", USA Today Sports, February 15, 2015. [1]
  • Bob Nightengale: "Joe Nathan, bound for 2nd Tommy John surgery, says he'll play again", USA Today Sports, April 23, 2015. [2]
  • Do-Hyoung Park: "How '04 brilliance changed Nathan's career",, January 20, 2022. [3]

Related Sites[edit]