Minnesota Twins honor former closer Joe Nathan

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 09: Joe Nathan
NEW YORK - OCTOBER 09: Joe Nathan /

Former Minnesota Twins closer Joe Nathan joined the Twins in order to retire as a Twin today.

The Minnesota Twins held a press conference Friday afternoon to announce the signing and retirement of relief pitcher Joe Nathan. Nathan chose to sign with the team in order to retire as a Twin after a long career.

Nathan’s career

Originally drafted in 1995 out of Stony Brook University as a shortstop, Nathan spent one season as a shortstop before transitioning to the mound, upon which, he immediately left the Giants and went back to Stony Brook to finish his degree in protest of the idea of pitching. However, he eventually thought better of it and chose to come back to the Giants on the mound.

He began his journey as a pitcher in 1997, initially working as a starter in the San Francisco Giants system. He struggled in that role before being moved into the bullpen in 2003. After the 2003 season, the Minnesota Twins made a deal with the Giants that has been called one of the greatest “heists” in recent trade history, as the Twins sent catcher A.J. Pierzynski to the Giants and received back Nathan along with pitchers Boof Bonser and Francisco Liriano.

For the next 7 years as a Twin, Nathan put up numbers that only the greatest closer in the history of the game, Mariano Rivera, could approach. He made 460 appearances (missing the entire 2010 season and a portion of 2011 due to Tommy John surgery), saving 260 games, with a 2.16 ERA, 0.96 FIP, 7.3% walk rate, and 30.7% strikeout rate.

The Twins let him go after 2011, worried at age 36 that his recovery from Tommy John would mean he was no longer going to be an elite closer. Instead, he bounced back with Texas, saving 80 games in the next two seasons with a 2.09 ERA and 0.98 WHIP. The arm had started to slow, however, and by the time he got to Detroit in 2014, he was on the brink of his second Tommy John, which he ended up having in 2015, and he’s never been able to get his velocity completely back since.

He retires at age 42.

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Future honors

Joe Nathan is a guy who will end up having some very intriguing career numbers to consider on the big level. Missing a year and having a struggle season in 2011 as he returned from TJS will hurt his “peak years” in Hall of Fame discussion, but he’s right up there in a number of metrics that objectively view players, so his argument will be very interesting.

More local, Nathan will be a shoo-in for the Minnesota Twins hall of fame very soon, likely even next summer. It’s quite feasible that he and Justin Morneau could both go in on the same class, which would be quite fun for fans of the 2000s Twins that won multiple division titles in that time frame.

One comment I read online today during the press conference mentioned retiring Nathan’s #36 jersey. Currently, Robbie Grossman is wearing that uniform number, but the bigger argument is what other players would deserve the honor before Joe. The Twins have retired 7 numbers, and if you go by the pure bWAR rankings of pitchers in the organization, guys like Brad Radke and Johan Santana would likely be ahead of Nathan in the pecking order.

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Nathan’s impressive performance was only matched by his workmanlike attitude, never being a guy who you would see upset about pitching on a non-save day, something that has come up from closers recently.