Closers are always interesting because, as I have said before, the Hall voters don’t quite know what to do with them.
However, Joe Nathan takes it a step further; he will be a case to watch, not only to see how he does when he returns from surgery, but also to see how the voters deal with his eventual candidacy.
As you probably know, he first emerged as a closer after being traded from the Giants to the Twins; prior to that, he was a middle reliever. He first year as a full-time closer came in 2004, which was his first season with Minnesota.
What you may not know (as I didn’t), is that, in 2004, he was 29. That seems like a rather late start for any career, let alone one aiming for Cooperstown.
So, basically, Nathan has six years as a closer under his belt. In those six seasons, though, he’s been phenomenal: 246 saves (247 for his career), with a .934 WHIP (1.107 career), a 1.87 ERA (2.75 for his career), and a mind-blowing 237 ERA+ (159 career).
So, he does certainly have that run of dominance that writers look for. However, he turns 36 in November, and a 36 year old returning from surgery is not always a certainty.
Of course, a closer pitching well into his 40s would not be unheard of (see Trevor Hoffman, or Mariano Rivera), and the Twins have basically saved his role for him, meaning he can slide right back into his role as stopper.
Just another quick thought-right now, Nathan is 30th all-time in saves. If he comes back and gets another 40-save season, he moves up to 24th. Another one after that would get him up to 12th. A third? Ties him for seventh all-time.
Can he do it? Well, his numbers before surgery suggest he’s capable: we’ll just have to wait and see.