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March 6, 2014

Tale of the Tape

Joe Nathan vs. Sergio Romo

by Wilson Karaman


It happens in every draft. That moment when, despite your best intentions to avoid forking over a draft pick for a closer, you realize you’ll probably need to at least be somewhat competitive in saves if you’re going to make a run at your standard league title. And while I prefer waiting and speculating on saves as much as the next guy, there’s very definite value to be had in grabbing an established closer to anchor your bullpen in these formats. When that moment comes, and you’re actually going to sacrifice a pick to make this scenario a reality, it’s really important that you come through with the safest option possible to bag you the saves you need.

So, let’s take a look at a couple of the “safer” proven-closer types you’re likely to encounter around the middle rounds of your draft. In one corner, Joe Nathan, the newly signed and minted closer for the Detroit Tigers. In the other, Sergio Romo, another veteran coming off of his first full season saving games in San Francisco. Nathan is currently the seventh closer going off the board in NFBC drafts, with Romo following as the ninth closer about two rounds later. Over in Paul’s astute breakdown of relief pitcher tiers, Nathan checks in as a four-star option, while Romo leads the pack of three-star options. Let’s take a look at how they stack up, and see whether Nathan is really worth the slightly higher price on draft day.

Saves
Trying to predict the actual number of saves for a given reliever is generally a fool’s errand, and trying to use prior-season stats to do it is an even worse idea. Still, there are some basic numbers we can look at to inform context. Last season Detroit won 17 more games than San Francisco with an even more impressive plus-234 run differential over the Giants. Despite the massive statistical advantage, though, the Giants’ run-starved offense created an environment just as nurturing for save opportunities as the high-octane Tigers. Detroit relievers were 39-for-55 in save opportunities, while San Francisco relievers went 41-for-54. It’s not a perfectly helpful stat, given some of those blown saves were charged to setup men, but you get the idea: A good team does not necessarily provide more save opportunities.

What about the individual performances of the relievers in question? Well, Nathan’s saved a stellar 90.2 percent of his 378 career opportunities, while Romo’s hung right there with him at 89.7 percent since taking over closing duties in 2011, albeit in a much smaller 58-opportunity sample. Both men have produced elite conversion rates, and assuming a more or less even playing field of opportunity they’re both good bets to get you high-30s to low-40s save totals.

Advantage: Even

Strikeouts
Nathan has managed to continue striking batters out at an elite rate into his late-30s, and that he’s managed to do so following Tommy John surgery that wiped out his age-35 season is nothing short of remarkable. Last year, he dramatically tweaked his pitch selection, discarding the curveball he’d utilized extensively in the immediate aftermath of his surgery and instead bombing hitters with a career-high percentage of sliders. The plot worked, as he was able to offset an almost two mile-an-hour drop in fastball velocity and hold his strikeout rate above 29 percent. And speaking of sliders, Romo’s got a pretty good one that he’s not shy about showing off. He actually dialed his usage of the pitch down to only 52 percent last year, per PITCHf/x, which was down from almost 64 percent in 2012. It’s been the second-best slider thrown by a reliever in each of the past two seasons and hasn’t really shown any signs of slowing down. Hitters appear to have begun recognizing this, however, as the odd occasions when Romo did throw his fastball in the zone resulted in a significantly higher contact rate last year. That in turn helped knock his strikeout rate all the way down to 23 percent (career 29 percent), and it will remain to be seen if Romo is able to adjust next season. I’m not comfortable predicting a continuation of an elite strikeout rate for Nathan given his age and clearly declining stuff, but he probably deserves a slight nod here given his lengthy track record and uncertainty about Romo’s ability to adjust and find his lost whiffs.

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Related Content:  Closers,  Fantasy,  Sergio Romo,  Joe Nathan

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Premium Article Top Tools: Best Slider... (03/05)
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Fantasy Article Tale of the Tape: Matt... (02/27)
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Fantasy Freestyle: Pro... (03/06)

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