Monday, April 18, 2011


Among sports franchises I've followed, the Twins stand out as the most boldly loyal. They promote from within, they've had two managers in the past 25 years, and they treat the players they like very, very well.

Loyalty is by no means a negative trait. To the contrary -- it's likely a big part of the reason that the Twins are held in such high regard around the league. But there is such a thing as "loyal to a fault," and I think we've seen it play out in the way Joe Nathan's return has been handled.

Nathan deserves a great deal of respect for his demeanor, determination and work ethic over the past year. When he learned last March that he was ticketed for Tommy John surgery, he immediately set his sights on retaking the closer position at the outset of the 2011 season.

Without a doubt, Nathan did everything in his power to expedite his recovery. When spring training got underway this year, he was there on the mound, throwing to live batters, just like he said he would be. Sort of amazing.

But, looking past the heartwarming story, there was little to suggest Nathan was ready to be pitching high-leverage relief innings in the major leagues. Still just 12 months removed from a surgery that normally takes at least 16 for full recovery, Nathan was throwing with noticeably decreased velocity and spotty command in exhibition play.

His spring training numbers showed it. In nine appearances, the right-hander was blown up for nine runs on 10 hits and four walks, managing only three strikeouts.

Yes, spring training numbers usually should be taken with a grain of salt, but Nathan was fighting for a job. Even looking beyond the hits and walks, the fact that he was able to notch only three strikeouts in nine appearances while trying to prove he had the stuff to close games should have been an immediate red flag. But when the time came, Ron Gardenhire and Co. made the decision everyone expected. They awarded Nathan the closer role over Matt Capps, who'd been vastly superior.
(Steve Nesius, AP)

It took no more than one appearance this season for the casual baseball observer to recognize that Nathan didn't have it. His fastball sporadically dipped under 90 MPH, he repeatedly missed his spots, and his breaking pitches lacked consistent bite. As the season has progressed, things have unfolded about as you would expect, given these issues.

Nathan, once a strikeout artist, has managed to whiff only three of the 27 batters he has faced. He's walked five and allowed six hits -- including a monster home run in Saturday's game that tagged him with his second blown save in a span of three days.

After the game, a humbled Nathan volunteered for a demotion. He'll settle into a low-leverage role that minimizes the damage he can do while he tries to figure things out. That doesn't really do any favors to a bullpen that's already short on trustworthy late-inning options.

Capps' move into the closer role will obviously open up more high-leverage spots in the seventh and eighth innings. Gardenhire makes it sound as though many of those opportunities will go to Glen Perkins, another player to whom the Twins have been fiercely loyal -- almost to a baffling degree.

Loyal to a fault? We'll see.


Ed Bast said...

The "loyalty" thing is one of Gardy's many shortcomings - preferring "scrappy" players that resemble himself as a player to those that have actual talent but don't slide into first base. But at this point, like so many of Gardy's foibles, it aint gonna change so why even bother bringing it up anymore.

On the Capps/Nathan thing, though, I don't think it's as criminal as you make it out to be. Let's not forget, over his career Capps has converted saves at or below the league average. He's not a great closer by any means. He's better as a setup guy. Maybe they thought "demoting" Nathan out of spring training would be a blow to his confidence. Who knows. I don't think Nathan as closer for the first 2 weeks is the reason this club is where it's at.

Displaced Twins Fan said...

While I agree that the closer is not the reason the Twins are struggling, I do feel that it is a major blow to their mindset/confidence. This last week felt like the playoffs all over again. The Twins jump out to a small but manageable lead (always squandering a chance to really put a team away by leaving runners stranded) and then the lead withers away with the bullpen walking lead off batters and making poor pitches in crucial situations.

The Twins need a spark - someone to loosen things up. This is where the loss of Orlando Hudson hurts. Mauer is by no means a vocal leader, and he isn't getting it done on the field (whenever he is on it). Same goes for Morneau. Cuddy seems to be the only Twin with the ability to liven things up in that dugout. Say what you will about the team but the talent is there. I refuse to believe that this team will struggle all year. I much prefer to revert back to history and the confidence that they will find a way, they always do. Baseball is 70% mental and 40% physical (like that math and made up stat?) someone needs to calm these guys down and let their talent do the work. The Twins win when they are having fun. Isn't that why we love 'em?

cy1time said...

I don't know about the loyalty the Twins have for Perkins. I thought the Twins were ready to get rid of him last year with all his whining about being hurt and his service time issues. I was actually surprised when it was Neshek that was moved before Perkins.

cy1time said...

I don't know about the loyalty the Twins have for Perkins. I thought the Twins were ready to get rid of him last year with all his whining about being hurt and his service time issues. I was actually surprised when it was Neshek that was moved before Perkins.

Ben said...

In the Twins case, I'm not so sure loyalty is a good thing anymore. Promoting everyone from within and never having any turnover in the coaching staff...I think the organization sorely needs some fresh faces and new thinking.

Nick N. said...

I thought the Twins were ready to get rid of him last year with all his whining about being hurt and his service time issues.

I thought so too, but they brought him back this year and pretty much guaranteed him a bullpen spot from the outset despite all that (not to mention the fact that he's been awful over the past couple seasons) so clearly they stand by him.

Lenny Webster said...

The Nathan thing was predictable as you say. Even more disapointing from the fans perspective is the orginizations utter refusal to spend ANY money in free agency on the pen. Not on their own,(other than Capps and that was to save face for the Ramos deal) and not on an outside arm. Yes, I realize they've been quite active at and after the trade deadline, but if you ask me this problem is self inflicted.

Mike said...

I know it would have left the Twins bullpen with a real shortage of established "names" if this would have happened, but prior to the start of the season, I said that Nathan didn't belong with the big club until he proved he could be there by beating minor leaguers.

I guess I'm not sure if he could have started out in AAA (I'm not sure of the rules related to options...), but I think he could have had he still been listed as injured? In any case, coming back this quickly, and especially into the closer role, seemed too rushed.

It's hard to count the Twins out, considering what they've done the last decade, but this year, it's hard to not be pessimistic about their postseason chances.

Anonymous said...

i hope Nathan can pull it togeather and get back out there to the closing role at top notch, as big twins fan i have always said get it to the ninth with the lead and we will win because we got Nathan. I hope to say that again some day

Matt said...

The loyalty and favoritism of players goes back further than Gardy.
It starts with TK.
I thought they showed Cuddy way too much loyalty throughout his career.
It's served them well and it's bitten them, like most organizational philosophies, there are trade offs.

ben said...

"heartwarming story"? I had to read that twice to make sure you really said that! lmao!

Noam Chomsky said...

"heartwarming story"? I had to read it twice to make sure I read it correctly. L.M.A.O! Talk about sensationalism. Dick Bremer wouldn't even dare! Thanks for the laugh though.