— nick pants (@nick_pants) September 17, 2014
Joe Nathan was good. Then he moved 1,200 miles away and he wasn’t.
First the blown saves came as an aberration, then they arrived as a symptom of a dead arm. Eventually they arrived simply because they had before.
At its most basic, baseball is a child monitoring device. Nine players stand in the field, in easy view. Parents have a finite number of kids to watch at one time. The rest are safe in what most of the time is a chain-link cage. The plus is crowd control. The minus is downtime for the kids. When you’re nine it doesn’t matter. You play handslaps with David or look at the bee buzzing around. But make adults play the game, give them millions of dollars and have thousands of unrelenting strangers watch and it’s different. That downtime isn’t so innocent. For a person that pitches every few days in only high-pressure situations it becomes torture. He can play with sunflower seeds, dip, and mess around in the bullpen, but eventually that projector screen in his head will roll. Every mistake will play.
After Tuesday’s game Nathan has seven blown saves, tied for second most in the league. His velocity is down and his breaking pitches don’t have the same movement it used to. His control is gone. That’s the what. It’s harder to explain the why. Age is too simple an explanation. The advanced stats people won’t say it’s the only reason for his drop off. After all, how different is 39 from 38? At age 38, Nathan had a 1.39 ERA. Simple regression doesn’t explain a 3.5 jump. So year, at its core, the ninth inning is a Joe Nathan problem even if nobody can explain why. But how many men must fail in his position before it become less about who the player is than the position?