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Spin Doctors: Joe Nathan vs. Addison Reed

Scott Pianowski
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Famous Nathan (USAT)

You want us to disagree. You want us to fight. You want us to wrestle in the snow. With that, we Doctor on. Today's assignment: a couple of new-city closers, those handshake guys.

Pianow stumps for Nathan: Okay, maybe closer debates aren't at the Bird/Magic filibuster level. Maybe I'm just curious what my buddy Del Don has against Joe Nathan. If industry consensus means anything to you (and I'm not offended if it doesn't), this is an open-and-shut case.

Nathan had the better year than Addison Reed in 2013, no argument there. A 1.39 ERA and 0.897 WHIP, 43 handshakes, better than a strikeout per inning. Not even Ron Washington could screw this up. Reed had two less saves. an ERA in the high 3s, a WHIP over 1.10, a lesser strikeout rate. Even if you want to play the pretend ERA game with FIP and xFIP (or similar), Nathan is comfortably ahead.

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Nathan beat the kid by a considerable margin in 2012, too. Yes, we're in the projection business (looking ahead) more than the history business (looking back) - but I can't see why anyone would want to take a leap of faith in Reed's skills sailing past Nathan this year.

Nathan's now in Detroit, Reed in Arizona. Score one for the veteran: tamer park, better supporting cast. I concede predicting save chances is a bit of a fool's errand, but when in doubt I want the team expected to win more games. Detroit's pegged for 89.5 victories this year, nine more than the Snakes.

Nathan's obviously 14 years older, but show me any sign of a decline (the numbers don't show it). Okay, D3, unveil what we're missing.

Del Don calls for Reed: Nathan is coming off a fantastic season, and I admittedly should probably bump him up my closer rankings. However, he’s 39 years old and finished last season with his lowest average fastball velocity (92.2 mph) of his career. This resulted in Nathan using his slider (35.4%) more often than ever. He has a fantastic (and much longer) track record, but Nathan isn’t without risk entering a decline phase approaching age 40.

Reed, on the other hand, is 25 years old and coming off a season in which he recorded a 24.4 K% and an 11.0 SwStr%. He finished with a 1.11 WHIP while pitching in an extreme hitter’s park. Chase Field is one as well, but the move to the National League should help.

For what it’s worth (probably not much), the Tigers produced just 55 save opportunities last season, which were the fewest in the American League. Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks produced 67 save opportunities, which was the sixth most in all of baseball.

I’ve already conceded I currently have Nathan too low, but I’d rather be a year too early than a year too late with an older pitcher with a lot of mileage on his arm. Reed’s best seasons lie ahead of him, and even if you think I’m crazy saying he’ll outperform Nathan in 2014, at least he’s typically much cheaper, with an ADP of about 40 picks later.

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