Original Post from North Dakota Twins Fan
The Twins saw their long-time closer Joe Nathan leave the team in free agency this offseason. With his departure to the Texas Rangers, the organization turned to a familiar face to fill the closer role by signing Matt Capps. Before undergoing Tommy John surgery, Nathan had been one of the best closers in the game and he got a lot of guaranteed money to be the closer for the two-time defending American League champions. The Twins weren't ready to make this kind of offer to Nathan and the team seemed happy to settle for the cheaper option in Capps.
Nathan's first spring with the Rangers has been a nightmare so far as he has struggled in his trips to the mound. In his very small sample size of five innings pitched, he has allowed eight earned runs on eight hits with three of those hits being home runs. His ERA of 14.21 looks more like a football score than a stat line of an elite closer. The 37-year old pitcher's statistics don't worry his pitching coach Mike Maddux
as he focuses on Nathan trying to hone all of his pitches before the end of the spring. A lot of veteran pitchers can spend their outings during the spring working on specific pitches and location of those pitches so spring numbers can be taken with a grain of salt. Even with that said, there can't be too many fans of the Rangers who feel a lot of confidence in their newly signed closer.
Capps hasn't had a perfect spring but he hasn't done anything to make the team think he can't handle the closing duties. In seven innings pitched, he has given up three earned runs on seven hits with two of those hits being home runs. Capps has also been getting some work in during B games because he was determined to pitch multiple innings at least once this spring
. At the beginning of last season, Capps was called on to get outs in more than one inning and his arm didn't like the transition to this role. He had done this extra work in B games before every other season with the exception of last year.
By considering all of this information, is there any way that Capps could end up performing better than Nathan during the 2012 season?
One of the first things to consider when it comes to projecting the performance of these players is the difference in their ages. Nathan will be 37 for the entirety of the upcoming season and he has dealt with multiple seasons in his career with major injuries. Capps is nine years younger and he has a lot less wear and tear on his arm over the course of his career. Nathan is on the decline of his career and Capps should still be near the prime of his playing days.
Another aspect to factor into performance is to reexamine the recent performance of these two players in the regular season. Both Nathan and Capps had some rough patches in the 2010 season and there were a few injuries the duo had to fight through to make it to the mound. Capps was very good in June with an ERA of under one but that was sandwiched between two terrible months in May and July with an ERA of over six. Nathan's second half of the year was much better than the first half and this is what gave Texas the confidence to sign him to a multi-year contract.
The Rangers and the Twins play in two vastly different ballparks that play to different strengths of specific players. The Rangers Ballpark in Arlington has been known to carry the ball out of the park with it's combination of hot summer weather and hitter friendly dimensions. In the first two years at Target Field, batters have found some difficulty hitting the ball out of the park and there has been discussions about the dimensions be tough for batters. In 13 games and 60 plate appearances, Nathan has given up only one home run and four doubles in Arlington. Capps has a much bigger sample size at Target Field and he has allowed six home runs over 213 plate appearances. With that being said if I were a pitcher, I would much rather be pitching in the friendly confines of Target Field.
Besides the Twins and Rangers having very different environments for their home ballparks, these teams are projected to have very different results in the 2012 season. The Rangers should be near the top of the AL West and they will be fighting to represent the AL in the World Series for the third consecutive year. The Twins are trying to rebound from one of the worst seasons in franchise history and many experts aren't picking Minnesota to finish anywhere near the top of the division. This should mean that Nathan will have plenty of more opportunities to rack up saves during the season. Capps might not be in line to have as many saves as Nathan but his other numbers could stack up very close or even better.
Overall, the thought of Capps having a bounce back season would be a welcome sign to Twins fans looking for something to peak their interest in 2012. Nathan will still probably have a decent season on a team that should be very good. It would just be fun to see Capps end up with the better numbers at the conclusion of the season.