This is the second installment of a series of blog posts called “Under the Radar.” This series is a periodic examination of the careers of currently active players who have achieved success in their major league careers, but who are certainly not household names.
In the first part of this series, I took a look at the careers of Roy Oswalt and Carlos Beltran. Both have the numbers to be considered Hall of Fame candidates, depending on how they perform over the next half a dozen years or so. But as I write this, news has just come in that Beltran is expected to miss the first month or two of the 2010 season due to on-going knee problems.
In this blog post, we will take a look at two highly productive players who have been overshadowed at their respective positions by higher profile players such as Chipper Jones and Mariano Rivera. Specifically, we will take a look today at the careers of Joe Nathan, relief pitcher for the Twins, and Aramis Ramirez, the Chicago Cubs third baseman.
Let’s begin with Joe Nathan. If you have played Fantasy Baseball over the past several years, you are part of a sub-culture that has come to greatly appreciate Joe Nathan’s contributions to baseball. Outside of Fantasy Baseball and Minnesota, however, not a lot of people have any idea who Joe Nathan is.
This is unfortunate, because for the past half dozen years or so, Joe Nathan has been one of the most dominant PITCHERS (not just closers) in baseball history. How can I make such a bold statement? Let’s take a look at the statistics:
Since taking over as the Twins closer in 2004, Nathan has saved 246 games, an average of 41 per season, the most over that time span. His career save percentage is just a bit under 90%, the same as Mariano Rivera who is universally considered the best closer of all-time.
Nathan has averaged well over a strikeout per inning in his career (9.4 K’s per nine innings.) His career ERA is 2.75, and he has logged four seasons with an ERA under 2.00 over the past six seasons.
Nathan has been named to four All-Star teams, and he has finished in the top five in Cy Young voting twice.
But perhaps the most amazing statistic about Joe Nathan is that he has allowed an average of only 6.5 hits per nine innings throughout his nine year career during which he has logged 685 innings pitched. How phenomenal is that statistic?
It ties Nathan with Nolan Ryan for the fewest hits per nine innings in major league baseball history. That’s pretty amazing.
So why is it that Mariano Rivera garners all of the accolades, while Joe Nathan just pitches outstanding baseball? Well, for one reason, Rivera pitches in the media capital of the world. Nathan pitches in a place that usually leads the nation in lowest temperatures recorded in the continental United States.
Actually, the biggest difference between these two great pitchers is post-season performance. Rivera is simply the greatest post-season closer of all-time, having logged 39 saves while posting an 8-1 record, an ERA of 0.74, and a ridiculous WHIP of .0773.
Joe Nathan has pitched eight innings in the post-season, giving up seven earned runs for an ERA of 7.88.
Still, over the past several seasons, if you had picked Joe Nathan over Mariano Rivera for your Fantasy Baseball team, you would not have noticed any significant difference between the two.
And since Joe Nathan appears to be a healthy 35 years old, he should have a few more dominating years ahead of him.
The other player that I think is a good addition to my squadron of under-appreciated players is Cubs third-sacker Aramis Ramirez.
Ramirez will be 32 years old this June, and has been in the majors for twelve seasons. Few third basemen have ever been more consistent, especially with the bat.
Ramirez has hit 264 homers, and he has driven in 946 runs. That means that this season, at age 32, he has a chance to surpass one thousand RBI’s, and perhaps hit his 300th home run. He has also scored 732 runs, has hit 317 doubles, and has over 1,500 hits to his credit.
He is also capable of hitting for a respectable batting average, as his .286 career mark reveals. His career slugging percentage of .503 is better than Hall-of-Fame third basemen Wade Boggs, George Brett, Pie Traynor, Brooks Robinson and Ken Boyer.
Aramis Ramirez has played in two All-Star games, and he has finished in the top ten in MVP voting twice in his career.
His most impressive statistic, however, is his six 100+ RBI seasons over the past nine years. He already has more 100 RBI seasons than Eddie Matthews, and as many as Ron Santo and Brooks Robinson combined. Also, Ramirez’s .847 career OPS is higher than HOF’er Pie Traynor, and nearly as high as HOF’ers George Brett and Wade Boggs.
In fact, there are only about four or five third basemen in history who clearly have better numbers: Mike Schmidt, Chipper Jones, Eddie Matthews (many more homers) George Brett and Wade Boggs. Ramirez is closing in on the next tier of third basemen that includes Ken Boyer, Stan Hack, Ron Santo and Darrell Evans.
The third base position has always been historically weaker than most people imagine. One would think that, just like first base and outfield, there would be numerous players who accumulated impressive statistics over the years. But, in reality, it has been one of the weakest hitting positions on the diamond, more comparable to shortstop than to first base.
For this reason alone, we might find ourselves one day taking a second look at his career totals to decide whether or not a serious argument can be made that Aramis Ramirez belongs in the Hall of Fame.