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Exit Interviews: Nate Jones


So many players…I want to die.

URM..UH…I mean…These “exit interviews” will be going over the entire 40-man roster and looking to see how each player does or does not fit into the White Sox future.

The term “exit interview” is usually used when an employee is leaving the company. I took that into consideration…and kept it.

Nate Jones - Primary right-handed setup man, by way of attrition

Age by 2014 Opening Day: 28

Contract: Two years of service time accumulated, one more year of pre-arbitration salary.

Relevant stats: 70 games in relief, 78 IP, 69 H, 4.15 ERA, 5 HR, 89 K, 26 BB, 3.42 K/BB, 103 ERA+

Interpretation: He got better. PLEASE BELIEVE ME, PLEEEEASSSEEE!!!

Emblematic split: From June 1 through the end of the season, Jones struck out 69 batters in 52 innings for a 2.94 ERA. Opposing hitters posted just a .231/.286/.323 batting line despite a .345 batting average on balls in play.

Pre-season expectations: Nick had this to offer:

“At this point, perhaps the simple answer is that Jones is going to be effective in his own stressful, erratic way. Fortunately (so far), Jones has avoided the home run ball in his bouts of wildness. Also fortunately, Jones has the stuff to keep striking hitters out, which is the easiest way to get out of jams with runners on base. But, unless something changes, Jones’ lack of control is always going to be an issue, and it makes me frightened of seeing him in high leverage situations. Fortunately, if Jesse CrainMatt Lindstrom, andAddison Reed keep throwing well, Jones won’t have to see a lot of them.”

Quote of the year: “As long as I’m still pitching in the big leagues, that’s all that matters.”

Sometimes I just pick the quotes that are funny. Most of the time.

Nate’s story: Part of the struggle of pulling out the truth from Jones’ great process/mediocre results season (4.15 ERA is very mediocre for a reliever) is that he legitimately struggled for the first two months. Despite sporting an upper-90′s fastball, Jones didn’t have command over anything else in his arsenal well enough to even sport a 20% strikeout rate through the first third of the season, and his ERA over 6.00 was somewhat earned. Of course, that just underscores the dramatic switch that occurred when his slider starting biting.

An injury to Jesse Crain and the trade departure of Matt Thornton opened up a larger, high-leverage role to Jones, and it correlated with him finding a feel with his hard slider that he sinks enough to hurt hitters on both sides of the plate to nearly equal effect. At his best, there were some eye-popping stretches: Jones struck out 60 over 43.1 innings through the end of August. Over June and July, two doubles were the only extra-base hits he allowed at all.

By August, Jones had dragged his ERA all the back under 4.00 , and with the pen vacated, he was clearly Robin Ventura‘s No. 1 guy behind Addison Reed. That resulted in a hell of a lot of work. As the White Sox were dragging their way through an improbable .552 winning percentage for the month, Jones threw 16.1 innings while appearing in over half of the team’s games. As he rocketed up the league-leader list for innings among short relievers, Jones’ results certainly deteriorated, primarily due to his role in the disastrous September collapse in Detroit.

Jones’ velocity remained rippling (98 mph on average) and his strikeout-to-walk ration was stupendous down the stretch, he simply wasn’t as precise in the zone. The larger indicators of fatigue that were present with Reed weren’t as prominent here, but if the lesson with Jones’ 2013 season is that process doesn’t automatically equal results (advanced metrics suggests his ERA should have been almost 1.50 runs lower), than him being fine after a madcap August doesn’t justify his usage. Even if it was harmless, it remained needless.

Assessment: Every team does it once or twice per season, but that doesn’t make it insignificant: the White Sox discovered a guy who can pitch late inning, high-leverage situations for them and needn’t be concerned about handedness when they fling him out there. Since Jones achieved the feat of making the team out of camp in 2012 and sticking on the roster all year-long, there’s only one more season of paying him near the league-minimum. Successful teams need players like Jones.

Of course, his unlikely path from organizational live arm to valuable reliever also lends confidence to the organization’s ability to produce a player like him again. The collection of big arms that become big-time relievers once they figure things out in the White Sox organization is no accident, so while Jones could have a long future of being a valuable pitcher in the majors, his value to the Sox may be on the decline. He’s only going to be a hyper-bargain for one more year, and the Sox may need to be willing to offer that up to maximize their return. The path to the Sox finding their next impact bat is more treacherous to finding the next Nate Jones.

Yet, at least for now, there’ s no downside to keeping Jones either, which is not that common at all.

Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan

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Tags: Chicago White Sox Jesse Crain Nate Jones