Jones certainly isn’t your typical reliever, for better and for worse. (Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)
I didn’t join the Southside Showdown team until the middle of last season, so it is new ground for me to be writing analysis about seasons that are only six games long. Last year, Nate Jones went from being a semi-surprise addition to the roster after Spring Training to a stalwart of the bullpen. Indeed, with Jesse Crain’s fragility last year, and Brett Myers only joining the team late in the season, Jones was the primary right-handed setup man in the reliever for long stretches of the year.
Jones has only made three appearances this year for a total of 2.1 IP. Naturally, pick any reliever and you can find 2.1 innings that didn’t work out for them. Jones couldn’t get anyone out in the 1-0 opening day victory over the Royals, as his command was extremely spotty. He also wound up taking the loss after a 1-2-3 9th inning against Seattle on Friday, giving ground in the 10th. On Sunday, Jones gave up a run when Michael Saunders homered off of Matt Thornton, allowing Brendan Ryan (inherited from Jones) to score. On the one hand, it’s not Jones’ fault Thornton gave up the home run – on the other hand, he gave up a hit to Brendan Ryan of all people.
That’s been the whole season for him so far. So what?
The concern for me isn’t so much these three games, but rather, what to expect moving forward. It took Jones until he was 25 to reach AA, and certainly not because of his stuff. We all know that Jones throws really hard, but his mechanics are weird and his control is extremely spotty. Even in his extremely successful rookie season, Jones had a BB/9 of 4.0 – right in line with his minor league track record. Jones was also bolstered by the fact that he managed to strand 85.8% of the baserunners he faced last year – a mark that was good for 11th in the majors amongst pitchers who threw at least 50 innings. The guys ahead of him are names like Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, Fernando Rodney, Sergio Romo, Rafael Soriano, etc. I’m a fan of Nate’s, but I don’t think he’s of the caliber of those pitchers, and can attribute some of his success last year to luck.
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 Crain, Matt Lindstrom, and Addison Reed keep throwing well, Jones won’t have to see a lot of them.
Last year’s pitching was in fact very much in keeping with Jones’ minor league track record. The danger is that his lack of control begins bleeding out of just the walk column and starts manifesting itself as hits and home runs. Making mistakes against major league hitting can be a dangerous proposition.