It seems like doomsday for the Minnesota Twins with all-star closer Joe Nathan having major elbow issues. So who is going to fill the gaping hole that Nathan's injury creates? Among relievers currently on the roster, Jon Rauch's 26 career saves are second to the 247 that Nathan has racked up. Three other relievers, including Matt Guerrier, have a total of just 10 saves over 18 combined seasons. Nathan earned a career-high 47 of those 247 career saves last season in large part to how effective he was when the game was on the line. His BA allowed when runners were in scoring position was .103, which was the 3rd-best mark in the bigs among those pitchers with at least 60 innings.
Ironically - or expectedly - the three pitchers who ranked at the top of that list are sporting significant arm injuries. Erik Bedard, who led baseball with a .092 opponent's BA with RISP, had surgery in August for a torn labrum, while Angel Guzman has a tear in his shoulder. This injury certainly wasn't expected from Nathan, who has proven to be one of the most durable pitchers around. His 490 appearances since 2003 are the 4th most in baseball. Brad Lidge (511), David Weathers (493) and Francisco Cordero (492) are the only players who have pitched in more games than Nathan in that span.
But taking a deeper look using Inside Edge's numbers, Minnesota's hopes are not crushed. Yes, Nathan's production has been on par with Mariano Rivera since becoming the closer full-time in Minnesota, and he's performed MUCH better than the league average in a number of areas. But the two pitchers with the best shot to fill Nathan's cleats haven't been that far behind.
Twins relievers and Mariano Rivera since 2007
As you can see, Rauch and Guerrier excel at a lot of the things that made Nathan and Rivera among the AL's best over the last three seasons.
But there is one thing that Twins fans will have to get used to as they root for their 2010 closer to finish opponents off: fewer punchouts.
Last season, 46 pitchers made at least 5 saves. Of those 46, just three pitchers had a K-per-9 rate below 6.0.
Matt Guerrier's K per 9 last season? 5.5. And Jon Rauch was not too much better at 6.3 K per 9.
Jeremy Lundblad, Dennis Renno, Mark Simon contributed to this post.