Nate Jones is a 26 year old right hander that you have probably never heard of until this season (and even still maybe not). You should though. He and Reed have been by far the most consistent relievers in the White Sox bullpen. Both pitchers are rookies as well. However, I wanted to take a closer look at Nate Jones given that he came out of relative obscurity (Reed has been listed as the White Sox top prospect by numerous media outlets).
Jones has a very impressive arm, most notably his high-90s fastball with movement. He uses this along with a changeup and a slurve/slider. For his minor league career, the knock on Jones was that he simply walked to many batters, as is the case with many young pitchers. Jones walked 4.22 batters per nine innings pitched over his minor league career, which spanned five years between Rookie Ball and AA. This is indubitably too many batters reaching base on the free pass to have much success at higher levels of the minor leagues, let alone the majors. In 2008, Jones spectacularly had a 11.5 SO/9 but only have a SO/BB of 2.15 because he walked 5.3 per nine innings.
However, so far this season, Jones appears to have turned a corner with his command. With an 8.4 SO/9 and a 3.8 BB/9, Jones has been able to maintain a SO/BB rate of 2.38. In addition to that, Jones has allowed an extra base hit in only 1.3% of his plate appearances against. It was a solo shot to Jeff Francoeur in the game against the Royals at the Cell on May 13th that became Jones’s only extra base hit allowed. Batters swing and miss at 22% of the pitches Jones throws, which is 7% above league average.
His peripherals appear to support Jones’s breakout performance as being legitimate, but could he still be getting lucky? This all seems too good to be true. Well…not really. His BABIP is .275, which is 16 points below league average. This indicates some luck but even with regression to mean, Jones would be performing very well.
Another thing to take into account is the situation he enters the game in. Given that he is a rookie and slotted behind Reed and Crain in terms of right handed relievers on the team. This would means that it is unlikely that Jones would be dispatched in high leverage situations that may put too much pressure on the rookie. According to baseball-reference.com, a high leverage situation would be one with a leverage index of 1.5 or higher. We can see that on average, when Jones has entered the game, the average leverage was 0.666, which is actually considered low leverage. These are generally situations where the team is either up big or down big.
However, Ventura did call on Jones in two high leverage situations. This first was on April 25th in Oakland. This was the game that went into the 14th inning and ended with Santiago giving 3 earned runs to blow the save after the Sox had just put up two runs in the top of the inning. Yeah I know we all wanted to forget about that one…sorry. In this outing, Jones pitched the 12th and the 13th innings. He gave up 1 hit and nothing else. The second high leverage outing was on this past Friday (5/18/12). This outing was of much high leverage than the one in Oakland. He entered the game in the 8th inning with a 3-2 lead over our “friends” on the north side, the Chicago Cubs. He gave up one hit and struck out one batter while throwing 13 pitches to retire the side.
So is Nate Jones for real? It certainly seems so and this is something that White Sox fans can look towards for the future of the team. Having the ability to send out Crain in the 7th, Thornton or Jones in the 8th, and Reed to close it out in the 9th seems like a bullpen situation that most other teams would salivate over. Let’s see if Ventura agrees and begins to use them this way. If his recent bullpen deployment is any hint, we may very well be headed in that direction.
*Small sample size rules apply