Nate Jones: Sliding to Bullpen Ace?

Since coming into the league, Nate Jones has been my favorite pitcher behind Sale to watch. For one, he throws absolute gas; 3rd highest average fastball velocity in all of baseball at 97.6 MPH only behind Kelvin Herrera (98.4 MPH) and Aroldis Chapman (97.8 MPH) since last year. As if that wasn't enough, his fastball also has a ton of tail on it as seen below, courtesy of and special thanks to 3E8.


To top it all off he’s having himself a very nice season to date, currently tied at 7th with Drew Smyly with 1.7 fWAR among relievers. However Nate’s had a lot of catching up to do because of a very rocky start to the season. Jones struggled mightily in April and May to the tune of a 6.58 ERA, however since June has nearly been lights out. In the first two months of the season Nate’s numbers were as follows:

April 6.17 19.2% 13.5% 1.43 0.77 0.324 45.50% 4.24 4.89
May 6.91 17% 8.5% 2 0.63 0.302 45.50% 3.59


His peripherals suggest his ERA was exaggerated, but overall not a whole lot to like and probably safe to say Nate’s days with the Sox might have been numbered. Since June though it’s been a completely different story:

June 0.59 37.5% 3.6% 10.5 0 0.333 92.30% 0.69 1.41
July 3.09 32.7% 10.2% 3.2 0 0.357 66.70% 1.58 2.17
August 4.35 33.3% 11.1% 3 1.74 0.348 82.00% 4.11 2.92

So what’s changed? Quite simply he started to throw his slider more often.

Month FB% FBv wFB/C SL% SLv wSL/C CH% CHv wCH/C
April 66.20% 96.7 0.45 29.10% 87.3 -2.25 4.20% 86.6 1.2
May 62.60% 97 -2.76 28.70% 86.3 1.5 8.30% 87.2 7.86
June 36.60% 98.2 5.66 59.30% 87.1 1.4 4.20% 88.6 0.73
July 49.30% 98.1 0.94 47.30% 88.1 1.74 3.50% 89 -4.46
August 49.00% 98.5 -0.64 46.20% 88.1 2.27 4.90% 86.9 5.13
Full Season 53.10% 97.5 0.3 41.60% 87.4 1.09 5.10% 87.5 3.36

From the eye test early in the season Nate was over reliant on his fastball causing hitters to lay off anything off-speed, sit on fastball, and in turn his struggles. It’s worth noting his April percentages are very similar to his final percentages at the end of 2012 (67.3% FB, 24% SL, 7.9% CH), so it’s likely the league adjusted. Despite that though, Nate adjusted back by cutting back on his heater, allowing his off-speed stuff do the work, and the results are clear. Nate also agrees.

"I'm feeling pretty good with all three of my pitches, the slider and changeup especially," Jones said. "They're awesome when you throw them for strikes to get people off your fastball. Maybe that's what I was running into trouble with early in the season. I wasn't locating my secondary pitches, so they could sit on that."

However, despite his turnaround there remains one knock on Nate that holds him back from being elite is that he suffers from Gavin Floyd Syndrome or GFS. Common symptoms include, stretches of bad pitches, sudden loss of control, getting into jams, falling behind hitters, hangers, meatballs, facepalm moments, or all the above. As Bradley Woodrum pointed out in NotGraphs, these moments are summarized as such, pay close attention to Nate's expression.

In other words, great 75% of the time but that 25% of the time he isn't, ruins anything great built up in the 75%. (Perhaps these numbers are exaggerated one way or the other, but hope it gets across the general point.) Since debuting he holds the Major League lead in Meltdowns with 31 and currently 2nd this year with 14. In case you’re not aware of what a Meltdown is check out here, but in short this is what you need to know.

if a player increased his team’s win probability by 6% (0.06 WPA), then they get a Shutdown. If a player made his team 6% more likely to lose (-0.06), they get a Meltdown.

Although the evidence is against Nate, I'm going to hold the verdict on him open for the time being. Why? Since his change in repertoire he’s shown improvement in this department, as seen below.

Month SD MD
April 2 4
May 1 3
June 4 2
July 5 2
August 3 3
Full Season 15 14

Despite the improvement, August hasn't been kind to Nate and coupled with the fact he struggled with this last year, I find it difficult to judge one way or another.

In conclusion, Nate Jones is good. Nate Jones could be better. I firmly believe Nate can become an elite reliever if he can overcome his inconsistencies. Given his glimpses of dominance, dominant stuff, and flexibility, Nate Jones has the recipe to be a "Bullpen Ace". Now it’s just a matter of if he will, at the very least Nate has proven to be fun to watch and should be an above average reliever for quite some time.

Thanks for your time, hope you enjoyed, let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

All stats up to date as of yesterday morning except shutdowns & meltdowns, all data provided from FanGraphs.

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