Nate Jones earned his way on the Atlanta Braves’ Opening Day roster thanks to a good performance during Spring Training. However, those good feelings didn’t last as he struggled early and was gone from the roster by the middle of May.
Jones spent the first eight years of his career with the Chicago White Sox where he was a key piece of their bullpen, especially during his fully healthy 2012, 2013, and 2016 seasons. He was traded to the Rangers in 2019 and then signed with the Cincinnati Reds for the 2020 season. He struggled as a Red and was released in September. The Braves signed him to a minor league deal in February and invited him to Spring Training.
Coming into the spring, Jones was looked at as a veteran option for Atlanta’s bullpen which had lost veterans Darren O’Day, Shane Greene and Mark Melancon from the year before. The Braves reportedly altered his pitch mix to move him away from a sinker-that-worked-like-a-four-seamer to a true four-seamer.
2021 Season results
Jones appeared in 12 games with Atlanta and struggled with his control. He posted a 3.48 ERA in 10 1/3 innings but had a FIP of 8.78 and an xFIP of 8.08. He walked 10 and struck out just seven while allowing three home runs. It’s a miracle he only managed to give up six runs (four earned) in the process. He managed to have four meltdowns in 12 outings (as well as two shutdowns), which is a pretty insane rate of implosion if you think about it. The Braves designated him for assignment on May 7 and he was released three days later. Jones signed with the Dodgers on May 14 but didn’t fare any better, allowing eight hits and eight runs in 8 2/3 innings with L.A., though he did actually manage a reasonable 4.25 xFIP despite the 8.25 FIP. He was outrighted in June and elected free agency.
Nate Jones 2021 Stats
What went right? / What went wrong?
Jones still showed good velocity with his fastball but a lack of command combined with a 25% home run rate was more than he could overcome. He really did implement the pitch change to use a four-seamer as a Brave, but he never really threw it high enough in the zone where it could miss bats, and still tended to throw it down here and there. His slider had spotty command but missed tons of bats and was generally effective, but he never got around to featuring it more than about a third of the time, which didn’t help matters. Sometimes there’s an obvious change to make, you make it, and it’s still not enough.
All in all, Jones posted -0.6 fWAR in just 10 1⁄3 innings as a Brave. That was the worst mark for any pitcher the Braves used in 2021.
Road to the Title
While Nate Jones was mostly just a problem for the Braves, including being the guy on the mound for an Opening Day walkoff loss to the Phillies, he did have a few nice moments. He was a big part of the Braves’ first win of the season, in which he tossed a 1-2-3 inning in a one-run game that the Braves ended up winning 7-5 in Washington.
He also, believe it or not, once kinda-sorta cleaned up Tyler Matzek’s mess. On April 26, the Braves had an 8-5 lead over the Cubs in the seventh inning. Matzek came on, issued a four-pitch walk, and then gave up a one-out, two-run homer to Willson Contreras. After another four-pitch walk, the Braves pulled Matzek for Jones, who got Kris Bryant to fly out, hit a batter, and then got another fly out to center to preserve the lead. The Braves ended up winning the game by that lone run. The lows were lower than the highs were high with Jones, but it’s nice that he had a few cool moments for the team, even if he wasn’t around at the end.
Outlook for 2022
Jones announced his retirement in August, ending his 10-year career. We’ll never know if he could make it work in his late 30s with a four-seam grip and increased reliance on the slider.