The good news about Nate Jones is that he pitched nearly three times as many innings as he did in 2017.
The bad news is that he pitched only 30 innings.
Jones has been in the White Sox organization since 2007. That makes him far and away the longest tenured player on the team. He burst onto the scene in 2012 and was really good. In 2013 he was quite good, and in 2016 he was great. The problem for Jones, as you very well know, is that those are the only three seasons where Jones was able to stay healthy. 2018 was his seventh year with the White Sox. In 2012, 2013, and 2016, he combined to toss 220 innings and strike out 234. In 2014, 2015, 2017, and now 2018, he’s combined to throw 60 2/3 innings.
The 2018 Jones injury was a pronate muscle strain that kept him out from early June through early September. It was the kind of thing that had a very “here we go again” feel to it. The White Sox the last two years have entered the seasons with a few good bullpen pieces that were ripe for the picking by contending teams come the trade deadline, and center among them was Jones, particularly after a 2016 season in which Jones came back from Tommy John surgery and a 16-month absence and looked virtually the same as he did beforehand. But after now two straight seasons in which he’s missed considerable time, it’s safe to dub him nothing more than a question mark until proven otherwise.
In his 30 innings of work in 2018, the results were nothing special, but he didn’t exactly show any signs of the wear and tear one might expect from the injuries he’s suffered. The velocity and movement on his occasionally devastating sinker/slider combo fell right in line with his career averages, so while his walk rate was up considerably from his last fully healthy season, there’s nothing about the performance that screams “this guy is toast.”
Which is to say, we’ll likely see more of Jones going forward. His three-year, $8 million deal that ran through 2018 includes a number of team options, including $4.65 million in 2019. That’s not nearly enough for the White Sox to walk away from a potential bullpen asset, even with the injury risks, especially when you consider how few financial commitments they have in 2019 at the moment.
When healthy, Jones is about as steady as they come in terms of non-closer, but still reliable bullpen options (although I suppose he could still close and did a few times in 2018). He also represents yet another trade asset should the White Sox woes continue … say it with me: If he’s healthy.
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