The commenters wanted a Drew Storen column. The commenters get a Drew Storen column!
Well, sort of. It's hard for me to do a Drew Storen column without doing a Rafeal Soriano column, too, so entwined the two of them are.
It hasn't even been 2 years since Drew Storen was beaten by the Cardinals in Game 5 and started this whole thing in motion. The viceral reaction to vilify Storen for the loss was understandable. The long-lasting dislike though confused me, and not just because I am a soulless automaton who knows with whom the blame should truly lay with. Didn't Storen just have a fantastic season half-season in relief and an impressive previous one as closer? Didn't he pitch 3 times before Game 5 in that playoff series being nearly perfect (1 walk/baserunner in 3 outings) picking up a win and a save? Didn't those things count? It was if after belting the game winning homer in Game 4, Werth had hit into a bases loaded double play to end a one-run loss Game 5 and suddenly fans started calling for his head.
This reaction wasn't confined to outlier fans. It extended all the way to ownership. In came Soriano on what was arguably not a Rizzo move. It wasn't a terrible acquisition in theory - "strengthen a strength" and all that, but while Soriano anchored the pen Storen blew up. It may have been lingering effects of his bone chip surgery. Perhaps he powered through the end of 2012, but he didn't seem like the same pitcher. When 2014 started there was more apprehension with Storen than hope. Over the first half though Drew re-asserted his dominance, pitching as well as he ever had. But the closer role was still out of reach as Soriano put up an 0.97 ERA. No one thought he was that type of pitcher but regardless even if he was a 3.00 ERA pitcher that would be good enough to hold on to the closer role.
But since the All-Star break, or more accurately since early August*, Soriano has been terrible. In the span of 11 appearances he blew two saves, had four other shaky save outings, and one more shaky appearance in an blow out. That was enough to put Soriano on watch and after he blew the Philly game he was out. (Lost in all this is that Clippard pitches well - remains in the 8th hole - which is why he gets pissed if he doesn't get to finish the 8th. If the Nats won't let him "graduate" to closer on merit, then at least he wants ownership of the 8th)
OK that's the history. What's the reasoning? Why has Soriano collapsed? Why did Storen bounce back?
Soriano is the easy one. It's one part regression to the mean. Remember that doesn't mean "I'm a 3.00 ERA guy putting up a 1.00 ERA, so I have to put up a 5.00 ERA from here on out to end up at 3.00". It means "I'm a 3.00 ERA guy, so I should put up a 3.00 ERA from here on out and end up with a 2.00 ERA closer to the what I truly am than this 1.00 ERA I have now" Soriano was not a 0.97 pitcher. An ERA of about 3.00 would make more sense for him.
Of course he hasn't put up 3.00 he's put up like 7.00. The second part is Soriano is getting older and he's losing speed. All his pitches are at the slowest they've ever been. But they are just a tiny tick slower than last year and not slower than the early part of this season so there is one more component. His pitches aren't moving anymore. Here's the horizontal movement on Soriano's sliders :
2012/2103 : let's say 3.25
APR : 3.35
MAY : 3.56
JUN : 2.74
JUL : 2.71
AUG : 2.74
SEP : 2.51
Soriano thinks the sliders are up in the zone. Are they? Not really - or at least not anymore in the 2nd half than the first.
And what about the vertical movement of his sinkers?
2012/2103 : let's say 6.50, but a range of 6.00-7.50 is probably more "accurate"
APR : 5.67
MAY : 6.43
JUN : 6.09
JUL : 5.72
AUG : 5.90
SEP : 5.48
You don't have to know what the numbers mean other than bigger means more movement. Soriano's sliders aren't sliding, his sinkers aren't sinking, and his fastball is too slow to be an out pitch. We'll see in a minute that less movement isn't necessarily bad, but there's no reason for optimism here. He may be hurt, or he may just be old. He did see a similar 2nd half issue with the sinker last year and with the slider the past 2 years. Either way despite his early success you can't count on him right now.
What about Storen? That's harder. What you'd like to see is a single easily identifiable change that explains why 2013 was an outlier in comparison to 2011, '12 and '14. Sorry but I can't find one. The biggest change last year from 2011/2012 was upping the use of his change-up, but as you might have read he's using that pitch even more in 2014 than 2013. Some people are even citing it as a reason for success, saying he introduced it late last year (Storen was much better in Aug/Sept 2013). That would make sense... except it doesn't jive with the numbers. He threw his change up far more in the first half of 2013 and barely at all in August and September. So it isn't just a "change-up" per-se. Perhaps an entirely different approach to that pitch but not just that pitch.
He threw more sliders in 2013 - but he threw a lot in 2011. He stopped using his sinker as much in 2013 in comparison to 2012 but he's using it the same amount this year. There isn't a good pitch-type reason.
Is it pitch movement? Yes that has changed a bit. His slider is moving more horizontally, but the change-up and sinker you could argue have less movement. That's not a bad thing necessarily. The issues may just come down to command.
If you look at his zone info you see he's producing a ton more swings this year than he ever has, both inside and outside the zone. They are making a lot of contact outside the zone but no more contact inside the zone. This is really good. You can read it as he's getting them to hit HIS pitches. Less movement in this case can be seen as "more controlled" movement. It's possible that the sinkers that last year were obvious to hitters are less obvious in 2014, producing more weak ground balls. It's possible that the change-ups that last year might have floated a bit and not produced off-balance attempts are staying more around the zone in 2014 and are now getting those bad swings. Add to those a slider that's biting more and you have a repertoire of pitches that all work in concert to keep the hitter from being comfortable at the plate. This interpretation lines up with having the lowest walk rate of his career.
Why does he have better control? Got me. You can read the the Pavlidis and Kilgore pieces from last year explaining his changes in delivery. Seems to me to be as good a reason as any. Even if the change didn't improve his command, it may have made him think it improved his command. That's just as good if it produces results.
So there you go - Storen column.
oh also meant to link this - Storen's approach as a closer from Stuart Wallace on the District Sports Page. It's interesting.
*Soriano's ERA doesn't look good from Jul 20th-Aug 9th but that's all because of one hideous Miami blow-up. Take that single game out and he was as good as he had been in the first half.