Nationals Baseball: Everything pen

Friday, September 12, 2014

Everything pen

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.  


JWLumley said...

If Soriano can return to being a 3.00 ERA pitcher, I think you want him closing because that allows the Nats to use their best reliever (Storen) in the highest leverage spots.

Carl said...

I watched Baseball Tonight after the loss to the Braves on Wednesday, when Soriano pitched an inning. The commentators (can't remember who, exactly) tried to make it much more of a controversy than it is. "And Storen, well, he lost that game 5 two years ago, can you really trust him to close in the playoffs?"

Whatevs. Clearly they don't understand what happened in game 5 and that it wasn't all Storen's fault. Clearly they hadn't watched him in the last week, and don't understand why he's a better pitcher now than he was in 2012. I get it, they have to make something out of nothing to convince people there's a thing to get excited about. But if they were really paying attention they'd know there's no controversy at all.

John C. said...

Good stuff here, Harper. The important things about Soriano to me are (1) he wasn't that good - his BABIP in the first half of the year was .207, for cryin' out loud; and (2) he's lost his slider. Harper does a great job of showing that - the pitch just isn't moving as much as it was earlier, and it's getting hammered. Or (just as important) generating fouls instead of whiffs, giving a hitter more opportunities to get a hanger.

I will say that Soriano's fastball has seemed to me to be up a tick or two this year. Where he was living at 90-91 last year, this season he's been sitting pretty reliably at 92-93, and I've even seen him touch 94 on occasion. The problem: it's still not good enough for him to rely on it most of the time, and if the slider isn't there, look out.

Harper said...

JWL - you're right "I" would want him closing in that case. Would the Nats or the general public though? No.

Carl - it's not just the broadcasters though. Storen comes in and gives up a seeing eye single, SB and a bloop (around 2 Ks) to blow the save and the fans will say the same thing.

JC - that foul comment is impt. It's very hard to interpret pitching stats through raw numbers. You can tell what's happeneing but you can't tell whether that's good or bad because other than a general loss of speed or a complete loss of movement it comes down to pitching not throwing - when and where things are thrown. And I don't have the time to watch a season worth of Storen outings.

cass said...

A lot of fans never turned on Storen. We knew it was just one game. And even the great Mariano Rivera failed in his first ever postseason.

No one booed Storen during Game 5. We felt bad for him.

Nats fans (not me) did boo Soriano when he blew saves. He was never loved like Storen was. He never will be. He was a hired gun. Sure, from everything I've read, it sounds like he's a nice guy. He had some unfortunate quotes about Harper once but only once. From everything else I've read, the exterior is just a persona and he's probably just quiet, private, and perhaps introverted. I have nothing against him and wouldn't boo him, but I also am far more invested in Storen.

And I think other Nats fans are too. He's our guy. We saw him in the minors. We saw him come up and closer for us when he was young. He's a Nat. We got mad at the team when they made him pitch when he had a high fever and then sent him down to the minors.

And when he returned to his role as a closer, the fans were empathetic in their support. Lots of "Drewwwww's." Big applause. Soriano never got that reaction when he pitched. And he never will. Cause while we may appreciate what he does for the team, he doesn't have the same history as Storen.

Jimmy said...

JW I like it but we already have a guy who is really good at that in Stammen. Even without Soriano are pen is looking good, with Soriano pitching at the level of a three ERA pitcher I wouldn't take anybody over us from a depth standpoint.

JWLumley said...

@Jimmy Yeah, I get your point and I think a case could be made that if Soriano's not the closer, he shouldn't be on the roster. You don't want him coming in with men on base.

Froggy said...

Harper- thanks for the great Storen column. I agree that he is getting batters to swing at 'his' pitches via what appears to be a 'better' sinker and more control (tighter zone?) through tweaking his delivery.

Question I have is how much of his success could be attributed to pitching in the less pressure 7th innings. You know, where you can mentally let it loose so to speak. I don't know how you can measure pressure but there has to be some component of 'I have a lot less to lose here in the 7th than in the 9th' that repeated success has to reinforce confidence in mechanics, and pitch selection and placement selection.

I've been beating up Soriano for over a year for a number of reasons one of them being, he just isn't consistent and doesn't project confidence. ERA out the window, my issue has always been his WHIP which has been trending upwards from day one. Even though I would be happy if we got a bag of balls for him, I know MW will try and rehabilitate him via the 'Storen Plan' and pitch him in the 7th and try and re-instill some confidence. Regardless, he will need to make some pretty dramatic improvements to be reconsidered for a closer role. IMO barring an injury that train has left the station and if I were Soriano I would just accept owning the 6th-7th innings.

Zimmerman11 said...

A Bush reference? Gavin Rossdale's only redeeming quality is that Gwen Stefani married him. Weak sauce, Harper, you can do better than that!

Garfunkel and Oats: 90s band names that sound like lady parts, GO!




blovy8 said...

Cass has it right - as far as I can tell most fans I know kind of agree with Clippard in thinking Storen got screwed somewhat. There was the usual "he was really choking out there" BS that is convenient to supplement venting one's disappointment right after the event, but I figured that was knee-jerk stuff.

The best way to use Soriano is to eat mop-up innings, or maybe match up against aggressive RH hitters. I don't see his stuff as true 3.00 ERA material anymore, perhaps he reads swings well enough to do that if he has his command, but that's been way too spotty to trust him, but it's pretty clear he's going to get two weeks to see if he can take that spot back, rather than two weeks to learn how to get ready earlier.

Even if the leverage index doesn't support a designated closer, I think the Nats have enough good relievers to match up - Clippard, Stammen, and Thornton can usually get enough guys out to let them do a whole frame while you still have Barrett for RH hitters, and much as he annoys me - Blevins has really handled lefties pretty well. I can at least hope he'd be used in a more loogyish way in the postseason.

Jimmy said...

@jw I agree.

Is a solid ps BP.

Bjd1207 said...

@JW/Jimmy convo -

The only reservation I'd have is that if Storen DOES blow up in the post-season, let's say in an early game that doesn't end up costing us the series but makes it clear Storen won't be able to finish the post season in the closer role, who do we go to? Now we're moving onto our 3rd closer in a month? Clippard would be the obvious choice but I'm still hesitant.

If we're saying Stammen/Soriano are roughly equal, I'd defer to Soriano if only because he'd be more comfortable taking BACK over the closer role rather than moving in another new guy

Harper said...

Z11 - Unintended. (isn't it "Evertyhing'S Zen"?) That you thought that is your own failure.

Zimmerman11 said...

Harper, Google says no 'S... and yes I had to Google it... WINNING!

If you had added your own apostrophe to it "Everything 'Pen"... I may not have made the association.

Blame deflected, passed back to you!

Bote Man said...

The changeup works as it is contrasted against the fastball. The "textbook" changeup leaves the pitcher's hand with the same arm slot and appearance as a fastball, so the hitter thinks fastball, swings fastball, and...then the pitch arrives later.

So if Storen has improved his fastball in some way or has worked to make his changeup appear much like his fastball deliver, that would be an explanation.

Is it absolutely necessary that a particular pitcher be named The Closer™ ?? It seems like Matty has done a serviceable job over the past few games with sending up the best pitcher for the immediate task at hand. Works for me, even if dyed-in-the-wool old heads insist that pitchers MUST know their roles ahead of time.

Makes you wonder how police and fireman can do their all-important jobs not knowing whether they will roll up on a 3 alarm apartment fire or a homeless guy who just wants some company. O! the uncertainty!

Anonymous said...

It was not Drew who lost that game, it was an awful umpiring in that game. How could they miss 3 strike 3 calls. Go figure.

Anonymous said...

An additional point about the 2012 Game 5: I forget who the batter was with 2 on and 2 out for the Cards down 7-5 in the 9th, but there were at least 2 if not 3 EXTREMELY borderline pitches with 2 strikes that were called balls, that would otherwise have ended the game and this blogpost would never have been written. I love Storen, loved him immediately after he blew that game, loved him last year, love him now.

Anonymous said...

damnit - someone just made my exact point 12 minutes earlier. someone with the same name as me in fact

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with Cass. I was at game 5 in 2012 and Storen was booed by Nats fans. I didn't understand it then just like I didn't understand Soriano's booing either. Both pitchers were trying their hearts out and in Storen's case a few correct calls by the umps would have made a big difference. Personally I will be cheering for Soriano's return to form so he can at least contribute something. Keep Storen as the closer, but spot use Soriano against batters he can dominate.

Harper said...

Anons - I checked the zone and re-watched the at bat in question (Storen vs Freese) and there was only one borderline call. Check swing on a pitch JUST low. Didn't go around but I've seen it called (would have been a certainly questionable swing call). Was low but JUST so a strike call wouldn't have registered as an injustice. Way too close for Freeze to take. The other ball was outside. It just was. (and the other ball in that AB was also outside and was the first or second pitch) Both close enough to try to frame but not strikes.

There WERE two borderline calls that should have and didn't go the Nats way. One on the Craig AB (he K'd) one on the Molina AB. THe Molina one was on the 1st pitch and really Suzuki was to blame. Watch it in real time and he makes it look like a no doubt ball.

cass said...

Anon (12:05):

I was there as well and didn't hear any booing. Can't rule it out for elsewhere in the stadium, though. But are you sure you weren't just hearing the "Droooooo" chants cheering him on? They probably wouldn't have happened after the Cardinals took the lead, but perhaps while it was tied we were still cheering him on.

Donald said...

I don't think Soriano gets the closer role back unless two things happen -- Storen blows up more than once in short succession and Soriano dominates in both low leverage situations and higher leverage situations in later innings. They won't just give that role back to him because he throws a few clean mop-up innings.

As for Storen, I'm a big fan, but he still makes me nervous. You can tell that he really feels the pressure. That's not necessarily bad if he can control that adrenaline. But you can see his mitt shaking out there sometimes, and then he way overthrows a slider or change and it sails. I'm not saying that to mean I don't trust him or want him as the closer. But with Kimbrel, even when he struggles, it still feels like the opposing team has no chance when he comes in. With Storen, my palms start to sweat and I pace in front of the TV until he gets out of the inning.

That said, nothing would be sweeter or more redemptive than to have Storen close out game 5 against the Cards this year.

Kenny B. said...

I just wish managers didn't have this practice of waiting until after the closer blows the lead to switch them out. Of course when it's a one-run lead, you kind of have to wait until they blow it, but if it's a two or three run lead, and it's clear the pitcher is struggling—i.e. the run didn't come off a cheapie homer or error, and there are baserunners all over the place—call in someone else. You would do it in any other inning.

MW has impressed me lately with his use of multiple pitchers in late inning, high leverage situations, but this whole baseball-wide hangup on the 9th is infuriating. This is not a MW-specific criticism of course, but why can we not literally have a closer-by-committee? MW has been handed the gift of flexibility, and as much as I love Storen, I don't want him imprisoned in the 9th.

Kenny B. said...

Also, I definitely thought the title was a Bush reference.

Anonymous said...

Just want to add that I was also at Game 5 and did not hear a single boo. There was a mix of nervous hope that we might answer in the bottom of the inning and a feeling of resignation that we would almost certainly lose, but no booing whatsoever where I was. If we want to be generous to the fanbase, the lack of booing was restraint out of respect. Another possibility is that people were just too shell shocked to boo.

JE34 said...

Here's hoping MW has the sense to use this situation to do away with the whole inning ownership thing altogether... it's a perfect set of circumstances to say, "We will run the best pitcher out there for the situation, period" and be done with it. The Nats don't have an unhittable closer on the staff, so exploiting matchups is the only way to go.

A week or two ago, Harper mentioned the amount of work that Clippard has gotten this year... there's a guy who should be rested as much as possible, IMO. He's giving up more hits & runs in August & September, after being insanely effective in May, June, July (surrendered runs in just two games in those 3 months). Of course he does have a thing for generally making innings interesting/uncomfortable.

Anons - I was at 2012 Game5 as well, and I don't recall any boos either. I do recall the morgue like atmosphere at the end of the game.

Froggy said...

I was at that game as well and I do recall hearing 'Droooo' but no boos. In fact I remember how eerily quite it was. So quiet you could hear the StL dugout and all the chatter from the players after they went ahead in the 9th.

To add, that game was not lost by Drew Storen. Sure, a pitch or two didn't go his way, but the game was lost when Davey put Edwin Jackson in to pitch the 7th on one day's rest. To me that was the head scratcher. Edwin Jackson? When we had Mattheus, Lidge, Burnett, Detwiler...C'mon man!

...and if Desi just knocks down that grounder...

Froggy said...

...correction...Lidge was gone, but we had the middle innings eater in Tom Gorzelanny.

Harper said...

Z11 / Kenny B - I didn't mean it. Honest. Try to see it once my way... AH! I DID IT AGAIN!

Strasburger said...

Can't explain how much I love the fact I can ask for a post and get something that awesome. Good stuff. The two pieces in delivery were great. I also noticed (with the naked eye) more movement, let's hope he keeps it up in October.

Zimmerman11 said...

Quotes you'd bet a million dollars would NEVER be credited to Rafael Soriano:

“We’re winning and that’s what’s most important,” he said. “[Storen has] done it before and knows how to do it. It’s a team and if you’re not doing something consistently you have to put another guy in there to help. I don’t have any issue with that, especially if we’re winning.”