Nationals Baseball: Drew Storen is a problem

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Drew Storen is a problem

Drew Storen is not a bad closer. Drew Storen is definitely not a bad pitcher. He is not going to hurt the Nats if they stick him in the 9th and let him go the whole season saving games. He'll be at least decent, at best All-Star level great, and will save the vast majority of the games handed over to him to save.

That doesn't mean he's not a problem.

Drew Storen blew another game versus the Cardinals and no one, not even soulless automaton me, can feel good about Storen coming in to an important and close game.

I've been on the side of defending Storen because I truly believe Davey screwed him. Go back and read this if you want the full take, but basically Davey made a tired Storen face familiar batters. It was asking Storen to fail. After that he got replaced by Soriano, and we all watched him fail, putting up an ERA that nearly reached 6 before he was demoted to get his head back on straight.

He did work things out and since that demotion had been one of the best relievers in the game, finishing the 2013 season strong and carrying that over into 2014 where eventually in the last month, Storen earned back the closer role. He looked great.

But the eyes of  Nats fans weren't really on Drew yet. When he earned back the closer role the Nats had a 7 game lead on a fading Atlanta with about 20 games left. The pressue was minimal. When the pressure was back on Storen in the playoffs, he floundered.  Only needing to get one out in Game 2 he gave up two straight hits and almost gave up the lead (Posey got nailed at home remember). He was better in game 4 but even staked to a four run lead he gave up two quick hits, then went 2-0 on Brandon Belt before getting out of things* just allowing one run.

Here's the thing about closing. For 95% of relievers, maybe more, literally almost ANY reliever, closing doesn't matter. Pitching the 9th as opposed to the 8th or getting a big out in the 6th will produce no difference in performance. But logic dictates that for a few guys it will matter. That they will perform fine in pressure situations in college, in the minors, and in the majors, but being the last guy out there in important games in the majors, that will be their breaking point. It'd be ridiculous to think that was the case for a lot of guys (which is kind of the basis for most of the dumb "proven closer" talk) but to think it's the case for none is probably just as silly. Some one has to be like this, probably just a handful (my guess is maybe 5-10 guys out of the dozens upon dozens of relievers used each year), but some precious few.  Is Drew one of those few?

Things may be different if Drew Storen had a long and established pattern of closing important games but he has just the opposite. I want you to take a guess at the number of saves Drew Storen has had since 2011. That's 3+ seasons. Got an idea?  Ok the answer is 22. Injuries and Soriano has made it so Drew Storen has had somewhat less than half a year of closing responsibility since running away with the role in 2011. 

Since those couple of playoffs saves we've seen Storen fail in important spots again and again. He might be fine. It is just a couple games over the course of several seasons, so small sample size warnings all apply. He deserves a shot to close all year. But he also deserves to go into any late season or playoff scenario with no confidence from the fans. He has to prove that he's not one of those few and unfortunately he'll likely have to prove it with the Nats playoff on the line.**

* I re-watched that ending and Storen was more on a tight rope than you think. Sandoval lucked into a hit but then Pence ripped his double. Belt had a great pitch to hit on 2-0 but just got around on it too early and smoked it foul. He then chased Ball 3 up, fouling it off, and let a completely hittable 2-2 slider pass. Crawford was next and got a decent pitch to hit himself but turned it into a lazy flyball. Ishikawa fouled off the first pitch, then had decent contact with the last pitch

** Of course that being said, anyone taking the role from Storen who hasn't shown himself to be fine in super high pressure situations would carry the same burden of proof. However, given my 95%+ estimation, you'd have to feel pretty good pressure wouldn't be an issue. I'd be more worried about a drop in talent than finding a guy who couldn't handle pressure, because Storen does have great stuff when he's on.


Anthony Rendon said...

I completely agree Harper Storen deserves to be the closer but not our trust.

On the bright side Zimm looks good, Bryce's discipline is Werthlike, and Desmond actually was a positive defensively. O yeah and I'm getting healthy.

G Cracka X said...

Is it arbitrary to pick 2012 as the cutoff date for Storen's saves? He did really well in 2011 and I don't think that performance should be completely discounted.

Also, is this post an implicit argument for getting Chapman?

(And think about this: how scary would the Mets be if they traded for Chapman and Tulo??)

JE34 said...

Agreed, Harper. Storen seems to have a between-the-ears problem, b/c his stuff is quite good, as you say.

I saw an old interview with Greg Maddux the other day... early in his career with the Cubs, he had a long period where he struggled, and he took his problems to a sports psychologist who helped him deal with everything. He eventually worked through it and won a Cy Young in Chicago, before departing for Atlanta and the hated Braves.

Perhaps MW will tell Storen to rub dirt on his problems.

Donald said...

Storen makes me nervous too. He does have very good stuff, but it seems like he's got two issues. One is that he allows himself to get beaten by his #2 or #3 pitches too regularly. The second is that in tense situations, he overthrows the pitch which either flattens it out and makes it hittable, or makes it bounce hard in the dirt making it difficult to catch.

I was watching last night, but I didn't notice -- did he shake off Ramos on any of the pitches that got hit? Or are they both on the same page about trying to out-think the batter?

Robot said...

As awful as Game 2 was last year, seeing Bryce nail Posey at the plate like that was amazing.

I think E-in' Desmond is a bigger issue right now that Storen, but I agree that he's not trustworthy in high-pressure situations.

Harper said...

GCX - I'd argue that he "broke" in the 2012 playoffs so really we're looking since then. The counting of saves since 2012 is just to show he hasn't been a full-time closer for over 3 years now. What we learned in 2011 has merit and shouldn't be completely discounted, but that's 25% of a baseball career.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure people will love me for this, but storen reminds me of tony romo. He is by all reasonable standards an excellent player, but one prone to high profile failures.

Also seems like he's victim to the same kind of confirmation bias as when people claim stras is mentally weak when there are errors behind him.

Wally said...

Agree with the post, and would be shocked if Rizzo disagrees (in his heart; he wouldn't and shouldn't say anything).

But I don't even think he has such really good stuff, as many of you do. I think he has middling velocity, with decent offspeed stuff and reasonably good command, but doesn't have an out pitch, which is critical in high leverage situations (both to use it, and to make the hitter think you might use it).

Whether the high leverage situations get in his head, we'll never know. I actually thought he executed pretty good pitches in game 2 last year, but since his stuff isn't exceptional, it is liable to get hit by good hitters even when he executes well. Compare that to the elite guys, and if they execute well, you are toast.

Jay said...

I've read about rumors that the Nats will go get a great closer if there is doubt about Storen. I'm not so sure. Rizzo seems that he doesn't like to spend money or prospects on bullpen arms. Chapman has been mentioned by Boz and ESPN. We'll see. The one thing to keep in mind is that sometimes guys with "pressure" issues sometimes figure it out. Phil Mickelson comes to mind. Jordan was even tagged as a stats guy that would never win a title - remember all the losses to the Pistons. It does remind me a little of the Braves. They lost a couple of times in the playoffs because of their closer - Mark Wohlers, etc. Hopefully, Storen can figure it out.

Donald said...

What would the Nats have to give up to get Chapman, though? How much would you be willing to give up?

Chris Needham said...

If the piece is right (and Chapman might be) the Nats should be willing to give up anything not named Giolito.

sirc said...

Isn't this just life with most closers? The automatic ones (purely by perception) are rare, and in the playoffs there is no such thing as an automatic closer. So Storen isn't Kimbrel or Chapman. Neither are the 27 other current closers, nor the 10-15 others who will replace the 10-15 who lose their jobs this year to ineffectiveness and injury.

Storen isn't super special. That isn't something to be concerned with. Paraphrasing Dennis Green here: He is who we thought he is.

Trade for Chapman? Sure, but it'll cost a fortune in prospects, and Rizzo doesn't do that. Casey Janssen is the Rizzo insurance type the Nats have always had. If Storen has a bad patch Janssen will get a turn. Janssen isn't special either though.

Maybe Barrett's special.

Donald said...

@sirc -- but remember that Barrett had an even worse meltdown in the playoffs under pressure. I think you are right that Janssen is the closer in waiting, at this point if Storen can't hack it.

DezoPenguin said...

I certainly wouldn't mind getting Chapman in the abstract (moving Storen to the 8th inning and Thornton/Roark/Barrett to the 6th-7th would help solidify everything). The problem is, I'm not quite sure what we'd have to give up to get him. A top-grade closer is bound to be overvalued, after all, and since the Reds are in rebuilding mode, they'd want prospects. Gioloto and Turner would be serious overpayments, but given what Kimbrel (who's better than Chapman, but also came with Upton as a side dish to the trade) brought back, I'd expect that Cole or Ross plus Taylor or Difo would be needed just to get in the door.

You know, the A's have a pretty established guy on a one-year deal and a bunch of outfield problems right now; maybe Taylor (since Rizzo seems determined not to let him have the 4th OF slot) could net that fellow?

The NATural said...

Just curious, about how many closers out there would a soulless automaton feel good about? Is that a high bar? Or more the norm?

Ben said...

I don't think a soulless automaton should be so results oriented when worrying about the future. You bring up game 3 as being so shaky with specific pitches but ignore that he made very good pitches in game 2 that just got hit by very good hitters, sometimes that happens. Similarly last night he made very good pitches for the most part and got a perfectly located (and perfectly inane pitch call from Ramos) rocked by the cardinals best hitter. I don't think the sign of a head case is locating pitches that get hit, the sign of a guy in his head is losing control, you know, like gio.

Disclaimer: no I don't feel great about storen in a tight game but it's waaaay better than I felt with Soriano and no one was "can't handle the pressure" memeing about him

Anonymous said...

This: "no I don't feel great about storen in a tight game but it's waaaay better than I felt with Soriano and no one was 'can't handle the pressure' memeing about him."

Bjd1207 said...

The problem I have with Storen in the closer roles is that his platoon splits have become more pronounced in the last year/year and a half.

Yesterday, Carpenter was the out that he should have gotten but didnt. Matt Holliday is a professional hitter and was on all day (4 for 4). Heyward swung at the high heat, but if you have a disciplined lefty up there Storen doesn't have an out pitch. He tries to get that slider up under their hands and its working less and less.

Numbers bear it out, do you really want someone with these splits in your closer role? Against the Cards? With 2 lefties coming up? And yes I know generally speaking all the following numbers are pretty good. Talking about how he's trending vs. lefties combined with what I saw last night.

2014 vs. RH: .184/.254/.246
2014 vs. LH: .253/.274/.319

2015 vs. RH: .143/.143/.143
2015 vs. LH: .333/.412/.745

Kenny B. said...

What we're not talking about are the really good at bats that the Nats were having late in the game last night, when suddenly, Ian Desmond comes in flailing. I was more concerned about that than Storen giving up a single run to a good hitting squad after the rest of the staff held them to no runs all night.

I'm biased toward Storen, and I don't know why. I think I just have such fond memories of the Clip & Store days (Man do I miss Clippard). I'm with others: he's better than Soriano, and I think the mental thing will shake itself out over the season. If it's true, then it's the kind of thing that seems like it would dissipate with experience (his experience in important games is pretty minimal, a SSS as Harper noted). If it's not true, then it should dissipate with a larger sample size. Either way, I think the best thing for him is to keep him out there as the closer. (Or, you know, use him and every other reliever in situations in which they are more likely to succeed based on situations and handedness, instead of dogmatic "inning roles." But I digress...)

Chapman would be awesome, but I'm not ready to see the organizational depth take a hit large enough to get him (yet).

WiredHK said...

I would think soulless automaton wants Closer by Committee and all things left up purely to match-ups, instead of a "this is our guy" mentality, no (unless you have one of the "lights out guys" that are rare)?

I agree with Donald, it seems like Drew gets super tense and then this causes his best pitches to do exactly what he doesn't want them to do (slider bites way too hard and hits the dirt, or just flat-lines and gets smoked - perhaps one is too tight a grip and the other too loose).

Seems like his issues always come when hitters can just forget about his breaking stuff being thrown for strikes and so they just sit pure, hit-able fastball...

Bjd1207 said...

Yea sorry I left off my thoughts on Desi but everyone's right on. Bases loaded after walk/walk/error and he comes up flailing at the first 2 balls in the dirt.

Literally ZERO thought given to his approach. It's pretty disgusting after a 6 year MLB career to still have a rookie-ball approach. EVERYONE in the stadium knew you should be taking there

Donald said...

@Bjd1207 -- in defense of Desmond, I think his approach when facing a pitcher who's just given up 2 walks is that the guy is going to be desperate to get a strike, so Desmond is going to try to first-pitch ambush him. This is opposed to his approach when facing a pitcher who has had good control. For that situation, Desmond is thinking he doesn't want to fall behind and get into a pitcher's count so he's going to first-pitch ambush him. Or the situation where Desmond is the first batter the pitcher is seeing. In that case, Desmond figures the guy is going to try to establish his fastball first, so he decides to try to first-pitch ambush him.

JE34 said...

@Donald - against a bad pitching staff or poorly coached team, I'd agree with your Desi approach theory... but he's well known as a first pitch hacker, and the Cards used that against him.

Chaos said...

Until he absolutely pitches himself out of the role, Storen is the closer. And he has an amazing out pitch--an unhittable slider when it's on. That said, I wish there was a way for him not to see the Cards, especially the LH Cards.
Soulless has it right, he's one of the best closers in the game, regular season. A lot left to prove in the post-season. Here's hoping for a lot of 7 run leads in October. And yes, we'll be there in October this year.

Chinatown Express said...

Donald - That was my favorite comment so far this season. Nice work.

Anonymous said...

@ Donald. That is Desi's approach no matter what the situation. The situation doesn't always ask for an 800 ft homerun and swinging out of your shoes. Sound familiar: "with two strikes, choke up, shorten up." Even our little league coaches have a better approach than the Nat's short stop. It's too bad, because he is a hitter and has a ton of talent. If he would just tone it down and see some pitches, I could see him at .290 avg/.385 obp.

Anonymous said...

@ Harper - do you think you could do a post addressing the patience/approach of the Nat's lineup? I've heard some analysts say that it is an organizational philosophy practiced/preached by teams like the Red Sox - see as many pitches as you can in the early innings, and chase the starter out of the game by the 5th. Their entire team uses this approach top to bottom. "Let a pitcher only beat you on his best day," kind of mentality.

With the Nats, all too often I see our hitters let the pitcher get away with a low and away slider ground out to 2B on the first pitch. It seems that Bryce and Werth (and Rendon if I remember correctly) are the only guys with any discipline at the plate. Could this be the part of the reason for their early season and playoffs offensive woes? Be curious to know what you think. I feel like teams don't give us anything to hit because they know we will swing away at anything...ESPECIALLY Desmond. Your thoughts :)