Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Remembering Drew Storen

The Nationals made yet another bullpen move yesterday, sending down Blake Treinen following his implosion against the Dodgers and calling up rookie Abel de los Santos. Mike Rizzo and Matt Williams continue to search for the pieces of a successful bullpen, but they haven’t had to search for a closer because Drew Storen has been dominant this year. Nationals’ fans continue to have visions of Aroldis Chapman dancing in their heads and may have forgotten just how impressive Storen has been this year. Let’s correct that.

The surface stats for Storen are impressive. After his scoreless inning against the Mets last night, he has a 1.78 ERA and 28 saves over 37 appearances and 35.1 innings pitched. He’s blown only two saves and, in fact, has allowed a run in only 5 of those appearances. In four of those appearances, he gave up only a single run. That other appearance was a debacle of an inning in the midst of a 16-4 blowout against the Rays, which was effectively over after the 4th inning, in which Storen gave up three runs. Pull out those runs, and Storen’s ERA looks even more pristine.

Granted, relief pitchers of all shapes and sizes can put up fluky good numbers over a small sample size of 35 innings. Storen, though, hasn’t been the recipient of good luck, as his BABIP allowed is .307, right around league average. The best way to eliminate bad bounces, of course, is to keep the ball from being put in play in the first place. And Storen has been doing that by striking out opposing batters at the best rate of his career, nearly 30% of the time. Batters are swinging and missing at 14% of his offerings and making contact only 70% of the time, a career low for Storen. More impressively, batters have only an 80% contact rate on pitches in the zone, also a career low for Drew. So, Storen has been striking out batters at the highest rate of his career and keeping batters from making contact better than he ever has before.

Storen has done a great job of working ahead in the count, starting at bats off with a first pitch strike 63% of the time. He’s been going to a first pitch slider 35% of the time this season, up from 24% in 2014. That slider has been a very effective pitch for Storen this year as hitters have batted only .106 against the pitch, with zero extra base hits, while whiffing 20% of the time against the pitch. Storen throws two fastballs, a four seam and two seam/sinker, that both have a lot tailing action. The four seam averages 5 inches of run and the sinker averages close to 10 inches of movement. That makes both of his 94 MPH fastballs very difficult to square up, and batters are hitting under .250 against the pitches and swinging and missing a respectable 12% of the time versus the fastballs. Storen also works in a change up around 12% of the time. The change up hasn’t been a great pitch for Storen this year, as batters have hit .389 against the pitch. However, the change was a great weapon for Storen last year as batters hit a measly .185 against the pitch, so one would expect that pitch to see better results going forward.

Add all that up, and you end up with a dominant closer who the Nationals can rely on to shut the door come the ninth inning. Of course, Storen doesn’t throw 100 MPH like Chapman does or strike out 40% of batters he faces like Chapman does. But Chapman actually has a higher WHIP than Storen (1.17 versus 1.05) because Chapman walks twice as many batters as Storen does. Turns out that throwing a fastball 100 MPH AND knowing where it’s going consistently is hard to do (somewhere, Henry Rodriguez is nodding vigorously). Would Chapman be an upgrade over Storen? Sure, he’s probably the best closer in all of baseball and would be an upgrade for every team. But the separation is by a few degrees, not leaps and bounds. The bullpen probably needs any help it can get, but Nationals fans have to consider what it would take to pry Chapman away from the Reds. Wilmer Difo and AJ Cole, two of the Nationals top prospects, is a good place to start. But, I hate to break it to you, those two alone won’t be enough to get the deal done. It’s going to take more than that. Rizzo, who covets his top prospects, recognizes that. That’s why I expect a smaller deal for a set up arm rather than the blockbuster for Chapman.

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