It’s never easy to have that closed-door meeting, whether you’re giving the bad news or the one receiving it. I won’t go into painful detail regarding the news of Washington Nationals reliever Drew Storen being optioned to Class-AAA Syracuse last night after a rough 24 hours that included battling the flu and an appearance against the New York Mets in a bit of a blowout which saw him giving up three earned runs and allowing two inherited runners to score in 2/3 of an inning that for all intents and purposes he had no business being a part of. To be honest, others have done a better job of explaining the gruesome details of Storen’s pitching performance that have sung out the S.O.S. that something was wrong, be it a mechanical flaw or otherwise.
No, for once, I am going to set aside that statistics and just wax unpoetic about what comes next.
OK, I can’t do it – I do have a couple of stats, I just can’t help myself; I promise to be brief.
No matter who he is, how nice he treated your niece, no matter when or how he was acquired, when a player does not perform, very tough decisions must be made; these are especially tough decisions when he is one of the faces of your franchise and one of your much heralded first round draft picks. It stinks. Yet, from a strictly baseball performance and productivity perspective, two saves in seven opportunities stinks, as does the 14.40 ERA in blown saves. A 1.49 HR/9 from a guy who pitched 51% of his appearances in games where his team was either up by one run, down by one run, or tied in the seventh inning or later isn’t cutting the mustard. It doesn’t inspire confidence.
However, let’s look at some numbers that make one feel that a little time away from the spotlight and in situations where a successful outing are in Storen’s favour:
…as well as a strikeout to walk ratio of 3.31 this season – a little over 3 for his career – all tell us something. What, exactly?
Let’s start with the first table, which are Storen’s 2013 contact, zone, and swinging strike rates for his repertoire (thanks to Fangraphs). I don’t include his career rates in the table, but overall his 2013 rates are at or a little better than what he’s done over his career. In short, Storen’s ‘stuff’ is still good – he can miss bats and induce poor contact with his pitches.
OK, sounds encouraging, let’s talk about the second table – his PITCHf/x pitch values per 100, or his pitch linear weights. While there are caveats to looking at this data and then running off with exorbitant assumptions being made by using these values, they are useful with the sample size we have with Storen. While I don’t lend much merit to his 2013 values as being the ground truth, I look at these values more broadly – there are more positive than negative values. The point? Storen has at least three, maybe four, MLB above average pitches in his repertoire.
Add this to a very good strikeout to walk ratio, and we walk away a little more confident in Storen’s abilities and future…
…as a starting pitcher.
It doesn’t happen often, but there are situations where a guy like Storen – who spent has his entire collegiate and professional career as a reliever – can make the adjustment, get his arm stretched out, and become a starter. Hell, the Nats have a guy right now in AAA doing that exact same thing – Christian Garcia. While Mr. Garcia’s 2013 hasn’t been as healthy or productive as everyone had hoped, the fact he is down there and getting the chance to make the conversion from relieving to starting still bodes well for Storen. He is in an organization that still believes in him and is willing to let him make the change and redefine himself and his career.
It’s never an easy road back to the bigs, but hopefully with some of the numbers presented here, a small silver lining has been provided in what has been a stormy 2013 for Storen.
While the disappointment of 2012 may or may not still be looming over the former closer’s head, the ability to come back in a different role than the one that has defined his career and the public’s perception of his pitching talent could be panacea that everyone is looking and hoping for.