Drew Storen: National League Ranking


October 6, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; Washington Nationals relief pitcher

Drew Storen

(22) delivers a pitch during game three of the 2014 NLDS baseball playoff game against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout the month, we will be ranking each Nationals starter and a couple of bench players to see where they rank at their positions in the National League. Earlier this week, we ranked Gio Gonzalez and Jerry Blevins. Today we will be continuing our series with Drew Storen.

In these rankings, we will be using statistics from the last two seasons to give us a bigger sample size – to see just how good Nationals players are. In this effort, we will see which parts of the team need to be fixed and which are solid compared to the rest of the league. The first step for the Nationals is to win the division, so if any National League East player comes across in our findings, we will be sure to point it out. If not, the main goal is winning the National League Pennant and going to the World Series.

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I will analyze standard offensive and defensive statistics, as well as advanced statistics. This will give us a full picture of who the best players are at that position. To put the players in some type of order, we will be using WAR. That gives us a baseline to start the analysis.

How do I categorize Storen? As a “reliever,” as though a generic term could sum up the totality of his contributions? As a closer? He didn’t assume the Nationals closer duties until early September, hasn’t been a full time closer since 2011, and wouldn’t quite measure up if we used a rather useless statistic such as the save.

fWAR isn’t going to tell us much either. Over the last two seasons, the Nationals most valuable reliever in terms of fWAR has been Tyler Clippard, and he’s accumulated 1.9 wins over that time frame. Craig Kimbrel, one of those guys most people would describe as being a dominant closer, has been worth 4.4 fWAR since 2013. Relievers and closers, no matter how much ink is spilled discussing their limitations, do not affect the game in the same way as starters. Welcome to the baseball equivalent of the placekicker.

For a dominant closer, I want someone who strikes batters out, doesn’t allow a lot of walks and hits, and strands inherited runners or can pitch well when the game is on the line.

In the first category, Storen comes in below the median K/9 of 8.47. As a pitcher that primarily throws a fourseamer, sinker, and slider, all with about the same frequency, Storen does not generate a lot of strikeouts. In fact, his K/9 rate of 7.93 comes in 47th out of 73 qualified relievers during the last two seasons. He barely inches past fellow National Craig Stammen and former reliever Rafael Soriano.

Strikeouts aren’t everything. Trevor Hoffman went from a guy who struck out 11 per nine to around eight, and he still saved 30+ a year. Mariano Rivera averaged only 8.22 K/9 in his career, saving 652 games along the way.

Rivera’s cutter was also so nasty that batters hit .209 against him in his career. Storen, sadly, comes in slightly below median here as well. Batters have hit .239 against him over the last two years with the median at .231. The best in that timeframe is Aroldis Chapman as batters have hit a paltry .144.

Okay. Super. Storen has a low BB/9 rate of 2.29, so his WHIP has to be amongst the best, right? Not allowing runners on base also means not giving them a free pass. Storen jumps all the way to 28th here, one spot below Soriano. Storen’s WHIP of 1.18 falls well short of Kimbrel’s 0.89 or Chapman’s 0.94. Over the last two seasons, Clippard ranks fifth in the NL with a WHIP of 0.93.

The final criteria in my straw man definition of a closer comes down to pitching well when the game matters most, and this is where Drew Storen excels. Forget all those postseason failings if you can. A Pablo Sandoval double with two outs in the ninth can’t eliminate two years’ worth of data. Using Fangraph’s Clutch, a statistic they define as measuring “how well a player performed in high leverage situations.”

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During the course of a game, certain situations are more critical to a team’s chances of winning than others. Naturally, pitching with a one run lead with two batters on would be more critical than pitching with the bases empty and a five run lead. Clutch attempts to rate a player’s effectiveness in those stressful situations relative to normal ones. A score of zero is average while 1.0 is considered great.

Over the last two seasons, out of 72 qualified relievers in the NL, precisely eight players have a Clutch rating of greater than one (with Kenly Jansen barely missing the cut at .99). That’s 11%. Storen ranks third in that time frame with a score of 1.52. Expand that out four years, dating back to 2011 when he was the Nats fulltime closer, and his score jumps to 2.25. Over the last four years, Storen sits second in the NL in terms of Clutch.

Soriano has a score of 0.49 while Clippard scores -1.08 since 2013 in case you were wondering.

The median score for relievers over the last four years is -0.03 (for the last two it’s 0.09) with an average score of -0.19. Storen’s Clutch score of 2.25 sits two deviations from the mean. In other words, his “clutchiness” is something of an outlier.

These scores are all cumulative. Storen isn’t in the realm of superhuman as a reliever, and his yearly average places him in what Fangraphs rates as above average. This should at least provide for us a means of accessing his ability to handle pressure filled situations that a closer might be typically placed in.

For raw numbers, batters hit .167/.279/.196 in high leverage situations last season and .200/.338/.228 with men in scoring position. These are small sample sizes, certainly, so take it for what it’s worth. Still. He didn’t allow a single home run in those situations, and the last time he allowed one with men in scoring position was ’13.

Perhaps your expectations for a closer are different than mine. Perhaps you also expect theatrics and fancy entrance music. Storen can work on these. I think, though, that as a whole Storen compares favorably to the Nationals former closer Rafael Soriano when you look at the three categories of closer expectations I defined earlier. Is that okay? Will we take that? Before losing it in the second half last season, Soriano was a fine closer.

Not every team employs a Kimbrel or Chapman.

The odds are Storen closes next season, and he’ll perform admirably. He blow a few games; we’ll all wonder if he has the intestinal fortitude to handle the job; and then he’ll save a few more, so we’ll forget.

With luck, we’ll deal with the playoffs when that time comes.