2017 Reds / How Valuable Is...

Drew Storen: The Bullpen’s Forgotten Man

Across 55 offerings in 2017, no one had been able to hit Drew Storen’s changeup. The pitch had been put in play, sure, but not a single batter had managed to reach base when facing it. Averaging 84 mph, a tick faster than his go-to slider, the changeup was and still is Storen’s swing-and-miss pitch.

On Saturday against the Rockies, he caught Alexi Amarista looking at his 56th changeup and Charlie Blackmon swinging over the top of his 57th. Then, with Blackmon in an 0-2 hole, four runs already across in the inning, and two outs, Storen reared back for his 58th. Blackmon, unfazed this time, looped a single in front of left fielder Adam Duvall, bringing in the fifth run of the inning. Storen trudged back to the mound. Two batters later, his 59th changeup ended the rally with a routine flyout to center.

Having become somewhat of the bullpen’s forgotten man, Drew Storen has put together an impressively mediocre 2017 campaign. His year can be summed up by his changeup—dominant except when it counts. With a 2.84 ERA in 19.0 innings pitched, Storen has done exactly what he was signed to do and nothing more, ho humming about his business and leaving the spotlight for the Reds relievers of the future.


 

Signed to a quick-and-easy one year, $3 million deal right after the new year, Drew Storen was slated to become the Reds’ primary closer in a closer-by-committee model. But, as with all good plans, that idea quickly fizzled out. Lights out Raisel Iglesias has served as the de facto closer with Michael Lorenzen as his setup man. Tony Cingrani has found himself on the disabled list and Wandy Peralta has emerged as a reliable replacement. Couple all of that with Bryan Price’s sudden desire to deploy his best relievers in the most critical junctions and you get Drew Storen, a man who once saved 43 games, pitching in the fifth inning with the Reds down one and runners on the corners.

Right now, Storen is what I call a bathroom break reliever. He’s (usually) brought on in a low-impact part of the game to get three quick outs and make his exit to the clubhouse. Or in other words, when Storen takes the mound, fans are treated to a quick bathroom break because the half inning is likely to go quick with little happenstance.

Saturday’s outing was a bit of an exception. When the righty entered the game in the top of the fifth, relieving starter Tim Adleman, there was already one run across and runners were on the corners. That situation translates to a 1.93 leverage index, or the high side of medium.

(Quick aside: Leverage index is a stat that measures the importance of game situations. 1.0 is average with anything below 0.85 recognized as low leverage and anything above 2.0 as high leverage. To contextualize in a non-baseball situation, I like to think of a baby and a burning building. If the building just started burning and the baby is sitting in the doorway to the outdoors, then that’s a low leverage situation because the baby is easily rescued. However, if the building has been burning for half an hour and the baby is on the third floor, then that’s high leverage because it’s going to be an adventure to rescue that baby. Storen’s fifth inning entrance with runners on the corners probably translates to a baby on the second floor of a just ignited building—there’s time to fix the problem but saving the baby won’t be easy.)

On the season, Storen has been used more in the bathroom break kind of situation. His average leverage index is 0.84, far lower than Iglesias’ 1.40 or Lorenzen’s 1.04. In that low leverage routine, Storen has excelled with a 1.98 ERA and 13 Ks in 13.2 innings pitched. However, when he has been called on for high leverage situations, such as on Saturday, Storen has struggled, posting a 5.06 ERA and with two blown saves in 5.1 innings.

That’s not to say that Storen hasn’t been effective for the Reds because he absolutely has. On any normal team, having a go-to guy to eat the middle innings without any sort of fanfare is a must. Being able to save the Iglesiases and Lorenzens for high leverage situations and not wasting them in the doldrums is key to a playoff run. But the Reds aren’t any normal team because the starting pitching staff of any normal team can average more than 5.0 innings per start. (The Reds average 4.93 innings per start for the curious.)

As a result, the Reds bullpen is perpetually gassed and everyone knows it. After Friday’s game, Bryan Price told the Cincinnati Enquirer, ““We either need a tremendous start (Saturday) or we need another pitcher or two in our bullpen.” Well, starter Tim Adleman didn’t make it out of the fifth Saturday and Storen couldn’t stop the bleeding, so the reliever just off the bus from Louisville, Asher Wojciechowski, had to go 3.0 innings.

Following the Saturday game, Price told the Enquirer, “You’re running out the guys you’re hoping the next day will help you win a game, and they’re having to pitch just to finish a game.” It’s this frenetic model of simply having enough bodies to play a full nine innings that has ruined the Reds’ bullpen of late. Storen can never sink into his role of getting the Reds through the doldrums if the doldrums stretch across four or five innings instead of two.

About three weeks ago, Nick Vorholt wrote for Blog Red Machine that “Storen is pitching well and has the experience to be a shutdown reliever. The Reds need to treat him that way and let him go,” ultimately advocating for Storen to appear in more high leverage situations. Maybe Vorholt has changed his mind with time, but that course of action is absolutely the last thing the Reds should do.

Drew Storen has the experience to be a shutdown reliever, yes, but this isn’t 2011 anymore. The Reds don’t need Storen to grab headlines, they just need their starters to grab the ball in the sixth inning. As long as I can go to the bathroom with the Reds in the field in the seventh, Storen’s $3 million would have been well spent.

And who knows, some team could still take a flyer on him at the deadline. Even though we suspect that Storen can’t pitch in high leverage situations, a 2.84 ERA still looks like a 2.84 ERA in any context. All Drew Storen has to do is keep throwing changeups and let Iglesias and Lorenzen handle the stressful parts.

14 thoughts on “Drew Storen: The Bullpen’s Forgotten Man

  1. This looks like a small sample size issue to me. Storen has been anywhere from amazing to okay and mostly in the pretty good to very good range. Remember too that reliever’s ERA is a highly variable stat depending often on who pitches after you. The fact that it took almost 60 change ups before someone reached base on it (and with a soft single at that) suggests that Storen is very capable and tells me that he might be more valuable if used more often. Do I want to see him used as a closer or in the highest leverage situations? Not if Lorenzen or Iglesias is available. But would I be shy about calling on him a little more often? I would not. At the least, how cool is it that the Reds have a guy that good as their fourth or fifth best reliever?

  2. Interesting stat…does it include which inning it is?? If not, then if Storen were a closer, starting the ninth inning every time with no one on, every trip out begins as a low leverage situation.

    • Yep it does take into account the inning! So Storen’s fifth would have been higher leverage had it been later in the game, but because it was the fifth it only ranked as medium high

  3. When Storen was the closer with the Nationals, he had a daily routine of eating Chipotle.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/nationals/playoffs/washington-nationals-closer-drew-storen-sticks-to-routine-in-career-that-has-been-anything-but/2014/10/02/7b57f618-48fe-11e4-891d-713f052086a0_story.html?utm_term=.116a81f90911

    If he’s gotten away from it, maybe needs it back, like Popeye needs spinach, to handle high-leverage situations.

    (Wesley, you seem to have a good sense of humor, so I thought this an appropriate link for your article. It is a good read about baseball players and the role routine plays in their lives.)

  4. The Nat’s need BP help in the worst way … perhaps a trade or an outright sell for cash??

  5. With Storen in the bullpen it’s all the more reason that Lorenzen should be a starting pitcher.

  6. If only he would cut down on hitting batters. I think he still leads the league in that department. On the other hand, it should keep batters from standing nearly on top of the plate.

  7. Way off topic, but DeSclafani was cleared by Dr’s to start throwing again. Does anyone have a update on that? Has he started to throw, and if so, was he cleared to throw again? I know he’s not throwing off of the mound, but tiny steps.

    • I saw a clip, where he was basically lobbing the ball from what they said was about 45 feet. Very tiny steps. Maybe in August.

  8. Excellent post.

    That same author said in the preseason that the Reds should bring back Ross Ohlendorf and Alfredo Simon.

Comments are closed.