Looking deeper into Storen’s shaky season

Yesterday, I wrote about Ryan Mattheus’ turbulent 2013 season and how he dealt with a self-inflicted injury, a demotion to the minors and a mostly subpar string of performances when he was healthy and on the Nationals roster.

That led some of you in the comment section to bring up another reliever who struggled at times during the 2013 campaign - Drew Storen.

It’d be easy to look at Storen’s stats line for 2013 - a 4.52 ERA and 1.362 WHIP in 68 games (61 2/3 innings) - and assume that the right-hander just didn’t have it this season. If you take the fact that he posted career highs in ERA, WHIP and home runs per nine innings at face value, then you might think that Storen struggled all year, leading to his bloated numbers in those categories.

That’s not really the case, however.

Storen actually had a couple of stretches this season where he was incredibly effective, including the final month and a half of the season, when he allowed an earned run in just two of his last 21 games.

To properly appreciate just how rocky Storen’s season was, however, you have to check out the following breakdown of four stretches, the third of which ended in Storen being sent down to Triple-A Syracuse for nearly three weeks.

April 3 - May 25: 5.21 ERA in 19 games (19 innings), .879 OPS against
May 27 - July 1: 1.93 ERA in 17 games (14 innings), .541 OPS against
July 2 - July 26: 13.50 ERA in 11 games (9 1/3 innings), 1.079 OPS against
Aug. 16 - Sept. 26: 1.40 ERA in 21 games (19 1/3 innings), .477 OPS against

You want to talk about turbulent seasons for a reliever? Yeah, Storen’s would probably qualify.

That third stretch, the one that covered most of July, led to some pretty dramatic changes. Storen was optioned to Triple-A for the first time in his career, leaving him frustrated and leading to Tyler Clippard voicing some passionate opinions about how his good friend had been treated by the Nationals dating to the offseason.

Down at Syracuse, Storen overhauled his mechanics and approach, ditching his stiff hip delivery and returning to more of a traditional high leg kick. The adjustment allowed Storen to find a consistent arm slot and work with more of a downhill plane, giving his slider more tilt.

It also allowed him to be quicker to the plate, cutting down on the action on the base paths that had led to runners swiping bags at ease for much of the season.

The merry-go-round on the bases came to an end, much to the delight of pitching coach Steve McCatty.

Overall, Storen’s walks and hits allowed were up this season. He allowed 9.5 hits per nine innings, compared to 6.8 in 2011 and 6.5 in 2012. But his strikeout numbers bounced back up, as well, returning to 8.5 per nine innings after sitting at 7.1 Ks per nine in his injury-shortened 2012 season.

When looking at Storen’s season as a whole, it’s probably important to take a lot of this information into account. Yes, his overall numbers aren’t where he would have liked them to be, and yes, he struggled mightily for a couple of periods.

But the 26-year-old also had a couple of dominant stretches, including one that lasted the final quarter of the season. Storen will try and carry that string of strong outings into 2014, when he’ll aim for a more consistent campaign than the one that he put together this year.

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