Of all the grades I issued to the Nationals' 2010 bullpen, a surprising number of you took issue with the B grade I gave Drew Storen. Several of you said you expected more in the right-hander's rookie year, and reader Wally made an interesting point, suggesting Storen needs to develop a dominant out pitch along the lines of Mariano Rivera's cutter, Trevor Hoffman's changeup or Jonathan Broxton's fastball.
I wanted to take a closer look at Storen's rookie year this morning and dive into what some of you are getting at.
Some of the frustration with Storen is that he didn't exactly shine in the opportunities he got to close games. And it's true Storen was at his peak around the time Matt Capps got traded to Minnesota - he was holding hitters to a .229 average, and had allowed just 23 percent of inherited runners to score. Storen was showing he could grow into late inning situations, even taking on some setup duties as Tyler Clippard struggled.
When Capps left and Storen assumed some of the closer's role, he scuffled, but not as badly as the numbers would suggest. Here were his numbers from his first save on August 6 to the end of the season: 5.48 ERA, .259 batting average against and a 2.875 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He did give up all three of his homers after his first save, including Jayson Werth's walk-off shot in the Phillies' Sept. 19 comeback win. Save for the ERA, though, none of the numbers are bad.
Storen's strikeout-to-walk ratio is about the same as it was before he started closing, and some of his good luck ran out (he had a .329 batting average on balls in play after Aug. 6, compared to a .297 BABIP before it). But he actually had a better strikeout-to-walk ratio in save situations than non-save situations this year.
The big thing was the home runs, and that inflates the numbers quite a bit at the end of the year. Storen certainly made some bad pitches in the Phillies game, and was wild in a blown save against the Cardinals on Aug. 26, when he drilled Matt Holliday with a pitch. It's no secret that Storen needs to work on his fastball command, and in both of those games, it got him in trouble. Considering he only had seven save opportunities in the last two months of the season, though, it's a little early to assess whether he can close or not.
As for his out pitch, numbers would suggest that was Storen's slider this year. It was weighted at 4.7 runs above average, by far the most valuable of his four pitches. He throws it in the mid-80s, and gets plenty of swings and misses with it. If Storen can command his sinker and use it to set up that pitch, I think he'll have something. He throws four pitches, and there are those who would suggest he should be starting with that repertoire. He doesn't have a traditional closer's stuff, where he throws one pitch over and over and finds a suitable complement to it. But if his fastball gets better - and it did toward the end of the year - Storen should be in business.
In the end, there might not be a plus-plus pitch in Storen's repertoire. But in my mind, he's got too many solid offerings and he's too smart to fail. And remember: Rivera, Hoffman, Broxton and Jonathan Paplebon all got at least a year to ease into the closer's role. We'll see how much of it Storen can put on his plate next year.