The last two Nationals games had a lot go right and wrong and some blame to go around, but for the most part the man responsible for all but ending the Nats season is Drew Storen. Tuesday night he allowed four runs before getting the final out of the inning to leave the Nats tied after leading 7-1 and Wednesday he entered a tie game to give up the winning runs.
For a lot of reasons I’m not thrilled with these results. For one, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Storen blow games before. He’s done it twice in the playoffs and he’s done it four other times just since August. With a team that struggled with injuries to its starting pitching and lineup, a limp manager and middle relief with more holes than swiss cheese Storen was counted on to do one thing: hold the damn lead when it got to him. He’s failed miserably in doing that, sinking the Nationals’ hopes in the process.
I’m a fairly long term mind when it comes to clutch and performance under pressure. It takes a big sample before I’m sure that a guy really succeeds or wilts under the spotlight and that the results aren’t merely poor timing and confirmation bias. But at this point it’s starting to become a pattern for Storen. Not only has he blown leads, he’s looked awful while doing it and he’s done it in multiple ways. The Cardinals and Giants strung hits together; the Mets sat there while he walked them around the bases then took him deep on an awful pitch, same with the Rockies.
I’ve often thought that clutch is something that isn’t an add-on, but shows up readily in a player’s stats and it’s time to start recognizing that while Storen has had some good patches, his stats aren’t all that hot. Among qualified relievers over the last five years combined, the main meat of Storen’s career, his 2.91 ERA ranks 63rd, his 3.06 FIP ranks 40th, his 25.87 RE24 ranks 48th and his 7.58 WPA ranks 16th. This isn’t the case of early career Bryce Harper or Stephen Strasburg where fans are missing the forest for the trees; Storen genuinely hasn’t been a great reliever at this stage, with only WPA placing him anywhere close to the top.
But what really irked me about the past month and a half was the way Storen reacted to the trade for Jonathan Papelbon: by throwing a tantrum. This was a team that was well under-projections and clinging to a tight lead over the Mets. They had just got some key injury returns to their lineup and their rotation was starting to click. However, they had a massive weakness in their bullpen. This was never about Storen, he wasn’t being sent back to the bench, like Clint Robinson and Danny Espinosa, or being sent to the minors like Tyler Moore, Dan Uggla and many of his fellow relievers were or even being banished to the pen like Tanner Roark or Doug Fister. He was being moved from the ninth to the eighth inning, precisely because the Nats trusted him to get the job done there as he had in the ninth.
But Storen made sure to make it about him by pouting to the media, meeting with his agent and Mike Rizzo and making it crystal clear that he was demanding a trade either right then or in the offseason. Unlike the aforementioned players whose reactions ranged from textbook to surprisingly positive, Storen couldn’t get over himself for the good of the team. Look I give a lot of leeway to players on the personal side. I’ve loved Harper, Strasburg and Gio when others are irritated by them. I even find Hanley Ramirez’s bat flips on pop outs hilarious. But if you’re going to have a thorny personality and pout you have to back that up with results on the field and Storen hasn’t done that. Instead he’s gone on to have one of the worst months of his career, thrown the bullpen into further chaos and likely has helped cost his manager his job.
For these reasons I’m not all that upset that according to Tom Boswell and Storen’s own quotes he’s well on his way out of DC at the end of the year. Sure, the Nationals will be thinning their relief corps more, but I’m not interested in keeping guys around who don’t want to do their best for my team when we need them most or worse, can’t.