Weekend Wrap: The Drew Storen Dumpster Fire Edition

Drew Storen
Photo Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday’s series-ender between the Blue Jays and Dodgers featured some maddeningly familiar themes for the home side: great starting pitching undone by an offence that gave the bullpen no margin for error and a bullpen that simply isn’t cutting it.

Drew Storen has been a disaster so far. There is no other way to put it at this point. I don’t blame John Gibbons for again going to him on Sunday — this guy is supposed to be one of the club’s key lock-down relievers, which is a title he earned after a terrific late-inning career in Washington, and after looking the part well enough in spring, where he allowed just three runs on six hits and two walks over seven innings/appearances — because it seems to be Gibbers’ people-managing style to trust his relievers until they show that they can’t be trusted, and then some. But it has to stop (and I think the manager’s ever-quickening hook shows he understands this).

Fans always seem quicker to want to kick a player (and a manager) to the curb than the people who have to actually work, deal with, and try to get the best out of him. I suppose this is understandable, even if it’s annoying to be called an apologist homer sheep by some for simply preaching restraint (as inevitably happens). But we don’t need too much of that in this case, because I think we can all agree that, at the minimum, Storen’s leverage needs to be dialed back until he figures it out.

If he figures it out.

I’ve been a bit wary of Storen since the day that trade was made (though I’d still make the deal 100 times out of 100, given that Ben Revere was surplus to requirements and adding a late inning bullpen arm was what, in all likelihood, allowed Aaron Sanchez to grab a spot in the starting rotation), but the team needs him. Or, at the very least, they could seriously use not having to go out and find someone to start logging high leverage innings for them, while Storen mopes at the bottom of the pecking order while collecting $6.25-million (his salary minus the portion being paid by the Nationals). You don’t even consider abandoning him until you’re sure he’s too deep into the abyss to ever come back.

The lost velocity makes the threat of that possibility a little more real than when a reliever normally hits a rough patch, and calling this a rough patch is probably even being a bit too kind — the peripherals, like a 7.7% soft contact, and 46.2% hard contact rate, are rather terrifying — but it’s still just 11 innings so far.

Mind you, that isn’t to say it’s just small sample variance or bad luck. This isn’t Aaron Loup ca. 2015, when cheap hits and misplays made his line look a whole lot worse than he’d actually pitched. I’m pretty sure Storen has pitched this badly, and I can’t believe any longer that he can keep plugging away and expect things to right themselves. Something’s got to change. But evidently, for his part, Storen doesn’t agree. At least not publicly, as he told reporters after Sunday’s game that “you’re going to have these stretches,” and the solution is to “just keep your head down and do your thing.”

“There’s a reason I’ve had the career I have,” he added. Which is true! But a lot of it was tied to consistently throwing 94-95, not struggling to crack 92. Maybe a rethink of some kind is in order. Or a trip to the DL for the infamous “right-arm shittiness,” just to get him some work in spots where he can’t piss-blast away wins for the big league club, and Gibbons won’t feel compelled to keep trying to build trust with him.

Performance Notes

After his first seven starts of the season, RA Dickey is sitting on a 5.18 ERA, a 4.43 FIP, and a 4.39 xFIP. He’s allowed five home runs, struck out just 16.0% of the batters he’s faced, and walked 8.6%. Through seven starts in 2015, he had a 5.00 ERA, a 5.73 FIP, and a 5.38 xFIP. He’d allowed seven home runs, struck out just 10.5% of the batters he’d faced, and had walked 10.0%. From that point in the season onward he posted a 3.61 ERA (4.15 FIP, 4.54 xFIP), with an 8.9% HR/FB rate (down from 13.3%), a strikeout rate of 15.3% and a walk rate of just 6.1%. He was, in other words, pretty good. That doesn’t mean he’ll pull the same trick again this year, or that I’m suggesting he should be given slack in perpetuity, but I think we can all relax on the calls for his demotion just yet. Even if his most recent start was, once again, kinda ugly.

Compare:

Player A: 13.6 K%, 6.4 BB%, 60.9 GB%, 3.96 FIP, 4.09 xFIP
Player B: 29.3 K%, 6.9 BB%, 59.5 GB%, 2.48 FIP, 2.44 xFIP

Looks like a decent but fairly run-of-the-mill good-command groundball pitcher and an elite good-command groundballer with big strikeout ability, right? Well, it should. That’s Marcus Stroman’s first five starts compared to his last two. More of the second guy, please!

Worth A Read…

Keegan Matheson of Jays Journal ruminates on a Jeff Blair tweet in which he says he gets “the impression” that John Gibbons has “mentally pencilled in” Joe Biagini as a starter in 2017. I’m filing this next to Troy Tulowitzki’s first baseman’s glove, but it’s at least an interesting thing to be thinking about — and not even too early. With RA Dickey, Gavin Floyd, and Jesse Chavez free agents, not to mention relievers Brett Cecil and Drew Storen (plus a couple sluggers you may have heard of), finding some cheap starting pitching depth pieces for next season will be a necessity.

John Lott points us to a fascinating one here, especially given that the Jays have been working on a new deal for their spring training site of late, and that their ownership structure is probably the most similar to the Braves’…

Non-Baseball Thing

PSV Eindhoven and Ajax came into the last day of the Dutch Eredivisie season tied on 81 points, but with Ajax holding the tie-breaker (a +6 advantage on goal differential), PSV needed to win and to get help. Ajax’s opponents, minnows De Graafschap, having already sewn up 17th place (and a relegation playoff next week against MVV), perhaps needed some extra motivation to give PSV a lifeline. So the Eindhoven side’s sponsor (telecom company Telefoniebedrijf PHC) provided it: they offered to give an iPhone 7 to every member of De Graafschap if they won. I love this cynical bit of marketing so much, and need to see a whole lot more of it on this continent! Think whoever is playing the Red Sox in September might be swayed by a few of the skids of old Blackberry devices that I’m sure are still overflowing in a 1 Mount Pleasant basement somewhere??? (via Football Oranje)

Oh yeah, and also: the scheme sorta worked. Ajax blew numerous chances and ended up with a 1-1 draw while PSV won to dramatically lift the trophy. Crazy!

What do you meme?

It’s going to be this easy to find some kind of wacky internet content every week, right? Right??

Yasiel Puig is kiiiinda great, both on and off the field. And evidently his time as a tourist here in the city of Toronto didn’t end with his early morning Lake Ontario fishing trip on Thursday…

Honourable mention here has to go to the real mini Bautista, though, as Jose Instagram’d a pic of him and his mom in honour of Mother’s Day… 

Next up…

San Franciskie? So how did you came, did you drove or did you flew? (Oh lord, I’m so old.)

Monday – Tuesday @ Giants, 10:15 PM ET

Wednesday @ Giants, 3:45 PM ET

Thursday – off

Friday – Saturday @ Rangers, 8:05 PM ET

Sunday @ Rangers, 3:05 PM ET

  • Barry

    I’m not sure I’d characterize Dickey’s last start as “kinda ugly.” In fact, it was pretty good, for the most part. Excellent outside of the third inning, and the third inning, while not pretty, wasn’t entirely an “ugly” pitching performance. Two of the runs were unearned. Overall, 7 innings, 2 earned runs, 6 hits, 1 BB, 3 K, 87 pitches — 60 of which were strikes. I can’t see that as “kinda ugly.”

    Am I wrong here? Am I siding with a generous official scorer?

  • b4 the windup

    I was wary about Storen myself, not because I knew about lesser velocity, contact percentages, what-have-you; I just figured whatever reason the Nats went out and got Papelbon to replace him as a closer the way they did — and then weren’t not-eager to see him gone — might’ve been reason enough to not all-out rush into counting on him for protecting slim leads. Especially (in retrospect after this wknd) the hard-fought for kinds. Fingers crossed that he finds what he’s lost. And that the breezes under the open dome when they come back help him look a tad cooler on the mound. Those tv close-ups on him between pitches make ME nervous.

    • I guess I’d ask, were they eager to get rid of him because of what they saw in him, or because they created an untenable situation by bringing in Papelbon and demoting Storen despite having had a strong season to that point?

      You could be right about the underlying meaning of it, but I’d always seen the Papelbon thing as being simply about adding another big arm at the back of the bullpen for them — like how New York acquiring Chapman isn’t a slight on Miller or Betances. But now you’ve got me thinking…

  • Steve-O

    Here’s the thing with Storen. It’s a concern, to be sure, but I get why Gibby keeps bringing him up in these situations, and we need to be patient and hope he figures it out.

    It’s important to remember that while the typical fan’s reaction might be “this guy sucks, bury him!”, if they had their way last year, a certain Mr. Cecil would have been DFA’d in May and wouldn’t have been around to tie the MLB record for scoreless appearances.

    It’s been a bumpy ride with the bullpen so far, to be sure, but I’ll say it again: if the offense would score a few more effing runs it would be much less a tightrope walk without the net late in games all the time. Some low-leverage innings with a big lead to play with would go a long way to helping these guys get comfortable. Right now they are being asked to be near-perfect night in and night out in all these low-scoring, tied late, ball games.

    Wake up the bats!

  • Rob Ray

    I have concerns about Storen and Cecil, but I also have concerns about Tulowitzki. Since being acquired he’s hit .208 in 72 games with 10 home runs and 30 runs batted in. He’s also struck out 78 times compared to just 29 walks. If you factor in he was 0 for his last 20 with the Rockies, that means he’s hitting .194 in his last 79 games. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love his glove and I’d still trade for him, but I’m starting to doubt he’ll be anywhere near the offencive force we thought or hoped he’d be.

    • It hasn’t been good, that’s for sure. There’s still so much track record there and it doesn’t look like there’s anything physical/mechanical that’s terribly different, so I don’t know. The swinging strike rates escalating each year are alarming. That said, it’s easy to be down on a guy at his lowest point here. It feels like it’s all been bad, but his wRC+ post-trade last year was 91, which is not Tulo-esque, but not horrible — and more to the point, not what he’s been this last month.

      Plus, over 1/4 of a season last year with the Jays (41 G) he was worth 1.4 WAR, which admittedly is based largely on defence in a very small sample, but is still obviously the kind of production his contact can look OK with (if extrapolating, which… again, I know is dicey).

      It’s hard to see those 141 or 170 wRC+ days from here, though, that is true. Even though they were just 2013 and 2014. Still lots of time to get it back together, though. Hard to imagine five months from now looking back on his season and seeing it playing out like it has so far — that would be a huge story in the whole sports world, I think, a guy like that completely falling off a cliff. Maybe I’m way off on that, but he’s been that good for that long! So… I worry about him less than Storen. Maybe more than Cecil, though, who I think looks better than his results have shown. Can’t yet say the same for the other two.

      • Rob Ray

        I’m not as down on Tulo as you might think and I’m not complaining about his contract either. It’s just in 79 games over two seasons his production with the bat has dropped dramatically. This is no “small sample size” as some like to say. I hope for the sake of the club, he begins to put up those MVP like numbers he put up a couple years ago, if not, that hole left by the potential departure of EE and Bats after the season will get a whole lot bigger. At that point they may be looking to rebuild.