On Friday night, Drew Storen became the newest member of the 2016 Toronto Blue Jays, polarizing Jays' fans into two camps.
One, how could the Jays let the speedy Ben Revere go for just a reliever? Second, the Jays, finally, have secured the bullpen, one of the glaring weaknesses this off-season.
To make cliche of what the trade accomplished, the Jays dealt from a position of depth--the outfield--to acquire a position of weakness--the bullpen. In Storen, the Jays have a reliable, polished reliever who has experience in the closer's role and could be just that in 2016.
That said, there were many within Jays nation that weren't all that pleased with the trade, highlighting some of Storen's struggles in hopes of demonstrating the Jays getting fleeced.
Drew Storen's second half ERA was 5.82 last season.— Sid Seixeiro (@Sid_Seixeiro) January 9, 2016
There's no denying that, at times, Storen struggled last season. But is that the pitcher he really is? That's what really matters. It's of no importance to highlight his struggles during a time of environmental turmoil if they aren't relevant to his future.
In that case, it would make sense to analyze Storen's full 2015 season.
Compared to 2014, Storen started out as a similarly good pitcher. As John Lott of the National Post writes,
"By July 29 of this past season, Storen recorded 29 saves and a 1.73 ERA as the Nationals' closer. Then Washington acquired Jonathan Papelbon, bumping Storen to a setup role. He finished the season with a 3.44 ERA in 58 games."
From a more macro perspective, looking at his full season's effort, Storen watched all of his metrics move drastically--positively or negatively--except for his FIP, which should be seen as a positive sign going forward given the metric's predictive ability.
Looking at his BABIP, hitters were able to reach base on batted balls in play more often in 2015, but for several reasons that could just be a blip on the radar. First, his career BABIP of .281 demonstrates that the true Storen is somewhere between his 2014 and 2015 self. If the law of averages means anything, Storen may find some more luck in 2015, especially pitching in front of one of the top defensive infields in the league.
Second, his contact rates didn't drastically change between the two seasons. His hard contact rate increased just 1.8 per cent to 25 per cent in 2015 at the expense of less "medium" contact rate batted balls. Reciprocally, his soft contact rate also increased, which points to the argument that Storen wasn't getting hit particularly harder than he was accustomed to.
A potential hypothesis for why Storen's strikeouts and walks may have increased in 2015 may be answered in his pitch usage. Per Brooks Baseball, Storen used his fastball 30.61 per cent of the time in 2014 but increased that to 37.44 per cent in 2015. His slider usage also increased from 28.41 per cent to 35.41 per cent. The two pitches he used less in exchange were his sinker and changeup. Coincidentally, his fourseam fastball and slider were his two most successful offerings according to Fangraphs' pitch values. Hypothetically, Storen's strikeout and walk rate increased in 2015 from relying more on a pitch with more movement--the slider--and thus less control while also using relying on his sinker less.
To truly figure out why Storen changed in 2015, you have to analyze his second half numbers when Papelbon arrived in Washington and took over the closer's role. There, we see much of the same yearly story. Hitters did far better with balls in play while he struck out and walked more than normal. The glaring difference however was Storen's ability, or inability, to leave runners on base. In the first half of 2015, Storen stranded runners 83.3 per cent of the time, slightly above his 75.6 per cent average. In the home stretch of 2015 though, Storen stranded only 56 per cent of his runners.
Couple that left-on-base metric with his elevated batting average on balls in play and you find a pitcher that suffered in the luck department in 2015. Sure, luck may not be the answer critics want to hear but it may also be the truth and sometimes the truth isn't believable. Playing on the 20th best defensive team in 2015, it's at least conceivable that Storen retrieves some of that bad luck back in 2016. It won't hurt pitching to Russell Martin either.
All this is to say that Drew Storen can provide a big arm at the back of the Jays' bullpen this season. No doubt, the move creates other questions that may need to be answered such as the role of former closer Roberto Osuna and setup man Aaron Sanchez. Will the duo get a chance at pitching in the rotation as the Jays' brass has suggested?
For at least next season, Storen provides the Jays with a litany of options. Plenty that Jays' fans can debate until they see the bullpen gates open for the first time in the 9th of a close game next season. Then we'll know what exactly Storen will really be.