Jays From the Couch takes a look at what has made Drew Storen such a disappointment to the Toronto Blue Jays to start the year.
So here we are. 35 games into the Toronto Blue Jays 2016 campaign, and the squad is sitting at a mediocre 18-17. Coming into the season, this was a team that was expected to make the playoffs, and had Word Series aspirations. As a result, hearing the word “disappointment” in the same sentence as Toronto Blue Jays is a common occurrence right now. Although it’s a long season, and there’s tons of time left, that doesn’t take away from the fact that expectations are high, and as a team right now the Jays are under performing.
Individually, not everyone is falling short on expectations though. Guys like Marco Estrada, Josh Donaldson, Marcus Stroman, and even a couple others have lived up to, if not exceeded expectations. So who has been a let down so far? Which players have been the negatives to outweigh these positives to date? Rolling through the roster there are no shortage of under achievers. R.A. Dickey and Edwin Encarnacion both had Aprils to forget. Historically, they are both slow starters however, and the lack of a spring training for Edwin had the poor performances to date being somewhat expected.
Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin have not been themselves to start the year, but despite having slow starts at the plate, they have maintained defensive production. Last, and definitely not least, it’s no secret that the big setup arms in Brett Cecil and Drew Storen have struggled mightily, causing unrest in the pen. Both are candidates right now for the Blue Jays biggest disappointments. At this point though, Storen stands out as the biggest individual disappointment for a few reasons.
The main reason Storen jumps out as such a disappointment is the significant fall from how he was projected to perform. From the moment the deal for speedy outfielder Ben Revere went down, Storen was being trumpeted as a potential closer, and if not that, at the very least an elite set up man. Over the past two years Storen had been fantastic in high leverage situations, recording 40 saves, a solid 3.45 WPA, and a 1.94 WPA/LI. The 3.45 WPA and 1.94 WPA/LI was good enough to list Storen among the top 30 relievers in the MLB, and a leader above all Blue Jays relievers. Whether pitching in a setup role or a closer role, it seemed as though one thing was for sure, the Jays were getting exactly what they needed. A pitcher who was used to, and performed admirably, in high leverage situations.
Winning probability stats weren’t the only ones showing a promising acquisition in an area of need for the Jays. In 2015 Storen put up a gaudy k/9 of 10.96, which, on the Jays, would only have been second to Brett Cecil (min 5 IP). Storen was also bringing on a respectable 3.44 ERA, which had even been affected by a little bad luck as demonstrated by a 2.79 FIP and .301 BABIP. Even Storen’s splits were favorable for the Jays. With Roberto Osuna potentially closing and, arguably the best reliever in all of baseball in the second half of 2015, Cecil dealing with the lefties, he was perfect to slot in to take care of the right handed batters. His numbers against righties were scary to say the least. In 2015 Storen struck out 37.5% of the right handed batters he faced, while walking only 4.8% and maintaining a phenomenal WHIP of 0.69. Between him Cecil and Osuna, the 8th and 9th looked to be locked down.
As the season approached, a very strong spring from Storen had him entering the conversation for the closing job, and the excitement around the pen was building. Even the projections from ZiPS and Steamer had Storen locked and loaded to be the late inning reliever the Jays needed him to be. Projections included him improving on his ERA from last year, regressing slightly in his k/9, but still keeping the number above 9. Projections also have Storen maintaining his HR /9 well below 1, and his WHIP around 1.15. At this point however, every single one of these numbers (aside from Steamers projected BB/9) are much worse than where the projections have left them to be.
Not only is Storen striking out almost one fewer batter per 9 than projected, he is also putting on almost an extra batter per inning and giving up runs at an alarming rate. One would hope that the ERA is inflated due to such a small sample, however even Storen’s FIP is a full two points higher than projected. If you’re really set on digging for a positive in these numbers, it’s that the BABIP is abnormally high. The .417 should normalize and in turn help with the inflated whip and ERA, but this is hardly anything to rest your hopes on.
It’s not just the hard data that is incredibly disappointing from Storen right now either. The peripherals are throwing up warning flags like crazy as well. Despite ZiPS and Steamer not providing projections for these numbers, it’s not difficult to see the comparisons to prior years.
It’s no secret that Storen has lost velocity on his four seam this year, but all of his other pitches have suffered the same fate. The four seam is down 1.8 mph, the sinker 2.2 mph, the slider 1.7 mph, and even the change up is down a full 2.3 mph.
The decreased velocity has led to even more alarming numbers in Storen’s contact type and frequency. Batters are making more contact both in (up 4.7% from last year) and out (up 6.6%) of the zone against Storen. The contact they are making is much more effective as well. In 2014 and 2015 Storen’s soft, medium, and hard hit percentages were very stable, sitting at around 25%, 50%, and 25% respectively. So far this year, only 7.7% of Storen’s balls in play have been soft contact, and a whopping 46.2% have been hard contact.
All of the hard contact is what is translating into the incredibly high HR/9, as his HR/FB% is 15% higher than it has ever been in his career at 25%. All of this translates into drastic reductions to his pitch values as well. Storens fastball and slider have fallen off of a cliff, both with negative values to date. (-3.45 wFB/C and wSL/C).
The most disappointing part about seeing Storen struggle really comes down to losing the sense of security that it looked like the Jays had coming into the season. With all of these drop offs to his stats, the win probability that looked so promising has plummeted. In his 14 appearances, Storen has only been worth 0.19 WPA and an anemic -0.22 WPA/LI giving up a hit in all but 3 of these appearances. To start the season there was a feeling that lefty, righty, bad hitters, good hitters, it wouldn’t matter.
If the Jays had a one run lead going into the late innings they would be set. Now every time Gibby gives the right arm a tap and Storen comes trotting out of the pen, Jays fans collectively hold their breath and hope for the best. Throw on top of all of this that the Jays gave up an asset with good value to obtain him (even if it was from a position of strength), and it’s a perfect storm for the most disappointing player to date.
There is still plenty of time for Storen to discover what ails him, straighten things out and become the pitcher that we had hoped for. Let’s just keep our fingers crossed that Drew isn’t secretly trying to pitch his way back to the US where he can save on Netflix again…
Guessing we won't be able to use the in-laws Netflix password anymore.
— Drew Storen (@DrewStoren) January 13, 2016
*Featured Image Credit: kdemerly UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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A group benefits consultant by day, Dustin is sports fanatic who loves talking sports more than anything. A self-glossed stats geek, he loves diving into the numbers behind the game. A proud father of 2 amazing kids, Dustin was born in Calgary, and now lives in Morinville.