Despite his history of success, Nats’ pitcher Drew Storen continues to be defined by his rare, but giant, missteps.
Drafted by the Nationals out of Stanford University in the 1st round in 2009, Storen worked his way up through the minors with lightning speed. He made his Major League debut in May of 2010 and recorded his first career save in August. He finished his rookie season with a 4-4 and a 3.58 ERA, nothing earth shattering, but certainly good for someone in their first MLB season. In 2011, Drew was named the Nationals’ closer and responded by successfully recording 43 saves, 4th in the MLB that season, to the tune of a 6-3 record and a 2.75 ERA, managing to avoid the so called “sophomore slump’ and improve on his rookie numbers.
Storen looked poised to return in 2012 as one of the game’s premiere closers, but offseason surgery to remove a bone chip from his elbow cost him over half of the season. When he finally made his season debut in mid-July 2012, the Nats’ opted to keep Tyler Clippard in the closer’s role. Storen and Clippard ended up sharing the “closer-by-comittee” role towards the end of the season. He recorded 4 saves, posted a 3-1 record and for the 2nd year in a row lowered his ERA to 2.37 and helped the Nationals win the National League East for the first time in Washington and advance to the playoffs.
Entering the playoffs, Drew Storen was again named the Nats’ closer and earned the save in Washington’s Game 1 victory over St. Louis and the win in Game 4 thanks to Jayson Werth’s walkoff homer. Everything seemed set up for Storen to drop the hammer on St. Louis and close out a first round victory for Washington when staked to a 7-5 lead . After giving up a leadoff double and bringing the tying run to the plate with no outs, Storen proceeded to retire the next two batters. The Nats were only one out away from punching their ticket to the NLCS. The only thing standing in the way was Yadier Molina. That was when the wheels started to come off the Drew Storen Express. Storen got two strikes on him, but then walked Molina on borderline pitches that Molina deserves more credit for taking than Storen does blame for throwing. He then walked David Freese to load the bases and gave up back-to-back 2-run singles, the second to the most hated man in DC, Pete Kozma. This crushing snatch of defeat from the jaws of victory was a huge blow to the psyche of Drew Storen and, in the fans’ eyes at least, he would never be the same.
In the offseason, the Nats went out and signed free agent closer Rafael Soriano, fresh off a 42-save season for the New York Yankees. They paid him $15 million, and with that pay day also came the job of being the team’s new closer, sending Drew Storen back to the 7th and 8th innings, and even seeing him demoted to Triple-A Syracuse for awhile in the middle of the season. Storen returned to the Majors later in the year and pitched well. In 2014, in the role of setup man, Storen posed his best ERA of 1.12, giving up only 7 earned runs in 65 appearances and seeming to bounce back from the horrible debacle of the 2012 playoffs.
Then came the 2014 playoffs against the San Francisco Giants, where he faced only 7 batters and allowed hits to 4 of them, surrendering an earned run and only recording 4 outs. The Giants were a team of destiny, but Storen’s ERA for the series was 6.75, which combined with his ERA from October 2012 of 9.00, gave him a postseason ERA of 8.44. This consists of only 4.1 postseason innings and is nearly 6 runs higher than his career regular season ERA of 2.75, but seems to define his career in the eyes of many.
This season, Storen was once again in the closer’s role with the Nats’ loss of Tyler Clippard, and in the first half of the season, he converted 29 of 31 save opportunities and an ERA of 1.73. Then on July 29, the Nats traded for Philadelphia Phillies closer, Jonathan Papelbon, once again forcing Drew Storen out of the closer’s role. This situation was Storen’s worst yet, as he’d done nothing this season to indicate he was not fit to be the closer on a first place team. There were even rumors that Storen wanted to be traded after the acquisition of Papelbon. But even if these were true, he still remains a National, and Papelbon’s setup man. The Nats have been mediocre since the All-Star break, and following a sweep by the Mets the weekend after they brought Papelbon to town, Washington has fallen out of 1st place. This was not any fault of Storen’s, who had thrown 4 scoreless innings and lowered his ERA to 1.52 since moving back to working the 8th inning.
Then came last Friday night against the Colorado Rockies. The Nationals led 4-1 in the 8th inning, behind 6.2 fantastic innings of 1-run ball from Jordan Zimmermann and with Storen figuring to pave the way for a save from Papelbon. The Nats looked like they were well on their way to righting the ship after splitting with the Diamondbacks. Then the demons returned to Drew Storen’s snake-bitten career, and following a perfectly placed dribbler off a great pitch that loaded the bases for Colorado, Storen served up a 1-0 fastball that caught too much of the plate and Carloz Gonzalez hit it for a grand slam that seemed to literally leave the park in less than 2 seconds. This was only the 2nd home run allowed by Storen all year, but like most of his other mistakes, it came at absolutely the worst time. This outing was followed by one on Sunday where Storen gave up 2 more runs, this time on a 2-out single, and again he was saddled with the loss. The six earned runs that Storen gave up against Colorado nearly doubled the seven he had given up all year. If one didn’t know better, these losses would seem like Storen, the man who reportedly wanted out of DC after they traded for Papelbon, was pouting through his actions, but it is really just a case of the same bad timing that has plagued his mostly brilliant MLB career.
Drew Storen is a pitcher who has been incredibly reliable throughout his career, yet that career seems to be defined by his lowest moments. The guy is lights out in most appearances, but the few times a year when he fails, he seems to do so in a big way and at the worst possible time. Unfortunately, that’s why his career is viewed that way. Basically when he blows it, man does he blow it. But Drew Storen deserves more trust – from the fans and organization – than he receives.