What's Up, Drew?
On Tuesday evening, I was enjoying watching Stephen Strasburg mow down the Milwaukee Brewer’s lineup with relative ease. There were spots he struggled of course, but all in all I think it was one of the finer pitching performances by a Nationals starter in the 2013 season. The problem, being that the Nationals offense, which has in fact been much better of late, was unable to muster any sort of support. That is a completely different topic I do not even want to touch on, but I whole-heartedly agree with Strasburg’s comments in a post-game interview where he stated he believed his teammates worked hard and the young righty isn’t receiving some kind of special neglect.
After the seventh inning, Anthony Rendon made a stellar play to get the baseball and toss the ball to 2nd base for the 4-6 putout and to help keep the game scoreless through seven strong innings. I agreed with the decision made by Davey Johnson to pull Strasburg after 105 pitches and an easily acknowledgeable effort to get through those 7 frames. I also thought Drew Storen was an excellent choice to get the outs in the 8th inning. Storen had been strong of late, or as Davey Johnson referred to him no more than a week and a half ago “dominant.” The problem was, Storen came into a scoreless game and allowed four runs.
Storen clearly did not have anything going his way on Tuesday night. I have carried on a sort of inside joke with myself when he comes into games about “sacrificing” cookies and doughnuts to the “BABIP Gods” lately because when Storen started getting back on track I had made the joke and my superstitions have gotten the best of me. Also, Oreos are delicious. The first batter he faced was Logan Schafer, who singled to right field. Schafer did his homework, because he knew he could steal on Storen and he did so successfully. Rickie Weeks then drew a walk to put runners at 1st and 2nd. Storen was able to get Aramis Ramirez to fly out, giving the reliever at least 1 out and a glimmer of hope to keep the game scoreless. Then Juan Francisco sucked, and Schafer and Weeks scored. With jerk-face at 2nd, Storen got Sean Halton to line out, giving the Nationals some hope that they could limit the damage to 2 runs. Then Martin Maldonado hit a ball very hard that Harper went for, but it went for (what should have been an E7 on Harper) a double that scored jerk-face. The Brewers were up 3-0 now. Storen had all but forgotten about Maldonado at 2nd and went into his windup. Maldonado was running and would have had 3rd base stolen with an incomprehensible amount of ease, but Jeff Bianchi hit a single that drove Maldonado in. 4-0 Brewers.
Storen most likely was not happy with the performance, given his personality and competitive nature. However, there were some soulless scumbags hanging around the ball park who started booing and cracking wise comments like they were some clever child trying to make everyone in the 3rd grade laugh, but succeeding in only looking like total morons. Drew checked Bianchi at 1st to sarcastic applause and more (not cunningly brilliant) idiotic comments. Drew got the pinch hitter Jonathan Lucroy to fly out. The inning was over, but the damage was done. The Nationals could not muster anything more than an empty threat in the bottom of the 8th and 9th innings. What stuck out to me were a couple of things: 1) Drew has been pretty good lately, it was one bad game; 2) the Nationals had scored 23 runs in two games, making getting shut out by mediocrity perplexing, but not worthy of a pity party; and 3) what exactly is up with Drew in 2013?
After I let my annoyance with the low level of intelligence and high level of stupidity expire, I decided to dabble in just a smidge of research. The rabbit hole that is fangraph’s pitch f/x data is not for the faint of heart, many a soldier has been lost in there. However, it allows for some interesting analytics. I have gotten into this habit where, if a pitcher is having a particularly rough stretch (a larger sample size then the mightily dreaded “bad game”) I turn to this resource to see if I can identify any particular issue. Being the pseudo nerd that I am (pseudo?), I know that Storen likes to throw his sinker and it is one of his better pitches. I also know he has thrown a change up more this season than in years past. I decided to delve into one particular pitch, the sinker. What I found was rather interesting.
For the record, MLB.com’s play by play allows you to see which pitches a pitcher threw in a particular at bat. There were 3 different at bats where Drew allowed a hit that resulted in a run. A 2 run double, an RBI double, and an RBI single. Each of those hits were greeted by a pitch not called a sinker, according to the pitching data collected by MLB.com. Jerk-face’s (Franciso’s) double came on a 4 seamer at 94mph, Maldonado’s double came on a slider at 82mph, and Bianchi’s single came on a change up at 89mph. Now, why does this seem interesting to me, you may be wondering? Well, when I took the dive into the rabbit hole and looked up the data on Storen’s sinker what I found were some inflated numbers. Hitters have crushed Storen’s sinker this season, hitting .435/.444/.645 in 2013, having only hit .266/.302/.347 total in every season prior. That is good for an OPS of 1.090 in 2013, whereas in years 2010 through 2012 hitters had a .650 OPS on the pitch. Further into the rabbit hole, I noted that the movement on the pitch hasn’t changed to any form of irregularity. Drew has a career swinging strike percentage of 6.9% on the pitch, in 2013 that number is at 7.4%. Career stikeout % on the sinker is 7.3% and 2013 it is at 7.7%. The number of walks are down on the pitch, which could be due to the number of hits, with Storen’s career number being a 3.2 BB% on the pitch, but 1.5% in 2013. Storen has also thrown the change up a lot more this year (as I noted earlier), having thrown 25 in his career before 2013 and having thrown so far 79 this season.
Now, for the dramatic finish. What I have concluded from all this is that, as I have stated earlier, it was simply a bad game for Storen on Tuesday night. Big whoop, it happens. I have wondered somewhat about his sinker, though. What has caused the dramatic bump in hits on it this year as opposed to years past? I can’t draw anything for certain looking only at the data and not being smart enough to thoroughly dissect Storen’s delivery, but I have a few ideas: 1) could Storen be tipping the pitch?; 2) could it be that hitters have seen enough of Storen that they know to sit on the pitch?; 3) has Storen lost confidence in the pitch? Personally, with the data I have seen, I will conclude the 2nd option is the most likely and Storen is at a point where he has to learn to make an adjustment. This is perhaps why he has thrown a change up more this year versus years passed and why it seems like he has had a few rough games. In 2011 and 2012 (Storen never threw a change up in 2010, according to fangraphs) Storen never once allowed a hit, a walk or your mother to go to the store on the change up. In 2013, Storen has allowed 2 hits on the change up and 1 walk, 50% of those hits were on Tuesday night. Think about that for a second, the only hits Storen has ever allowed on the change up happened in 2013 and half were on Tuesday night.
Storen had been lights out until Tuesday night having allowed no runs, earned or otherwise, in his previous 9 games. What is important for Storen, is to tip his cap and just head out next time knowing he can keep his performances headed in a positive direction, which he will undoubtedly do. The way Nationals park sounded on Tuesday night was reminiscent of games Henry Rodriguez pitched. That is just plain unfair.
Oh, and I ate some Oreos anyway even though the BABIP Gods seemed to balk at the offering.