The Drew Storen Situation Highlights Another Issue with the Save

 

This past off-season when the Nationals lost Sean Burnett, Mike Gonzalez, and Tom Gorzelanny to free agency a hole was left in the bullpen. The Nationals viewed Zach Duke as a serviceable long man to replace Tom Gorzelanny and with Drew Storen healthy there was no need for Mike Gonzalez, but that still left one hole to fill. The Nats top target became JP Howell, but by the time he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers there wasn't much left on the market. The Nationals had their closer and set-up man in Storen in Clippard, but the bullpen was still one arm short, and so instead of adding a bottom of the bullpen arm the Nats signed closer Rafael Soriano, the presumed best arm on the market.     

This wasn't meant to be a message that Game 5 had altered the clubs thinking about Drew Storen and they in fact rewarded him with a $2.5 million contract in his first year of arbitration. That isn't the type of money a middle reliever would make in arb. That is closer money. It was meant to be a message to Storen that although the Nationals singed a closer they still viewed him as an important part of the bullpen and the long term closer, but according to comments made by Tyler Clippard, Storen didn't take it that way. He saw the signing of Soriano as a slap in the face and a sign that the team didn't believe in him because of Game 5.   

Having two or even three pitchers that have been closers before is nothing new in baseball. For years the Yankees have worked in a two closer system with one being the set-up man. That is where Rafael Soriano came from and before he was setting up Rivera, Tom Gordon was. All baseball teams want to have multiple pitchers capable of closing and the relievers should take pride in being part of one of the better bullpens in baseball, a bullpen that can shorten games, but that isn't what happens, and the reason is the Save statistic.   

What other reason is there for Storen to be so upset that the Nationals went out and signed another reliever when they lost three in the off-season and had an obvious hole in the bullpen? Storen wouldn't have been upset if JP Howell had come to the Nationals or if the Nationals had signed Sean Burnett, but because it was a closer he saw it as the Nationals replacing him when the Nationals saw it as adding a much needed seventh reliever. The way the bullpen was supposed to work is that the Nationals would be able to skirt the Save statistic without skirting it. That Clippard and Storen would offer them pitchers in the seventh and eighth inning just as good as the pitcher they had in the ninth, but there is one small problem. Look at the money Sean Burnett got for his service as a set-up man for the Nationals. In free agency he was rewarded with a two year $8 million contract from the Angels. Compare that to what closers get paid. Soriano received a two year $28 million contract from the Nationals and was thought to be a better signing than Sean Burnett for $8 million, and the only reason is the Save stat.    

That is really what this comes down to. Is Storen may have viewed the signing of Soriano as a personal affront and a lack of faith in him by the organization, but somewhere in his mind, perhaps even his subconscious mind, this wasn't a personal insult to Drew Storen this was an insult to the earning potential of Drew Storen. While fans and commentators argue about the importance of the pitcher's Win or batting average front offices don't pay for those stats. They do for Saves, and by being taken out of the closers role Storen wasn't going to make as much as quickly as he could as a closer. The Nationals tried to assuage some of that by giving him $2.5 million they didn't need to in his first year of arb. Storen was out for most of 2012 giving the Nationals a healthy case against him, had it come to that.   

What this comes down to is that the Save statistic has colored the vision of bullpen roles. There has to be a closer because the last three outs or the toughest, but what if the outs in the ninth inning of with a three run lead, with the bases empty, against the bottom of the order. Are those really the toughest outs of the game? What if there are runners first and third with one out in the seventh inning in a one run game with the middle of the order coming up? Aren't those two outs more difficult than the previously described situation? But one earns a reliever a save and the other gets him an attaboy. Saves earn money in arbitration and free agency. Attaboys do not. It is as simple as that, and if there was less concern over the Save stat perhaps Drew Storen wouldn't have viewed the Soriano signing as a personal insult and would still be pitching in the majors and contributing to the Washington Nationals. 

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