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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