While with the Nationals from 2010-2015, Storen was one of the more
reliable relievers in the National League (Photo courtesy of Steven Yates)
When it was announced in January that the Blue Jays had acquired Drew Storen from the Washington Nationals in exchange for Ben Revere, I was pretty disappointed because Revere had been the perfect lead-off hitter for Toronto, and a solid left-fielder. Last season, after Revere was inserted into that lead-off spot, it finally brought a sense of balance to that formidable Jays line-up. And even though the Blue Jays bullpen was in serious need of replenishing after losing Mark Lowe to free agency, LaTroy Hawkins to retirement, and Bo Schultz (at least for the short-term) as he recovered from surgery, to lose a spark plug like Revere who’s hustle and positive energy was so infectious was hard to accept. After the trade, I kept telling myself that the addition of Storen is what’s best for the team…Revere would be replaced in left by a relatively unproven but competent Michael Saunders, and Storen would bolster a depleted bullpen where the only guaranteed returnees were Roberto Osuna and Brett Cecil.
Storen had been with the Nationals his entire career, ever since being drafted in 2009 with the 10th overall pick. Perhaps the change of team and league was too much for him to handle…we’ve seen it happen before, look at the growing pains Troy Tulowitzki had to endure for the first 100 plus games he played in a Jays uniform. Whatever the reasons for Storen’s struggles this season, the reality is that he hasn’t looked right all year.
When a player is confident in their game, you know it just from watching their body language, and the same thing goes for when a player is doubting their ability. You could see it last week when the Blue Jays were in Oakland and squaring off against Sonny Gray. Gray hadn’t won a game since late April and was mired in the worst slump of his career. Although Gray ended up having a decent game against Toronto, it was obvious that his confidence wasn’t there like it had been for him in the past. On almost every long fly-ball that Toronto hit, Gray would turn around instantly, thinking that it was gone. Gray must have done this 3-4 times, even though he only gave up one home run.
Storen’s body language this season was very similar to what Gray was displaying last week. This is a weak analogy, but hitters are a lot like sharks, and just like a shark can sense blood in the water, a batter can sense when a pitcher is off their game just by watching how that pitcher carries them self on the mound. It’s incredible to think, but a batter can sense when a pitcher is doubting their abilities on the mound, and for a pitcher, no matter how good an actor they are, it’s impossible to hide that doubt and fear. Storen’s attempt to counter his doubts/fears on the mound was to display an exaggerated level of toughness and cockiness in an effort to convince the batter that he was still every bit as good the pitcher he was with Washington, when in reality he wasn’t.
In six seasons with the Nationals, Storen compiled a 21-13 record with a 3.02 ERA, 95 saves, and 355 appearances. It’s confusing to try and make sense of how a pitcher with almost a sub 3.00 ERA can go from that kind of player to the pitcher we’ve seen this season with Toronto. Just two seasons ago, Storen was almost unhittable, posting a 1.12 ERA in 65 appearances. As good as Storen was during his time with the Nationals, he did have one season that was an anomaly of sorts for him when he posted a 4.52 ERA in 2013. But even this sub-standard performance he had in 2013 comes nowhere close to the poor numbers he’s put up this season. The switch from National League to American League shouldn’t explain this sort of dramatic decline in performance, otherwise I’d be writing posts similar to this for Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ, and Jason Grilli.
Whatever Storen was doing in Washington that contributed to his success, he most definitely wasn’t doing with the same level of dedication with Toronto. The Blue Jays could have got a lot in return for Ben Revere, they rolled the dice on what seemed like a sure winner in a relief pitcher who’d been one of the more consistent relief pitchers in the National League for the past six seasons. Unfortunately for Toronto and Drew Storen, things just didn’t work out, and the Blue Jays are still left trying to piece together a competitive and steady bullpen while heading into a crucial playoff race in a hotly contested American League East.